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How Star Trek: Prodigy turned Captain Janeway into a cartoon
Prodigy showrunners Dan and Kevin Hageman explain why it was so hard to turn Voyager's Captain Janeway into an animated hologram.
Bringing back Captain Janeway to the small screen in Star Trek: Prodigy was literally a team effort.
The newest Star Trek animated series, which premieres today, takes audiences back to the Delta Quadrant where an untested group of young teens discover a sophisticated, never-before-seen starship, The Protostar, and use it to explore the Final Frontier in ways Trek has never done before. Helping our Goonies-like cast of heroes is Star Trek: Voyager's Kathryn Janeway — albeit in holographic form. So while the captain was always a part of Prodigy showrunners Dan and Kevin Hageman's pitch, it took some time to decide on how she should look: With her hair up, like in Voyager's early seasons, or with her hair down and short as fans saw during the back half of the series. The creatives, along with Kate Mulgrew, who reprises her most famous role here, worked with animators to give their Janeway her classic, more Season 1 look.
"And there is a story reason for that," Kevin Hageman told SYFY WIRE during an exclusive post-mortem interview about the Prodigy pilot. "There's a reason we chose that particular look, but I can't say anything else just yet."
But what he and his brother could say is why this particular look best serviced the production needs for the series.
"We looked at all of her possible hairstyles, and first, we looked at the ones that were easier to animate and then, second, there are the ones that we felt were most iconic," Dan Hageman explained. "We wanted her to have a slight 'Mary Poppins vibe,' you know? Like, the hair is up, the classic look, and you just know that she is that kind of [Mary Poppins] character. She is in that role, of helping this young kids out, which is a first for Star Trek. Having a crew made up of young children instead of fully-formed adults on the bridge."
"Our artists were working for a long time on getting Janeway's design," Kevin said, with emphasis on the team's endeavors to make sure the character didn't suffer from any "uncanny valley" issues that certain CG animated characters have.
"I remember it was stressful. They worked really hard on it," Kevin continued. "What we originally came up with is really close to what we have now. Sort of like an idealized, almost iconic version of her."Next up was sharing the design with Mulgrew, and the first time seeing her, well, see herself in animated form was one of the highlights of making the show.
"She was in a booth and recording," Dan recalled, and we can just see her looking at [the design]. We knew what she was looking at, but couldn't see exactly what she was eyeing. But she would go back and look at it, and she would just stare at it — in utter silence — for like five minutes. And you're like, 'Oh, she hates it.'"
But, in reality, Mulgrew felt quite the opposite.
"I really liked what they did," Mulgrew told SYFY WIRE at a recent New York Comic Con press event for the show. "It was helpful for me to look at and figure out certain subtleties to bring to the character in my performance. How would 'hologram' Janeway react to a perilous situation, as opposed to live-action Janeway? The design and the performance have to be clear, because you are talking to children. [The design] has to be slightly exaggerated, endowed with feeling… all of that stuff has to be very, very clear for the audience."
Mulgrew helped refine the character's look, in concert with the showrunners.
"She was like, 'Her hands need to be positioned like this," Dan remembered. "Her pants should look like this. Her brow needs to be more like this. She had all these great little details, little tweaks, to make her more lifelike and believable — and she was right."
"Another challenging thing is, for a kids show like this, the audience is used to a certain type of character design," Kevin said. "So Janeway was a little difficult [to lock down] because she doesn't have any distinguishable things like an eyepatch or anything, you know? Something that tells kids who and how this character is, right off the bat. So it was almost like for us, and for the animators, addressing how do you convey Janeway's moxie? How do you get that 'Janeway spirit' across?"
Judging by fans' enthusiastic reactions to the show so far, their efforts worked.
Star Trek: Prodigy is available now on Paramount+ and Nickelodeon.