The Enterprise on Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek Discovery: behind the scenes with production designer Tamara Deverell

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Dec 21, 2018, 11:00 PM EST (Updated)

All too often, the talented people behind-the-scenes of our favorite sci-fi shows go unsung. But what would a Klingon be without prosthetics and special FX makeup? How would a ship jet into space without the VFX department? And where would all of the action take place without sets and production design? 

SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with some of those people behind-the-scenes who made the magic happen on Star Trek: Discovery—like production designer Tamara Deverell, who was in charge of the overall visual look of the show for the majority of the first season.

"The reason I decided to do the show is because I was blown away by the sets," Deverell said. "First I was like, 'Star Trek, hmmm. Sci-fi, hmmm.' I like to design big things, but then I went on a tour with my predecessor and I was like, 'OK, I want to be a part of this.'"

But because Deverell joined part-way through Season 1 (episode six, to be precise), she was immediately thrown in with little time to prepare.

"And then just like, 'Blam!' I'm in there and whereas [the rest of the team] had a long time of getting up to speed and building things, I was sort of thrown in and all of the sudden I had to do the Terran ship, which is this massive ship, and the sets for it," she said. "We had episodic timing, so I did think quick on my feet about what to design that we could do quickly enough to get it to make it look great and of course, [relying] on some digital effects set extensions was key." 

Plus, there's a lot of Trek history to catch up on as well — another challenge for her.

"Getting up to speed with canon, having to go to Star Trek University because you know, that's my generation, I had to do a lot of going back and you know, there's amazing resources out there like fan sites that you can just go and click 'OK. Section 31, I got it.' (laughs) Not a lot on Section 31!"

star trek discovery

Speaking of getting thrown in, that wasn't the only time where Deverell had to be extra quick on her feet. In episode eight, the crew visits a planet (named Pahvo), which Deverell revealed was at the request of the network—who wanted to get the crew off the ship.

"And so the writers called us in Toronto... we were in Toronto, they were in LA, and said, 'OK, we need to go to this planet, here's some parameters, pitch us something — in 10 minutes.' Literally, this is a true story." 

Deverell came up with the idea of a "membrane structure" on the planet.

"And then it's going to be mathematical. So everything we design is actually based on this math equation to build these things and it's quite complicated. It just looked like this membrane thing. But that was my pitch and they stuck to it and then went, 'OK, so they go to this planet and the planet beings built this.'"

The Mirror Universe design was an important part of Season 1, which Deverell said impacted the overall look for the rest of the season.

"We did go very dark when we went to the Mirror Universe, and I left some of that. Like, we actually put dark shiny things in the sets and reflective things and we kept some of that because I think there was a shift when the Discovery went to the Mirror — in my mind anyway. Because there was a shift, and we want to always feel that darkness, that it's a little bit of a blight on the whole world of Star Trek: Discovery right now. So it's a thing that they have too, a memory to have. And so I sort of want to show that in set."

Inevitably, Discovery finds itself compared to other Trek TV shows, like Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), but Deverell knew the set design couldn't be approached the same way.

"When I started I was like, 'Wow, well this isn't TOS.' And for us, you know, you can never go back to TOS. Those were charming, lovely sets made out of cardboard and sticky tape. You can tell if you've watched them, like what they did when they went to the mirror universe, they literally took a Terran logo (which we did use as the base of ours) and slapped it on a couple of walls and called it done — called it mirror. We have all this technology at our fingertips to build things: CNC [computer-numerical-controlled machining] and 3D printing, and the audience expectations now in science-fiction is to give them things that are more designed and more exquisitely designed."

Star Trek Discovery Mirror Universe

Credit: CBS

Although Deverell couldn't give many details on what's to come in Season 2 of the show as far as what planets she might be designing (no spoilers!), she was able to give some insight into changes on the ship.

"One of the things I can talk about is we've expanded parts of the ship" like a new corridor, she said. "We went a little more mechanical with that corridor, which I'm pretty excited about." Some other areas of the ship are getting additions as well. "We've got these new spaces. There's another opening into the Mess Hall, into Sick Bay" and some renovations to Engineering, according to Deverell.

She laughed, saying, "I'm just gonna leave it at that. But I'm pretty excited about it."

So are we.

Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery is available for streaming on CBS All Access.

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