Interview: James MacKinnon On Updating TNG Characters And Classic Alien Makeup For ‘Star Trek: Picard’


Due to this week’s release of the Picard Legacy Blu-ray box set, the TrekMovie All Access Star Trek podcast team had a chance to speak to James MacKinnon who headed up the makeup department for Star Trek Picard. MacKinnon started his Star Trek journey working under Michael Westmore on Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: First Contact in the 90s. He has been nominated for thirteen Emmys and won five with his latest nomination for the third and final season of Picard. The podcast team spoke to MacKinnon about his “bucket list” alien updates for season 3, updating the looks for the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters and picking when to use (and not use) CGI de-aging.

In our last interview before season 3 you said you got to do three “bucket list” aliens to update for the season. So can you now clarify, which were those three?

It would be doing another Ferengi, doing Michael [Dorn] as Worf, and bringing our Borg Queen back to somewhat life, if you could consider that life.

Let’s start with that Ferengi. Back when you worked on DS9, the Ferengi were great and kind of hilarious, like that whole episode about how inept they were at being intimidating, “The Magnificent Ferengi.” For season 3 your job was to make a Ferengi mob boss, so how did you modernize and make Sneed intimidating while still being Ferengi?

He had that nice wound on the side of his head that ripped out half of his ear. That helps. He had some tattoos, that mob boss thing. For the prosthetic, I think our original Ferengis were a little more fun and cute, sculpture-wise. This is a more organic, realistic, streamlined sculpture. So it had more life–not human, that’s not the right word, but a human feel to it in the sculpture and the thickness of it. It was tighter. It wasn’t this big-ass thing with a piece of carpet around the back of his head. I think that allowed us to make him a little more mean.

There is some kind of story behind the tattoos, right?

[Creature designer] Neville [Page] has that story and I forgot what it is. But there is a reason behind the shape and the design of those tattoos, yes.

Like prison tattoos?

I believe so. I remember him saying that. But I have blocked some of it out from the night shoots. We never worked nights on the show ever and that week was five days of nights which again, I’m getting too old. I don’t do nights well anymore.

Aaron Stanford as Sneed in “Disengage” (Paramount+)

Just like last season had a very different Borg Queen, now this season had a very different Borg Queen. What were you given as a directive as your starting place?

Again, that’s Neville and [showrunner] Terry [Matalas]’s arena. And then it drops into Vincent Van Dyke, which is our makeup effects lab that makes all this stuff. We all talk. We all figure out what can I achieve on set in the set aspect that [production designer] Dave Blass built? How is it going to get in there? How is she going to lay down? And because we haven’t seen her in 20-some-odd years, how rotted is she? How much Giger plays into it? And again, it’s not our original actress [Alice Krige provided the voice]. It’s a new actress [Jane Edwina Seymour]. So, can she pull that off too? I think she did a phenomenal job. And she’s not a spring chicken and she was on her knees for 16 hours a day and didn’t complain, didn’t say a word. I was like, “Do you need to go the bathroom?” and she’s like “Nope, don’t worry about it. I’m good.” And we had to glue her into the set too because the foam piece flipped over the edge of the thing we had to glue that down so it didn’t wiggle and flap when she moved around. So she was locked into that. To answer your question, I think it is definitely a Terry and Neville thing, but it takes all three people. And then how does Vincent sculpt it? How does he break it down to what it’s going to be for me on set that I can apply it? It’s not fast. It was a five-hour makeup with fourteen pieces. But our technology with the cowl was in foam latex and the rest of her was silicone with some 3D-printed pieces. 3D is a new technology that a lot of these makeups have implemented because you can mass produce them quickly and use them for templates and sculptures.

Jane Seymour as The Borg Queen in “The Last Generation”(Paramount+)

When it came to Worf, you told me last time these modern techniques allowed for a faster process. But there were some design changes as well, like with his hair and other things. Can you talk about the discussion about how to do Worf? And of course, there is also the Discovery Klingons. Was it a big debate, or was it an easy thing?

I think it was an easy thing. We definitely did not want to go to the Discovery route because that didn’t turn out too well, although in the end maybe a little bit in season 2 with the hair. But yeah for Worf, how long was his hair? Was it in a braid? Was it fluffy and flowy like a Pantene commercial, which we have a couple of shots. It works but it doesn’t work. How much of the ropes and the leather in the back, that kind of gave it that samurai-type look. That is Mike’s mustache, and then I glued individual hairs on the sides to lengthen to give him that Fu Manchu that he originally had. And as an artist, you got to figure out are you guys going to see that glue? Are you going to see how that hair is connected to the other hair? It’s a tedious process but we did shave off an hour and something with him in the chair with him. I think he was in the chair for a couple of hours back in the day and I think the fastest we had him out was about 47 minutes with hair, which is pretty damn fast.

Was the removal process also sped up?

Well, Mike is a vegan. So we used peanut oil instead of the chemicals and peanut oil does not take it off, but we had to use it. It was a little slower process of taking it off with peanut oil. The other thing is the original was foam latex so basically that was a sponge. Silicone is non-porous so when they sweat underneath that hot dog water has to go somewhere so we make little channels that drip down their costumes and out instead of being trapped in there. But on the original show, he had a sweatband that was underneath that foam piece and then when he came in and sat in the chair, he was like, “I want the sweatband.” I was like, “Mike, you can’t have a sweatband because it’s going to bulge out of the prosthetic.” You are going to see a big thick thing. So how we figured it out is I cut the sleeve off of my shirt so underneath there he has a shirt corner around his head which captured all the sweat and it ran down the back of his head. I want to say he was a little hesitant sitting in his chair doing this character again. I don’t know that she wanted to do it. But I think once it started going on and he saw the speed and the coolness of the new look he became that character again and he’s like, “This is not that bad.”

And he looked phenomenal.

It did turn out. That sculpture is similar to the original but it is elevated to our current standards and what I think he should look like now being an older Klingon keeping that original, cool look. Because everybody wants to see the past. Original Klingons had a Fu Manchu and they were painted orange. So everything that we’ve done since then, from The Original Series look nothing like the original.

Michael Dorn as Worf and Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker in “Imposters”(Paramount+)

Someone else who had their makeup time reduced was Brent Spiner. In season 1 they did digital de-aging and obviously, this was different. In season 3 was he 100% practical makeup? And what did it take to decide that new look for Data?

Yeah, there’s no digital effects in the last season. We sat around for half a day and just found the right foundation that mixed with a shimmer that caught the light and gave him that kind of robot plastic look, but human-ish, but not the Data full makeup we did in season 1. So yeah, it was a little bit of a process. We put him on a camera a couple of times just to make sure that the shine wasn’t too much of a glare and looked like he’s sweating and greasy. When you start adding shine, does it have a shimmer in it or is it just a shine? Because most makeup products look glittery, not shiny in a robot way.

Brent Spiner as Data in “Vox” (Paramount+)

There was a scene in season 3 with some digital de-aging for a Picard and Riker flashback. Do you ever jump in and say you can try to do it without the digital effects?

Yeah, absolutely.

So when they decide to do it with digital, do you just draw the dots on their face and leave it to the CGI guys?

We don’t even draw dots anymore, really. I would rather try it in makeup first before you guys do it in [digital] because I can get away with some stuff. And then you can add a little bit more. Like they added too much on Brent [as Data] in season 1. We pulled it way back. I have techniques. Let’s try that first. Mine are much cheaper than visual effects. So let’s try those options and then maybe they come together and you use a little bit of both. We can pull and tuck and fuzz out things a little bit with makeup nowadays. There are a lot of techniques and then the actor is more comfortable because he knows he’s not getting manipulated. But visual effects are amazing, too. They can do some really, really great stuff too. So it’s a little it’s a little combination of both. But most of the time I do want to be involved, absolutely. I want to give it a try.

Did you want to get more involved with that specific scene?

Well, that one I don’t think I was around because I was dealing with Borg Queen. So that got not put in my lane.

What do you think of the final result?

I think it was alright. Yeah. It wasn’t horrible. It’s just when it’s too blurry and too fake. You know, Brent is an older guy. You don’t need to make this f—ing smooth thing. If you just rid of a few little imperfections that speaks volumes. They’re going to look at it and go, “That’s visual effects or that’s Brent,” not take you away from the character because it’s too much.

De-aged Picard and Riker in “Seventeen Seconds” (Paramount+)

In bringing back a lot of Next Gen stars like Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden were there any particular challenges in coming up with their looks? Were there debates about how to bring these Next Gen characters back?

Yeah. I think Terry obviously always chats with the actors first. Or if he doesn’t he lets us do it and then we have to go and say, “What you want isn’t going to happen because she or he’s doesn’t want to do that.” So sometimes he puts it in our boat to come up with an idea he has and lets us get run over by the bus when we try to relay that information. But the actor, showrunner, and makeup artist, we all do have to come together and figure out what is that right character and what is best for you look-wise on that camera. What does a woman of a certain age look like now on camera that we can make those people look fantastic? They already looked fantastic anyway, but that digital image sees everything. So we have to soften stuff and make sure that they look fantastic on it on. I always say that these cameras now are for Animal Planet and NASCAR, they’re not for makeup because they see everything. As an artist, we have to step up and make sure that everybody looks fantastic. Yeah, there’s a whole process of what we can do, what we can’t do, and what’s best. We obviously give our two cents because as an artist we want to create a look. But does it line up with what the actors want them to look like? 

Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher in “The Last Generation” (Paramount+)

If there were a “Legacy” Picard spinoff, is there anything you would want to change with more time, or more money?

No. Me and Sylvina [Knight], the other makeup artist on the show, we looked at each other and said “Was there anything you would change?” And we were like, “No, we actually did a really good job.” Everybody looked great. All the makeups look great. I couldn’t change a thing. I didn’t see any edges. Visual effects didn’t need to touch up anything of ours. Terry said we’ll work together in the future. And this is my fifth or sixth show with [Alex] Kurtzman all the way back to Alias. I’ve been with them for a little while so it’s a relationship.

How many of your Emmys have been for Star Trek?

Two or three.

And you are nominated again this year?  

Yeah. [Prosthetic Makeup] is nominated for episode 10 and Makeup [Non-Prosthetic] is nominated for episode 9. We got two. We are the only people to get nominations this year. I believe other departments should have. Did the studio call? “Oh, another one? Aren’t you bored?” No. It’s a great honor. From 200 or so shows down to 5, it’s an honor to be nominated. I can’t complain about it. But some people are like, “Oh, James is up again.”

Well good luck at the Emmys, or should we say break a leg?

Yeah, absolutely. Fingers crossed. I mean, our competition is huge. It’s huge. 

Glenn Hetrick and James Mackinnon accepting their Emmy for Discovery in 2019

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.

Picard Legacy Collection

Here is what’s included…

  •  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 James MacKinnon

See our earlier article for MacKinnon talking about working on Star Trek 4. You may also want to check out our interview with Picard production designer Dave Blass. The full audio interview with MacKinnon (and Dave Blass) will be available on Friday’s episode of TrekMovie’s All Access Star Trek podcast.

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Why does everyone keep asking these people about LEGACY? That is not a real thing, other than in fans’ minds.

Just like SNW was once.

Legacy won’t happen because Paramount execs are not interested.

Have you spoken with them lately? (No dog in this particular hunt; I’m just curious.)

LEGACY is not even on the table. That much is obvious.

How so?

You mean it’s not on the table…yet.

I’m guessing at some point it will be once they have to think what will the next show will be and P+ is still a thing in the next few years. But that may be awhile sadly. 😥

I will never understand why they feel the need to “update” legacy species.
Star Wars hasn’t even updated their aesthetic and it works just fine!
Why not grab a species like the Selay or the Bynars or some Antedeans and give those some great updates..
Also, why do they keep trying to make these Aliens more human looking?
I do not get it at all…
I am rewatching DS9 and I love how noticeable the Bajoran ridges are, now a day you cannot tell because they’re so subdued and I do not even think they do any shading.

Picard species updates have been subtle and not butchered like Discovery. Glad they learned less is more.

Yeah, I’m kinda there with you. But I think the ‘updating’ left us a dirty taste in our mouths because ‘updating’ in the past meant ‘go overboard’, like with the Disco Klingons and Andorians. This time around, for the most part, I feel the updating was done right, mostly done because they’re using different materials and cameras pick up more detail.

The 2 things that didn’t work for me were the Ferengi (that weird 5 ‘o clock shadow on the baldest spieces in Trek LOL), and the wig on Worf (and subsequently the showing of his ears). That thin-ass wig was just meh.

And regarding the ‘more human looking’, that’s kinda a thing I noticed too. Worfs ears and the beard shadow on the Ferengi do that, but also the (apparent) complete lack or real ridges on Ro.

I can understand an update, but a complete change is ridiculous or things that seem unnecessary.
For example, that Orion villain lady in DISCO and the Bolian in SNW have been covered completely in prosthetics. Why? You lose the actors expressions and they both looked like they had been doing botox their whole life.
With the Ferengi, while I was happy to see them look similiar, the smaller ears and subdued cranial bumps with the human flesh color… it just bothers me.

Well, there’s what you can see in real life, and what the camera / film can pick up.

There’s a bit of a myth that film = perfectly crisp, when in fact several factors can create a relatively blurry image, including film grain (yes, it has a sort of “resolution limit”), chemistry, type of lenses, and lighting.

TOS was printed to 35mm Eastman Kodak positives – and when you look at it in context of most lower-budget movies and standard color TV productions of the period, it’s fine, but it’s not “crisp.” It was also intended for NTSC analog color television, which has a limit of 485 lines vertical resolution. Given that most analog color TVs exhibit some level of “bloom” from the electron gun exciting neighboring phosphors, the resulting image is naturally a bit blurrier as well.

TNG was also shot on 35mm, but as it progressed through its time on air, the quality of the film stock and lenses improved a lot (definitely visible between season 2 and 3), and the remasters look very good because of this. Even so, it was also intended for 485-line NTSC broadcast, so you could still get away with things in props and makeup because nobody would be able to see the details.

Nowadays we’re shooting in 4K HDR or higher resolution, to be exhibited on anything from HD (1080p) to 4K TVs. That’s up to 4.4x the resolution of old analog television, and believe me, you can totally see everything.

I totally understand that… which is why they should not be dialing things back.
Why am I struggling to see the Bajoran ridges in 4K???
And there is so many more things.

Incorrect about Star Wars. Several of the species have been updated, and often not for the better.

Also, it’s amusing that you would use the Bajorans as an example since they’re the most human-looking of all species featured on Star Trek other than humans. LOL

The Grand Inquisitor and Cad Bane are two characters in particular from the new shows that people were not happy with. Cad Bane I didn’t think was such a big deal but man on man what were they thinking with the Grand Inquisitor. His species were very distinctive and strange looking in Episode III but that guy in the show just looked like basically a super pale human with some inconsistently applied digital eye shadow make up to make him look a little more like an evil guy.

I think it’s a little unrealistic to expect all actors to look like Bruce Spence, who is naturally tall and he has a super long head to begin with. And to my eyes the Inquisitor as shown in Rebels reminds me a lot more of Richard O’Brien’s Mr. Hand in Dark City…

Well Lorna, I am not a die hard Star Wars fan. So all I can tell you is that the species that are universally recognized by non Star Wars fans (like me) are still the same. I have not seen an instance where someone say “hey, lets COMPLETELY change how the little bears look like” or that Squid looking alien. They all look the same.
Now if you are talking about some species that appeared in some comic/cartoon and it has been changed, I can’t attest to that and someone like me would not be able to tell.

And you clearly missed the point about the Bajorans, because I am not bothered by “human looking” aliens. I am bothered by the fact that they are making the make up MORE subtle on these human looking aliens that we would immediately recognize right off the bat, in the 90s and 00’s, despite their very human characteristics.
I should not be having to struggle to see Bajoran ridges since they’re the most human-looking of all species featured on Star Trek other than humans… ESPECIALLY in 4K.
That is literally the whole point of post… why are they making the ridges less deep? What is the point of that? Why make them even more human looking???

and the same applies to this Ferengi. James kind of told on himself when he said “This is a more organic, realistic, streamlined sculpture. So it had more life–not human, that’s not the right word, but a human feel to it in the sculpture and the thickness of it. It was tighter”.
We don’t want to see a “human feel” or wanted to be “tighter”. We do not want “realistic” or “organic” because they are IMAGINED FREAKING ALIENS! lol

Discovery did a great update for the Saurians from the Motion Picture. And the alien on Discovery premiere episode on the drought planet was really alien looking.

The Saurian was WELL DONE! But that is a prime example why it is okay to get a relatively unseen species and be creative with it. I am sure they would do some great job with other species that have not gotten much screen time.
But the work with the Andorians, the Tellarites, Klingons, Ferengi…. it’s just not it.
Andorians now look like snails, Tellarites look like warthogs, Klingons… IDK what the hell was that!
At least Michael Westmore would be INSPIRED by the animal kingdom, he wouldn’t just do a copy and paste.

I have to agree about the Andorian makeup not being an improvement. I thought ENT did it perfectly, and the NuAndorians have too many cranial ridges and not enough expression with their antennae.

I also thought something was off with Sneed’s makeup in PIC: hard to pinpoint what, exactly, other than that he looked a bit puffy.

ENT absolutely nailed the Andorians.
I believe it is because Sneed looks like a deformed human. And based on the comments by James, that may have been the idea… to give it a “human” feel, which is kinda silly when it comes to designing aliens.

Star Wars lost its lived in universe look starting with the prequel. I’d like to see Disney embrace it and bring back characters i actually like like Luke Skywalker. I doubt they will. I’d probably see the Rey movie and i did like Ahsoka. But its all become a bit much, way too much mediocre watered down drivel. Marvelized.

On the Discovery Klingons: “That didn’t go too well”

Has he ever shared more thoughts on that?

Is he one of the first people to officially work on the show to openly criticize the klingon designs of season 1? I don’t remember anyone else mentioning anything. I think they just want to sweep the whole thing under the rug and not mention it ever again.

Yeah, he’s the first. I was glad they asked the tough question and we got an honest answer. Well, he could be honest since it was not his design choice. :)

I think they just want to sweep the whole thing under the rug and not mention it ever again.

Fine by me. I don’t want to see some contrived in-universe “explanation.”

Lol he knows what a complete joke and a disaster they were, especially after fans complained about them and thankfully what helped convinced them to change them. And it would’ve been a riot if Worf showed up looking like some bizarrio Klingon. That never would’ve flied and I doubt Dorn would’ve done it.

I will never know what they were thinking with that show? But glad the other shows brought back the real Klingons.👍

I will never know what they were thinking with that show?

“I know engineers. They love changing things.”

The same seems to apply to makeup folks. :)

I thought the Ferengi looked cool. The writing, er, could’ve been a little more alien. He seemed too human. Or “hue-MON.” Which him saying could’ve helped. Or a Rule of Acquisition for old time’s sake. Did he even mention latinum at any point?

Sorry, I’ve always had a soft spot for that species. I just wanted a little more of their culture again.

I think it makes sense who the character was supposed to be. Growing up on the streets of planet outside the Ferengi Alliance, not raised within Ferengi culture. Fingers crossed we get to see more classic Ferengi in the future.

I loved Sneed too. What made me happy was having Kirk Acevedo on Star Trek too. He’s one of my favorite character actors.

I just recently started watching 12 Monkeys. It’s a great show and now see the references throughout the season.

Sure, but they still could’ve made him more alien in other ways. He just seemed like some dude pulled out of a 2023 gangster movie, but with big ears. But then this is a broader ongoing problem I have with modern Trek.

The difference is the new Enterprise looks great and just feels like an updated version of the ship.

The Klingons looked horrible and basically a different species entirely. And it was so confusing because all the other aliens like the Vulcans, Andorians, etc looked like themselves but then the Klingons looked like they came from a different universe. Why are they the only ones changed??

Like so much of Discovery it just didn’t make any sense. 🙄

Not that I disagree, but I think your comment was intended for someone else, yes?

Oops sorry about that. Yeah it was meant for Skyjedi.

Have no idea how I responded to you instead. 🙄

No worries. LLAP


I’ve never met James, but he seems like a real class act. I have enjoyed his work on Trek and hope to see more of it! Well done, and good luck at the Emmys!

Worf looked amazing. And Dorn was excellent.

Yeah, the Klingons on DSC were rubbish. Ignoring the legacy was a huge mistake thats been rectified now, thankfully.


You mean they didn’t look like 1990s Klingon’s. Disco was a visual reboot along with the Discoprise which looks nothing like the Enterprise. Yet everyone seems to love it. When they did Strange New Worlds they could have used the actual Constitution Class Design, i mean Terry did in Picard. They chose not to.

I’m waiting for some wannabe-devotee of LEGACY to say ‘it isn’t really dead … so long as we remember it.’

I fear the word “update” in regard to these things.