Over the next three days, SciFiNow will take you on an unprecedented and completely exclusive tour of what went on behind the scenes of Star Trek, the JJ Abrams-directed reboot that has become one of this year’s most successful films, and certainly one of the most successful in the franchise.
Our reporter, Joe Nazzaro, interviewed the key figures involved in the make-up and prosthetic processes that lent the film such an incredibly distinct visual feel, and we have even included some fantastic behind-the-scenes images too. Now you can’t say that SciFiNow doesn’t treat you well.
Without further delay, we present to you the second part of The Secrets Of Star Trek, with the final part going live tomorrow, on Thursday.
Faced with a daunting number of characters to finish within a shrinking schedule, it was becoming increasingly clear that the workload would have to be divided up in order to get everything done on time. Enter Joel Harlow, whose company Harlow Designs ended up taking over the Vulcans, Klingons and newly redesigned Romulans. “I initially got involved with Star Trek,” Harlow explains, “because Barney [Burman] called me to come in to sculpt and design some alien characters and then to be his on-set liaison through shooting.
“But once we started filming, it became obvious that there was so much to do that he continued doing the secondary alien races and I took over producing and creating the primary alien races, which hadn’t at that time, apart from the Vulcans, been designed or tackled yet. The main race was the Romulans who hadn’t even been approached by the time we started shooting, because they didn’t really start filming until March of ’08 and we started shooting in October of ’07, so when I took over those guys, that became our focus.
“With the Romulans, JJ wanted to see something completely different. They still resemble Vulcans in that they have pointed ears and pointed eyebrows, but we went through something like six different full make-up tests specifically for the character of Nero [Eric Bana] and ultimately designing what the Romulan aesthetic would look like. At that point, it was myself, Neville Page who was the creature designer and to a lesser extent, [make-up department head] Mindy Hall coming in and throwing out ideas and coming up with ideas for what the Romulans would look like.”
Harlow worked closely with creature designer Neville Page to create a new, harsher look for the Romulans that involved a combination of tattoos and scarification. “I think JJ was looking for something new and fresh and innovative, but of course it still had to feel like what a Romulan would feel like,” claims Page, whose involvement with the Romulan design went as far as shaving his own head to participate in Harlow’s early make-up tests. “We discussed story elements and history, and talked about scarification as a way to evolve the Romulans into having that V-shaped forehead. The first time you see them, they’re human-looking other than the pointy ears, but after many years, they start to have this V-shaped brow; my rationale was, keyloid scarring over many years, but we’ll see if the audience likes that idea or not. It’s not something written into the story so there’s no time to explain it.”
“The character of Nero also has a huge scar on him that chops off the top of his right ear,” adds Harlow. “At the beginning of the movie, he has a full ear, but after he’s released from the Klingon prison facility, he has been in a fight and lost the top of his ear to something that bit him on the head, so he’s got a big bite mark scar starting at the middle of his head, going down toward the corner of his eye and back along his ear, which is now missing, as well as the back of his head.
“Each Romulan had their own set of tattoos and at any time there were maybe 30 to 35 characters, so there were a lot of tattoos. Each of them had the same tattoo on their hands, just to signify them as being from the same tribe, just like the brand from the Klingons. The tattoos were primarily Neville’s involvement; he designed all the tattoos, which reflected the aesthetic of the Romulan culture, so even though they were all different, they still related to each other and were similar enough to be from the same culture.”
Although the tattoos eventually became a major part of the Romulan look, Abrams wasn’t initially all that keen about the idea. “It wasn’t the culture as we knew it,” elaborates Page, “but with enough artwork and discussion, he eventually warmed up to the idea. I had never designed so many different tattoos for one idea!”
In the final part of The Secrets Of Star Trek, published tomorrow, we talk to the make-up artists about the Klingons, the experience, and what they feel now it’s done until the next one. Be sure not to miss it!