Due to this week’s release of the Picard Legacy Blu-ray box set, the TrekMovie All Access Podcast team had a chance to speak to production designer Dave Blass about his work on the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard. We talked about what it took to recreate the bridge of the USS Enterprise-D and got the inside details about how the team got creative when it came to building all the different sets needed for season 3, even if viewers didn’t always see the amount of detail that went into them on TV.
Let’s start with the Enterprise-D which was painstakingly recreated. Even though it was for the end of the season, worked started on that first?
No. Actually, the challenge is that we did season 2 and season 3 back-to-back. So about halfway through season 2, [showrunner] Terry [Matalas] and his team kind of formed up and started working on season 3. And then we started getting hints and ideas of what we were going to do. But in season 3 we start the season with Picard and Laris in his study and he gets the signal from Beverly, that happens on the same stage where the Enterprise D was. So we literally ended up, you know: “Okay, shoot the scene because I got to build a spaceship here.” But two days before we shot that we were still in season 2. We finished season 2 on a Friday and we started season 3 on a Monday. I remember Terry coming to me saying, “Yeah, we want to do the D.” Then it was like, how do we do that and how do we afford it, and what version of it we were going to do? That was an evolving process. There was a scene in season 2 where Picard was being interviewed by a psychiatrist played by James Callis, who was his father. Initially, that was written for Picard’s ready room on the Enterprise-D. So we had gone down that route and it was too expensive to build a whole new set so we reworked something on the La Sirena set. But it was in our mind that we knew the D was possibly going to be there, but how and why was still to be figured out. It did take us three months to build it, so it was something that we ran into really quickly.
You brought in a lot of veteran experts like Doug Drexler, John Eaves, and the Okudas. That’s all exciting but was there ever anything that you disagreed about and if so, how did you deal with it?
I don’t think we ever disagreed about anything. But it’s terrifying, as someone who is such a fanboy for these people. I had John Eaves’ book, I had three copies of the Enterprise Tech Manual [written by Rick Sternbach and Mike Okuda]. I had Mike sign mine in Vegas, the one that I got as a Christmas present when I was in college. So to just give notes—it’s like, “Okay, here I don’t think this is…” But you will never meet a more cordial group. They just want to do good stuff. So I’d be working with them and they’d get frustrated because we couldn’t do this and ideally, it was a situation where we would all be around a conference table, all sketching on pads and coming up with something, but everyone was working from home because of COVID, so we never really had the camaraderie that they had back in the old days with everyone together. But we really went deep. Like bringing Dan Curry in to design Worf’s new weapon. There was no, “Hey, why don’t we do it?” I was like, “Why don’t we let Dan do it?” Because if Dan does it, it’s going to be right. We don’t have to compare it to what we would do. So I get the credit because he designed it.
On the DVD commentaries for season 3 of Picard, Terry was talking about Matalas Prime, saying there’s so much detail viewers couldn’t even see. Was that on purpose? Were there conversations with the DPs about lighting all those things to see more of it?
When I design something, I create a sandbox for them to go play in. It’s one of those things, especially for something like Matalas Prime which played over the course of six episodes, you don’t know what is going to be seen and where things will play out. We had [director] Dan Liu, who came in for the final episode [using that set], and when we were doing the first episode when we first saw Raffi, Dan’s not even in the mix, he’s not there. So he’s going to come in with his own vision and his own idea of how to shoot things. So my thing is to make everything as shootable as possible from every single angle. So no matter where they put the camera, it’s going to be a good shot. That is one of the things Jonathan Frakes kindly said, there was not a bad angle and there was so much depth. If you don’t see it, you don’t see it, but it was all there. That’s why I make it a habit of taking a lot of nice photos and I will share them on Twitter to let people see things that they may have not seen. But yeah, we just did layers and Shauna Aronson, our set decorator, and her team did a phenomenal job there. It was the same thing with the Borg ship at the end, it’s just layers upon layers of the entire history of the Borg race that are in there. And if you don’t see it, it happens, but it’s all there so that they can see if they want to.
Are there certain things you guys spent a lot of time on that never ended up on screen that you really wish fans had seen?
It happens. Film production is a collaborative effort and everyone’s just screaming to get through it and a lot of times what the focus is doesn’t end up being—and again, I design it for every possibility of what you possibly could want to do. One of the things that made me pull my hair out was in Picard’s library, it was a two-story set with a whole walkway up above with all this detail and bookshelves and history knickknacks, and you never saw it. Initially, Picard was looking for a book in the first scene, and my idea is we see him up top and he’s walking around trying to find the book and then he comes down the spiral staircase and we reveal the whole room. And then it was like “too much shoe leather.” It takes too much time out of the episode to shoot all that so he’s just on the ground floor and does the thing. And so in the end, I think there was just one shot where you could kind of see there was a second floor. But that’s on every single show and everything you’ve ever done.
Well, at least LeVar Burton kissed you after seeing Geordi’s office, even though they cropped out all the cool stuff for the final shot.
Yeah, that was such a thing because we put all this stuff on his desk. And then the cinematographer came in and the reason I was there for LeVar Burton to kiss me was that they took all the stuff off the desk, because “it’s way too cluttered, way too cluttered.” And the onset dresser called me and said, “Dave, you need to come down here” and I walked in and said, “No, you need to put all that stuff back on the desk.” The only reason anyone is ever going to remember this scene is all that stuff that’s on the desk. Every single thing means something and it’s going to be a whole thing. I was like, “Just do it, just do it.” And then LeVar comes in and sees the Zefram Cochrane statue and he’s like, “Oh, my God” and they’re like, “Yeah, Dave did that.” I was like, “There’s that scene where you have your hand up [in Star Trek: First Contact]” and he saw that and he’s like “You get it.” And that was the day I met LeVar Burton, but in that instance Geordi La Forge. It was such a wonderful thing.
But yeah, there are levels to fans. There are fans that will sit there and freeze-frame things and look for the good, the bad. They look at the Easter egg-y things, but we didn’t look them at as Easter eggs. We were world-building for Geordi. It’s the history of Starfleet. He was at a museum. Why wouldn’t there be pieces of history? And what is the history of Star Trek? As I told my team, Star Trek is not a sci-fi fantasy, it’s a historical drama that takes place in the future with 55 years of history. Knowing the history is really what you have to do. You don’t have to follow it. You don’t have to make this thing look exactly like that. But you have to know iconography. It’s the same way if you were designing a World War II movie, you don’t just put a typewriter in that’s not period-appropriate. It’s the same thing with Star Trek. You have to have a period-appropriate thing. If you are going to put a chair in there you have to know, “Oh, that chair was used in The Original Series so that’s a 100-year-old chair.”
In the case of the Enterprise-D bridge, you went out of your way to match the set, but there is the reality that you are shooting with modern cameras and lighting. Did you have to accommodate modern technology and the way the DPs [directors of photography] wanted to light that set?
Not so much for the DPs because, again we give them the sandbox, and how they’re going to light it will be whatever they want. But we did [make some changes], because on the original Next Generation bridge, all of the Okudagrams, the LCARS, were backlit by either neon or fluorescent lighting. Then on screen, there is a falloff because you have a bulb, a bulb, and a bulb and then up along the edge it gets darker because there’s no even way to light that. But now we’re lighting with LED lights and you can have a nice flat, perfect color. Also fluorescent light tints everything kind of greenish. So Mike Okuda had some of the actual original LCARS, the physical pieces of gels and things when we knew exactly what color they were. But that’s not the color that they were because that color was changed by the lighting. So then we ended up changing all the colors and then adding little vignette kind of shading to the LCARS so the edges looked like that. So we had to redo everything so it didn’t look like what it was, but it looked like what it looked like on screen. And that was a big challenge.
On Picard season 3, you guys reused the 10 Forward set a lot. You mentioned how doing Picard’s Enterprise-D ready room in season 2 didn’t work out for practical reasons, so was that the case with reusing 10 Forward?
I think that was the brilliance of Terry Matalas. He was just like, “I’m going to own it.” Like we are not going to redesign the Stargazer bridge for the Titan, we are going to own it. We are going to own that the holodeck happens to be the 10 Forward bar and we are just going to say, “Here it is, deal with it.” Because without that, you’re not standing on the Enterprise-D. He actually comes to me and says, “Okay, I need the Shrike bridge for Amanda Plummer” and I’m like, “Dude, there’s no room. We don’t have the space and we don’t have any money.” And he was like, “If we don’t do a budget cost-effective Shrike version that’s cool and looks awesome and you do you thing that you can do because that’s why I hired you, if you don’t do that, we don’t get to be on the Enterprise-D.” So you sit there and go “Here’s what we are going to do” and it’s going to creatively work and it’s going to make sense and do all those things. So that’s why the 10 Forward bar worked. Would it have been great to have a real bar on the ship? Awesome. But if you go back to watch The Next Generation, they didn’t even do sickbay in season 1. For sickbay, they redressed the observation lounge. We did so much in season 3. In the first episode, we had the Shrike, we had the Eleos, we had Matalas Prime. So every time it’s like, “Oh, there’s a transporter room.” Go back and watch the Star Trek: The Original Series movies. They reuse the transporter room from The Next Generation on The Undiscovered Country.
Where did you build the Eleos sets?
So the evolution of that was in season 2, you hand Soong’s lab and and Kore’s little bedroom. So that square room became the Eleos, which then became Daystrom Station, which then became the Borg. It was literally like, “What can we turn this into next week?” In hindsight for me, had I known that when I was designing Soong’s lab, I would have done something monumentally different. But when you’re doing your first episode of designing Star Trek, you’re trying to do something cool. Had I known these four walls are never going to move for the next two years, we’re going to have to turn them into all these different things, I would build different walls.
Picard Legacy box set out now
The Star Trek: The Picard Legacy Collection arrived on Tuesday, November 7. It is described as “the definitive release for Next Generation fans.” The limited edition set includes 54 individually numbered Blu-ray discs and unique packaging that houses every TV series and film featuring Jean-Luc Picard. That includes 7 seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 3 seasons of Picard, and the 4 TNG feature films along with over 35 hours of special features. This limited set also includes an exclusive edition of The Wisdom of Picard featuring brand new artwork and quotes, along with a one-of-a-kind deck of playing cards, a magnet sheet featuring all of Captain Picard’s badges and four custom Chateau Picard drink coasters.
It is available now at Amazon for $199.95.
- All Series and Films Featuring Captain Jean-Luc Picard
- Star Trek: The Next Generation – Seasons 1-7
- Star Trek: Picard – Seasons 1-3
- Star Trek: Generations
- Star Trek: First Contact
- Star Trek: Insurrection
- Star Trek: Nemesis
- 35 hours of bonus features
- Premium Packaging Containing 54 Blu-ray Discs, 154 Episodes and Exclusive Collectables
- Exclusive Collectables:
- Magnetic Captain Picard Badges
- 4 Custom Chateau Picard Drink Coasters
- Custom Deck of Playing Cards
- Exclusive Version of The Wisdom of Picard, The Wisdom of Picard: The Legacy Collection Edition
- Featuring New Cover Art
- Including quotes from the latest seasons of Star Trek: Picard
Here is the launch trailer…
More from Dave Blass
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