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‘The Ark’ co-creators Dean Devlin & Jonathan Glassner on crafting a deep space ‘pressure cooker’
SYFY WIRE talked with the co-creators and cast of The Ark in the lead-up to the Feb. 1 series premiere.
The Ark, SYFY’s new space thriller from the minds of Dean Devlin (Stargate, Independence Day) and Jonathan Glassner (Stargate SG-1), premieres Wednesday. The show, as the official trailer makes clear, puts the surviving members of the Ark One ship in a slew of situations where death seems inevitable. On top of just trying to survive, however, the crew members all have their own secrets, and those secrets keep the tension on the ship more than a few notches above normal.
SYFY WIRE talked with Devlin and Glassner along with The Ark stars Christie Burke, Richard Fleeshman, and Reece Ritchie about the show, including how they made sure things stayed intense for the crew (and by extension, engaging for the audience) on the decks of the spaceship they’re trapped on.
A pressure cooker in space
“We wanted off the top to create a pressure cooker,” Devlin told SYFY WIRE. “In essence, this ship is a microcosm of our whole world, right? So we wanted to really bake in, as quickly as possible, as much pressure as we could put on these characters. And then after that, it was deciding how slowly do we peel the onion [of revealing secrets about certain survivors].”
Without getting into spoilers, more than a few crew members on Ark One have more than a few hidden agendas or hidden facets of themselves. Keeping them all straight and deciding what to reveal to the audience and when was no easy task. “We have a giant board on our computers, usually it’s on a wall but because of COVID, it was on our computers, that lays down all the people’s story arcs,” explained Glassner. “We would then figure out, ‘Okay, where do we reveal this? What does that do to us? Does that screw up the next story?’ It was a jigjaw puzzle, but it was fun, and we had some great stuff to play with.”
Creating the Ark One
While the plot points and thematic elements alone certainly live up to the pressure cooker moniker, having everyone confined to the Ark One amps up the tension even more. The co-creaters knew, however, that the set needed to emphasize how trapped everyone was but remain visually appealing. “We needed it, on one hand, to be big enough that we didn't get horribly claustrophobic,” explained Devlin. “But on the other hand, as we said, it's a pressure cooker where you've got these people stuck together, so it was really difficult to design it."
The team came up with several sets for different places on the ship, including one set that was actually built outside because it couldn’t fit inside the studio. (If you’ve seen the first episode, this is the area where they try to grow plants.) The throughline for all the builds, however, was that this wasn’t a ship meant to house passengers outside of cryosleep for a long period of time.
A ship from our near-future
Since the show is set in the near future, they also wanted it to look like something that conceivably could be built today. “We didn’t want to do the almost magic-like technology that you see in so many sci-fi shows because they're thousands of years in the future,” said Glassner. “So you'll notice that our consoles and things are all just one step beyond today. And that's on purpose.”
Fleeshman, who plays Lt. James Brice on the series, said that the sets made him feel like he was on an actual ship. “There were literally hundreds of meters of corridors and rooms and offshoots, and they were fully enclosed,” he shared. “It really felt like you were in the ship ... you could do full travel scenes where you’re walking through doors and through corridors and into different rooms, and you’ll never see the rest of the studio, and that’s pretty unique and pretty special.”
You can check out the ship's many rooms and corridors yourself when The Ark premieres Feb. 1 on SYFY.
Looking for more space-set TV series? Check out Intergalactic, now streaming on Peacock.