Posted on Monday, May 23rd, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
Last Summer, I visited the set of Star Trek Beyond in Vancouver, Canada. Find out what I learned on set, including how over 50 new alien species were created for this film in honor of Trek’s 50th anniversary, how director Justin Lin has put an end to JJ Abrams’ “camera hand jobs” (yes, you just read that right) and much much more.
A Visit To The Set Of Star Trek Beyond
On August 7th 2015, I traveled to Vancouver, Canada to visit the set of Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond. To give you some idea of time perspective, this was the same day that Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four hit theaters nationwide, in case you’ve already forgotten that THAT movie even existed.
We visited on day 30 of the film’s 77 day shoot (which was later extended with reshoots). The production moved to Dubai with the full cast at the end of production.
While much of the production was being filmed at Vancouver studios, including the USS Enterprise Bridge set and main hallways, we only visited The Bridge Studio across the street. We were told we would not be able to for unspecified reasons. Alas, my dreams of walking the bridge and sitting in the Captain’s chair were dashed. After seeing the trailers it seems clear that the Enterprise bridge and ship was likely destroyed in that encounter we see in the advertising, and at the time production was trying to preserve that secret (which seems crazy, because it seems to be the inciting incident for this story).
Sets on 360 Degree Gimbals: The End of JJ Abrams’ Camera “Hand Jobs”
The coolest thing we saw was a set that they were not using on the day of our visit, a a 90 foot long USS Enterprise hallway set which was constructed on the studio’s special effects stage with a 25 feet wide rotator rig, which is a variation on a gamble that allows the hallway to rotate 360 degrees if needed. So while past Star Trek films have mostly relied on the actors to thrown themselves around while they are under attack, this set really moved and could present some truly striking cinematic scenes, think about how Christopher Nolan used the hallway set in Inception.
“It’s fucking awesome,” Zoe Saldana told us while laughing. “That made me want to kind of do a little more. It looks amazing. … So it keeps you always…it keeps you at the edge of your seat kinda going, “Oh, my god. What’s going to happen? These people are being tossed everywhere.” … “It wasn’t the kind of set where they are jerking the camera, doing the camera hand job.”
The Bridge set was also built on a gimbal that could shake the entire crew as the Enterprise encounters turbulence. Saldana describes the days before Star Trek Beyond where JJ Abrams would give the camera “a hand job” to make it appear like the ship was taking enemy fire.
“You had to see it. It’s really comical. You always have that one camera guy: ‘And, action!’ It used to be J.J., too, because it was like, “Oh, I’ll handle this camera!” He’d be like jerking the camera. This time the set really moved. So they went all out to kind of give us that experience, and it was cool. So all the sets. There is one set that rotates 360 and there are two sets that shake a lot. So it’s kinda cool.”
Chris Pine on the other hand says that “there’s still plenty of the camera handjob happening on top of the fact that these sets move 360 degrees” but admits that the more practical nature to the moving sets has been “super fun.”
“What did we do the other day? We were in some dark places of the ship and it was slanted 65 degrees so you had to run up and being tackled by someone, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s actually way more physical in that regard than the first two films, something I could equate it to would maybe be in the first one when me and Sulu have this fight outside in this giant – I don’t even know what it was but… It’s definitely the most physical film.
Karl Urban says that the gimbal sets that move and shake and rotate “certainly makes our job a lot easier”:
“I think it’s one of the great things about Justin — he’s got his eye keenly on the macro. It’s all about enhancing the performance and enhancing the visuals and actually bringing space into the bridge. Whereas, perhaps in J.J.’s version, the bridge was really brightly lit and stuff but space is out there. Justin really wants to bring space to us. I think that’s a really interesting concept.”
50 New Alien Species To Celebrate Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary
The man behind the alien make-up designs on Star Trek Beyond is Academy Award-winning make-up artist Joel Harlow, who has worked on everything from The Toxic Avenger Part II, to the Pirates of the Caribbean films to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. To help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, Harlow challenged himself and his team to create 50 new unique alien races that we haven’t seen in Star Trek before. So this film will show many more of the universe’s lifeforms than the previous films.
Harlow says that some of the designs are humanoid, while others are taken well beyond that, with a couple homages to old alien races from the television show, but nothing specific. Joel says he’s most proud of one of the alien creature designs where they have altered the human figure to something that is completely not human, meaning the character is driven by a human but it would be hard to figure out where that human is. The alien designs in this film span the spectrum of Puppetry, animatronics, computer augmentation and special effects makeup.
“There are a lot of 3:30am call times… I heard one time there was like a 1:30 AM call time for somebody,” reveals Zoe Saldana. “It was brutal for that person and the crew that was handling them. So it’s great. It’s always a fun thing to see just the opportunity that each department has to showcase their work. And you are going to have a lot of aliens. That’s one thing that I always like to see. If we’re doing a film in space, I don’t want to see just human beings in space. It’s so boring. We must be like the dullest species ever. So we have a variation of a lot of species.”
At least half of the alien creations are seen in Yorktown, and on the biggest day they will have over 30 alien races on set at the same time, with multiple actors in each race. While we will see other Vulcans in the film, Harlow assures us that Klingons will not show up in Star Trek Beyond.
The Story Begins With Isolation
Where does the third film in this rebooted franchise take us? After reading the script for the first time, Zoe Saldana was relieved.
“It felt like a very fresh way to seeing all of us. … I think every installment that we’ve done has been very unique in terms of where they’re at, where each character is at in their own personal lives, and also as a crew. And here, just when you think, “I don’t know what else they can do with us…”
The story picks up with Captain Kirk and his crew having lived through about two and a half years of the planned five year mission. Chris Pine explains what he loves about the beginning of this new adventure:
“What I love about the beginning of this film is that it takes into account what it may be like if you’re on a submarine or something and you’re with the same people day in and day out for months and years. It’s the second year of a five year mission, so what is that kind of repetition like. How you kind of get out of the day to day doldrums and doing nothing but kind of flying the ship and trying to find stuff.”
Saldana described their current situation as “it’s like once you see one planet, you’ve seen them all.”
“They’re at that point when you see them for the first time. … We’ve been working for two years straight. We’re exhausted. I think we kinda need a break. It’s not like we hate each other, but we need a break as people. We’ve just been working and sharing the same space. That’s how you start the movie. That’s where you see us in the beginning. And I thought it was really smart to kind of…because you kind of wonder, “Where is this going to go? Because they are starting out like they are done, like it’s the end. So how can they be challenged this time?” So the first 10 pages I was like…I mean it’s amazing.”
Everyone is having cabin fever and ready to go back to the home base, but they aren’t.
“Everyone’s just doing their job, going from adventure to adventure, and it’s kind of tiring, and they’re wondering what the ultimate goal is, what the endgame of it all is,” reveals Simon Pegg. “And I think the idea of the story in the film is that what they encounter helps to clarify what their job is.”
And the truth is that the crew hasn’t seen any real action just yet.
The Story Will Separate The Crew
The previous two films were about the Spock/Kirk relationship, but in this one everyone gets a piece of the action more. And that is accomplished by splitting the team up.
At the end of the first act, our heroes come under attack by a group of aliens lead by Idris Elba‘s character Krall. The Enterprise is deemed unstable and the crew abandons ship in individual pods. This is actually more info than we were told on set as no one would even discuss if Elba wore make-up for his character. What we were told is that the crew finds themselves stranded on an alien planet and come across Kingman star Sofia Boutella’s character Taylah, who we are to believe is friendly. The whole thing has the set-up of a stand-alone episode of the old television show.
The make-up for Sofia Boutella‘s alien character Jaylah is a mix of prosthetics and traditional makeup techniques and a wig. Harlow says its of the hardest make-up applications on the show because it’s “so clean.” The entire forehead is an appliance and everyplace you see black is a silicone prosthetic. Every day Sofia works she has to undergo three and a half hours of application and a half hour of removal at the end of the day.