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Star Trek Discovery: first show with all in-house post-production

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Sonequa Martin-Green and Alex Kurtzman also talk about a historic shoot: this is only the second time that a Trek series has been filmed outside of North America.

It is one thing to present a promising vision for the future, it is another to innovate in the present.

With its third season, “Star Trek: Discovery” has achieved both: a vivid effect in some cases, an invisible transparency in others. In fact, it’s hard to think of another season of “Star Trek” in the franchise’s 54-year history that offers more changes, on camera and behind the scenes. On one particular point, “Discovery” leaves a distorting trail the rest of the television industry can follow: Season 3 completed all aspects of its post-production with a team of artists working entirely from their homes.

But the changes to a more advanced mission for the production of the series began long before the lockdown. The development phase of the story for Season 3, which just launched its first episode Thursday on CBS All Access, involved a radical departure from what the series had been so far. It was a prequel to “The Original Series” involving events only touched upon in the 1960s show, such as a war with the Klingons, and characters such as Captain Pike and Spock. A great many connections with existing characters and events have been made here and there. But despite all this IP juggling, fans were in awe of the performance of the show’s talented cast, especially Sonequa Martin-Green as show frontman Michael Burnham.

In just 26 episodes, Martin-Green portrayed one of the clearest arcs any character in any iteration of “Trek” has ever had, “of being as Vulcan as possible, the result of ‘having to assimilate into Vulcan and believe that being Vulcan was superior, ”the actress told IndieWire, to“ blend in with her emotivity and humanity ”. Compare the start of Season 3 with his performance in the pilot episode, and it almost looks like Martin-Green is playing a different character. “I believe that one of the principles of good storytelling is change… permanent change. And that’s something I stand for. And that’s something I believe our iteration [of ‘Trek’] champions too. Season 3 certainly delivers that – with a groundbreaking portrayal.

With these new episodes, “Discovery” jumped 930 years into the future, into a strange new era: the 32nd century. Suddenly, it is no longer a prequel, but the exploration of a completely unknown period in the history of “Trek”. Franchise chief Alex Kurtzman, who produces all of the “Trek” shows for CBS All Access with the production company he founded in 2014, Secret Hideout, confirms that “Discovery” will remain in the 32nd century for all seasons of the year. show. It was a clean break with the creation of franchise myths. The selection of this blank canvas has been the subject of much thought: Above Zoom, Kurtzman nodded and chuckled when this writer suggested that previous “Trek” series such as “Enterprise” only explored up to in the 31st century. Temporal Wars of this series was praised in the first episode of season 3.

“We didn’t want the time jump to be a gimmick,” Kurtzman said. “There are so many new opportunities and amazing story options it feels like an endless well. We’re also now separate from the pre-existing canon, which means we can write the future of ‘Star Trek’ on this show, and it’s completely fresh snow.

Kurtzman is quick to point out that neither he nor the writers’ room found the setting for the first two seasons to be compelling. Especially with the introduction of Ethan Peck’s Spock and Anson Mount’s Pike, the plan was always for the Discovery team to spend limited time with these familiar characters – the 32nd century time jump was planned from the start. the development of season 2..

To convey the totally alien reality of 3188, Kurtzman and new co-showrunner Michelle Paradise knew they needed a radical new look for the series. They took the first episode to Iceland to create a feeling of utter visual ignorance – Vasquez Rocks it doesn’t. With the pilot episode, which shot in Jordan, it is, according to the count of this Trekkie, as well as that of Kurtzman and that of two superfans (tip of the hat to Jordan Hoffman and Chris Chafin) filmed outside the States United and Canada. The “Discovery” home port for filming was Toronto, while all other series to date, including the recent “Picard”, have used virtually every location possible in California. Anaheim Convention Center playfully became the home of Starfleet in the series starring Patrick Stewart.

Michael Burnham of Sonequa Martin-Green meets David Ajala’s 32nd Century Residents’ Book.

It’s almost a shock to see hill-shaped black sand dunes and bird’s-eye views of very un-California terrain when you watch Season 3; other changes are much more subtle, and the result of filming ending just 10 days before lockdown begins. There was no possibility of making shots for the inserts or the connective feedback shots, so meticulous computer-generated images were used to double the characters and create a sense of visual continuity even when the cover was covered. was not there. Think of “Arrested Development” Season 4, but with seven years of advancement that now really brings up all of the cheats (invisible in the first four episodes made available to critics). “The visual effects team was amazing because there are some shots that you will never know are impractical, that aren’t actually shot on location, that are full CG shots, full CG elements. things that would generally have been an insert, ”Kurtzman said.

However, these aren’t entirely double CGs for the actors. Each actor who needed pickup was given motion capture gear to complete elements of their performance at home. For those insertions, Kurtzman said, “It’s an actual actor in their home motion capture studio, which is then rendered into the computer as a living being. He’s a real person… Each of our actors has been scanned, so we can actually impose their face on a body, which is something.

In fact, packaging so close to lockdown meant that all of Season 3’s post-production was happening remotely. “Our editors, miraculously and heroically, took their editing berries to their living rooms,” Kurtzman said. “And we cut the whole season, together, exactly as I’m talking to you right now. We also scored all season, mixed all season, timed color all season, all from this laptop [over which this Zoom interview occurred]. “

Composer Jeff Russo sent microphones to each of the orchestra members so that they could record their individual parts and they could all be mixed together later, as if they were playing in unison. Kurtzman and Paradise reviewed the visual effects with VFX supervisor Jason Michael Zimmerman several times a week. Creating VFX, even under normal circumstances, takes 8-10 months per episode, and work on the VFXs for Season 3 continues.

Remarkably, Season 4 will begin filming on November 2. The entire cast recently traveled to Toronto to begin their quarantine before production begins, with full COVID security protocols in place. The kind of international filming we saw in the Season 3 premiere has come out, but Kurtzman noted, “It looks like we’re going to have an AR wall for future seasons of ‘Star Trek’ on multiple shows.”

It is not just the film and television industry that must embrace the unknown like never before. What better way to lead an optimistic path through all this uncertainty than a franchise that has exploration in its DNA? As Martin-Green said, “You see this team entering this whole new world that we’ve never known before, and, you know, we [in 2020] are also now in a world we have never known before. No one alive has ever experienced this.

Never has “Go boldly where no one has gone before” has meant so much.

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