Star Trek Into Darkness: New Design

Growing The Enterprise

If “Star Trek Into Darkness” magnifies the action, the scale and even the psyches of its characters, the filmmakers also agreed it was time to expand the view of The Enterprise herself, from the ship’s beating heart, the Bridge. They took a leap not only from the cardboard sets of the original series, but from the sets of just a few years ago.

“We wanted to show audiences far more of the ship, and to give it more depth,” says Abrams. “On the first film, we worked hard to make the ship feel real and epically large, and for the most part, it worked. The problem though was that the Bridge was on one set, the Transporter Room on another, the Med Bay on another, etcetera. You could never do any kind of continuity. We had the opportunity this time to build a set that was contiguous so that we were able to go from the Bridge down a hallway, into the Turbo Plaza area and go around a corner into the Med Bay. It gives the ship a sense not only of scale, which is a fun by-product, but a real sense of being interconnected. And when the cast and crew come onto a set that’s so beautifully designed, it helps them believe in this place. It elevates everything – the performances, the lighting, the camera work. It was helpful in every way; and it gives people a bigger view into this world that we love so much.”

Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov puts it succinctly: “The new design gives the audience the opportunity to really live on The Enterprise.” He continues: “When I saw the original plans, I thought this is going to be something really unique for Star Trek. No one has ever been able to walk from one end of the ship to the other or run throughout the ship. And then, to top it off, we built the Turbo Plaza, which for the first time, gives a vertical range to the ship.”

The actors agree that the new Enterprise set helped bring the reality of space travel home. “On this film, we really had the full playground,” says Chris Pine. “The detail work the crew did was just mind-boggling. We had construction guys working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, just so we could have this totally immersive world to be in. It was awesome.”

The designs fell once again to production designer Scott Chambliss, who has been a frequent collaborator with Abrams but did some of the most awe-inspiring work of his career on the first “Star Trek”, re-imagining the Enterprise through the prism of our present-day modernist design. Now, he set out to raise the bar on his own work.

Says Abrams: “Scott blew away my every expectation on this film. He did an extraordinary job not just designing amazing sets but building them in a way that elevated the designs. Every element of The Enterprise was remarkable. Everywhere I looked, I was amazed.”

Adds Chernov: “Scott had a very tall order on this film: to take audiences further into the future, yet sustain the credibility. When I watched J.J. and Scott work, I saw them agonizing over every detail, over how do we want people to feel about this world and how are we going to take them there? They have a wonderful creative relationship.”

The creative process kicked off with Chambliss’ ambitious new designs for the full-scale Enterprise. “Once we had the conceptual artwork, we all fell in love with it,” recalls production manager Tommy Harper. “And then it became all about how to pull it off, the logistics of how to build it, light it and not break the bank in doing so. What we ended up with was truly a beautiful, gorgeous set. It really opened up this world for J.J. and I think it will do so for the audience as well.”

Chambliss notes that his work on both “Star Trek” films owes a debt to one particularly strong influence: the industrial designs of Pierre Cardin, the avant-garde, French designer who became know for his Space Age creations involving bold, mirrored colors and geometric shapes. “What Cardin was doing in industrial design is foundational to every Enterprise set,” says Chambliss.

This was especially true of the high-tech holding cell for prisoners. “In designing the prisoner’s cell, I was thinking about a beach house that Pierre Cardin built in the 70s,” explains the designer, referring to the legendary “Bubble House” just outside Cannes. “It is basically a series of white pods with roundish windows either looking into other rooms or into the sky above. I also looked at some round Italian television sets that were framed top and bottom with molded plastic. Those ultimately became the all-seeing surveillance eye in each cell. It creates this haunting effect where as a prisoner you’re kind of trapped in a beautiful storefront window, constantly being observed, with all the emotional and claustrophobic qualities that conveys.”

Throughout The Enterprise, Chambliss stayed true to the vision he and Abrams agree governs their view of Star Trek: “The idea was always to have a retro-tech feel that is contemporary but keeps us anchored to the original television series. I love taking sleek, beautiful design elements from early computer technology and letting that be our nod to the old Star Trek. We try to blend retro and futuristic sensibilities in a way that they support each other. Our touchstone continues to be taking Gene Roddenberry’s optimism for the future and translating that to our times.”

The Enterprise not only grows in this new voyage, it also goes through some of its most wild flight maneuvers yet. At one point, the ship tilts radically as it begins a crash landing, which Abrams chose to physically re-create on Chambliss’ sleek set. “It was all done with wires combined with a tilting set, so we were actually, literally running on the walls sideways,” explains Simon Pegg. “It was enormous fun to shoot, to constantly be reorienting our sense of what’s up and what’s down. It was a challenge, too, but Chris and I loved being in the harnesses and getting dragged about and shouting because we knew it was going to be an awesome sequence.”

“We called that the ‘rollie pollie sequence,’“ explains visual supervisor Roger Guyett. “The ship is turning and the artificial gravity is failing and when that happens, people are going to start sliding around. J.J. got very interested in the idea that if you move the camera in certain ways and if people behaved in certain ways, it would really feel like everything on the ship had wrapped around upside down. And he was right. J.J. understands visual magic at the deepest levels of detail.”