10 Secrets We Learned On The Star Trek: Discovery Set
Star Trek: Discovery may take place in the throes of war-torn space, but head to the southern Toronto sound stages where the Space series shoots and it’s far a more peaceful experience—one filled with secret sets, CGI screens and of course, the signature bridge and captain’s chair.
Hot on the heels of the show’s second season, which kicks off on January 17, we headed to the set with a group of international reporters to get the scoop on some important new additions to the series (a science lab, for one) and all the secret details you don’t necessarily see on-screen.
Building the Bridge
Every Star Trek ship is unique, but one signature set that every Trekkie likely knows well is the Bridge. That is, after all, where all the action takes place, from the coveted captain’s chair. On Discovery, the Bridge is an intricate conceptualization of rotating screens, swirling chairs, and unique codes and graphics running at each of the work stations.
“A lot of people think that on the show [the screens] are done in visual effects, but they’re not. It’s a surprise to a lot of people when they arrive on set to see these fantastic screens. They’re organic LED screens,” says one of the series’ three art directors, Jody Clement. “We have an amazing graphic design department that makes sure that every screen you see on the Bridge, in the corridors and on all of our sets, are unique screens. There is minimal repetition.”
That Window to Outer Space
Another element of the set that all Trekkies should be familiar with is the giant screen that shows the Bridge crew indications of incoming enemies, transmissions from Starfleet and, sometimes, pretty shots of stars. In reality, that “window” is just a giant green screen, which means the actors typically don’t know what they’re looking at.
“When we are filming, we’ll set up a big monitor that shows the cast what they’ll be seeing,” Clement reveals. “It may be in the early concept stage, what they’re seeing, but it gives them a general idea so that they’re not guessing what the planet or spaceship looks like.”
Entering and Exiting
In Discovery Season 1, crew members couldn’t actually access the Bridge and make grand entrances using anything other than through Captain Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) Ready Room. This year, the designers wanted to give the set “more depth,” so they removed one wall near the corner they call ‘HAL’ (a nod to A Space Odyssey). “It allows for crew members to enter onto the set other than through the Ready Room,” Clement confirms. “That area was considered a bit dark in the background and didn’t really have any life in it. So we added digital production on some pipes—a bunch of ones and zeros that give it life.”
Speaking of the old Ready Room, it’s now a decked out science lab. Something tells us Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) will be spending quite a bit of time there this season…
Star Trek’s signature doors are iconic in that they always sense when a person is coming and “swoosh” open. In real life, those entrances aren’t always so seamless. Clement confirms there’s a “blooper reel” of instances in which the doors just don’t work. So what’s one workaround? Someone manually operating them.
“Our special effects operator will open and close the doors,” she says. “They stand on the other side so that when an actor approaches, they open with the push of a button.” How very high-tech of them.
“Engineering” a Bigger Room
We spent quite a bit of time in the engineering room last season thanks to the spore drive storyline, which led the art team to re-examine that area for Season 2. They decided to open up the space a little bit by removing one wall and giving it depth with some piping.
“You can see a series of pipes [through that hall] and then we have a backdrop just beyond those pipes to give the illusion that the chamber goes a lot further,” Clement says, noting that the control pads on the walls are removable and the crew changes them from scene to scene.
Imagining Shuttle Bay
Many important, giant, shuttles come in and out of Shuttle Bay, but in reality that set is mostly comprised of green screens. Appropriately, it also happens to be situated on Stage 4 of the Pinewood Studios lot, which is the biggest purpose-built sound stage in North America, clocking in around 46,000 square feet.
“This is only a small section of the Shuttle Bay, a sixth of it, but onscreen it would be as high as the stage here—60 feet high—with two more bays on either side and the Discovery logo in the middle,” Clement explains. “On one side you’d have space and then we have the force fields that would be in the big opening where shuttles can arrive.”
Interchangeable Ships That “GNDN”
In the first season, production didn’t have time to build two separate ships, so they used the same sets and made slight modifications between the Shenzhou and Discovery corridors, says Clement. So the corridors are actually modular, with bumpers that come on and off to do quick changeovers between the two ships.
“Another fun fact are the letters GNDN from the original series,” she reveals. “We have GNDN on various pipes everywhere throughout the corridor: goes nowhere, does nothing.”
Walk and Talk
Another improvement the series made to its sets between seasons? Extending the corridors so that the actors could do longer “walk-and-talk” scenes without the crew having to turn around the cameras and set up again as often as they did last year.
“Directors were finding it difficult to stage scenes,” Clement says. “This year, in order to prevent them from having to stop and start over, we can do a continuous loop because we opened it up. The airlock has gone away and we’ve made the ceilings a little higher with some greenspace above.”
Eating Where You Sleep
Starfleet officers need to eat too, but last year production ran into problems shooting in the Mess Hall because they’d change the set over into the Crew Quarters as needed. As it turns out, doing so took up a lot of time and effort. So this year they improved things by moving the entrance and creating a bigger space that contains both, now-permanent sets.
“It was a challenge on many levels, and we also ran into a lot of wear-and-tear on the set when we were changing it over,” Clement says. “We lost an entrance into the Mess Hall, so we created a new one. Now it’s Mess Hall on Deck 5 instead of Mess Hall on Deck 2. We have multiple Mess Halls… and Sick Bays! We have the same Sick Bay as last year, but we made a few changes.” And no, that does not include upgraded “surgical scalpels,” which are still just regular old salt-and-pepper shakers.
Meanwhile, Clement notes one other significant change to the Mess Hall: last year the actors could only order from synthesizer three since that was the only one that worked with special effects. This year all five of them work.
Transporting Into Season 2
Last but not least, we got a chance to visit the iconic Transporter Room, where characters energize and transport to-and-from a variety of places. Like the corridors, the Discovery’s Transporter Room doubled as the Transporter Room for the Shenzhou—the two simply had different colours, interchangeable discs, and varied transporter pads differentiating them.
More fun facts about the memorable space? The screens on the stations are all touchscreen enabled (unlike on the Bridge). And, because everyone has to save a dime and be creative where they can, Clement points out that not everything in the space is actually that high tech.
“Over on the floor over here, if you’ve ever been to the snow/window-scraper section of Canadian Tire, you’ll recognize red handles that are holding up… salad bowls.” Star Trek: boldly going where no shopper has gone before.
Star Trek: Discovery returns to Space January 17 8e 5p. Check out the latest Season 2 trailer below.