To be invited to work with JJ Abrams again was a thrill, but to know that the subject matter was Star Trek made it all the more exciting. Initially, my involvement was to design a creature or two, but it evolved into something much bigger than anticipated. As some of you may have heard, JJ keeps his projects as quiet as possible. And, although I was quite privileged to read the entire script (instead of just a few pages), I did have to read it on metallic reflective mylar paper making it impossible to copy and almost impossible to read:) One of the many great things about working with JJ is that he welcomes, in fact, encourages your input. With that, he has always given me the opportunity to contribute alternative ideas to the ones he suggests. That does not necessarily mean that my suggestions are always useful, but it does allow you to be inclusive and collaborate.
One of the first things to design was the “Ice Planet” creatures. Initially it was just one creature, but I had a suggestion of a “red herring” moment where you think that Kirk is being chased by something frightful (the Polarilla), but, in fact, there is something worse to come (Big Red). JJ was very specific in his desires with Big Red. He wanted it to be red, have multiple eyes all over him and have a mouth so foul that you would fear it just drooling on you let alone eating you. How to design an offensive mouth? Well, I went to a source that I knew was off putting, a prolapsed anus. I am not suggesting that you look it up right now...or ever, but, trust me....it’s inspiration satisfied the clients desires.
One of the many great things about working with JJ is that he welcomes, in fact, encourages your input.
We also needed to populate the various worlds that the characters would live in. Many ideas were explored, but we had the same challenges that previous Star Trek’s faced. You always have to be mindful of budget when you design something. As a designer, we often think in the obvious terms. But when you are designing characters that will be a makeup application, you also have to consider the time it takes to apply it as well as the expense in maintaining it on set. Reality is often never your friend, but it does help you to make decisions. There were a handful of designs that ended up in the film. But one in particular was personal to me: Kasia. She (I think it was a she) is the alien on the Kelvin at the beginning of the film. Why special, you may ask? There was a moment when JJ just needed to see more ideas. I asked if he minded that I bring in some previous designs of my own. Kasia was selected. An even greater reason behind Kasia being so special was that the design was my first Z-Brush sculpture. By the way, Kasia is the name of the wonderful actress who played...Kasia. We named it after her.
Then there was Nero. This was a tricky one as we were playing in an arena that fans know so well and you have to respect that yet attempt to bring something new to the table without dishonoring the legacy of Star Trek. Additionally, you have to give your actor something that they are excited to wear. So, this was a unique experience as I was not just designing a character, but also designing a hero prosthetic makeup. Although a great deal of time was spent drawing ideas in my trailer, I began to spend more and more time with Joel Harlow and his team in the makeup trailer making sure that the ideas worked. It was a fantastic collaboration to work with Joel. He did not simply bring “my” ideas to life, he made “our” ideas viable. It’s always about collaboration!!!
There was an interesting moment when we realized that the ideas needed to be tested and quickly. I was an available and willing model to do some tests on. In fact, I really wanted the experience to understand what it meant to have this design on my face. I wanted to intimately understand the limits it may put on performance and, conversely, the additive aspect of inspiring performance. I also hated the idea of wearing contacts, because it simply freaks me out. And, the design called for full scleral contacts. If I expected an actor to wear this, I had at least better understand what that meant. Turns out to be painless and easy. So, with the talents of Joel and his team, we went onto set to show JJ the makeup I was wearing. I was Nero for a day. Well, not quite. Although JJ liked it, a lot, it was not the right direction for Eric Bana’s Nero. However, JJ liked it so much that I ended up in the film. Turns out those acting classes at the American Academy of Dramatic arts paid off.