In season three of Star Trek: Picard, production designer Dave Blass made the dreams of millions of fans come true. He achieved this when he meticulously recreated the bridge of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not only did he recreate the old Enterprise, but he introduced us to a new starship, the former U.S.S. Titan. With the Picard complete collection set to arrive on Blu-ray soon, we caught up with Blass to chat about the monumental task of delivering for the fans in Picard’s final season.
Nerdist: You joined Picard in the second season, which was filmed back-to-back with season three. What was your relationship with the franchise before that?
Dave Blass: Star Trek was the reason I got into filmmaking. So, famously I shared in my little talks at Comic-Con, I put up my photo of myself at age 16 in my Spock outfit. That was really, for me, the visual idea of “I want to go to Hollywood to do Star Trek.” So to follow that goal and then achieve the goal was something pretty amazing. And especially with Picard season three. To really stick the landing on putting a closure on The Next Generation storyline was pretty amazing.
The Blu-ray special features for the third season of Picard show the incredible reproduction of The Next Generation’s Enterprise-D bridge. You went out of your way to stick to details from back in the day—many that 99% of viewers wouldn’t notice. Was it important for you that it looked exactly like the The Next Generation era bridge?
Blass: 100%. I mean, when you’re doing something, especially if you’re building it from scratch, there’s no reason not to do it properly. And I think that what we tried to do was to inspire the team to our level of creating a museum-quality replica. Again, a lot of times it’s just using a term like “museum-quality replica.” And rather than say we’re recreating the set, it’s like, no, we’re building a museum-quality replica of the Enterprise-D. From TNG season seven. And then we would just paper the walls with these details.
By doing that, it inspired all the artisans to rise to that level of detail. They would say “Oh, can I match the wood grain exactly the way it was?” Because each one of them is an artist in their own right. So can we get them to elevate their craft and to say, “Okay, this is what we’re doing with the carpet, guys, can you do this?” The upholstery guys would say “Here’s what we need to do, and here’s finding this exact right leather and the exact right carpet.” Just going down the rabbit hole of trying to be where it isn’t just “Oh, it’s a red carpet, it’s fine.” It’s like, “No, it’s not fine. Fine’s not good enough. It’s got to be perfect.” And then once everyone got that, then it became exciting. Then they knew they were working on something special.
In the Blu-ray, we see how emotional it was for the actors to step foot on that bridge again after almost 30 years. Knowing what it would mean for those seven actors, did that add pressure to make sure it was as identical as possible to the TNG era Enterprise?
Blass: Yeah, a friend of mine was prop master on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and they did a season where they did a Seinfeld reunion. And for the show, they rebuilt the diner and Jerry’s apartment. He said that he was on set when they came walking in, and he said that they sat down in the booth and they started crying, because they realized how much that set and that show had changed all their lives. We knew it was going to be powerful for us in that way, and that was why we were so detail-oriented about all the different things. For example, there’s no scene in which Geordi (LeVar Burton) goes and sits in his chair in his station. So we could have easily skimmed and not built the chair that pulls out. But that’s the first thing that LeVar Burton went and did.
He’s like, “Oh look, the chair even pulls out!” It was so important to us just to be there on the day and to share in that moment. They thanked us for all the hard work, it was pretty amazing. I’ll tell you, standing on that bridge, especially having that unique experience? As the person in charge, to stand there on the empty bridge of the Enterprise alone? I don’t want to say it’s a religious thing, but it’s like going to the Parthenon and being like, “Wow, there’s history there.” And it was powerful. You felt it was something different.
We spend most of our time in Picard season three on board the Titan. Which was a redress of the Stargazer from season two. Which elements did you feel you needed to keep from the Stargazer? And which ones did you bring into the Titan that you felt made it unique?
Blass: The main thing was upgrading. We realized that the actors needed busy work. And if you look at the Stargazer, the captain and the command officers didn’t really have consoles to play with, and we added those in. Little computers for them to be playing with at any time. So that was the main difference in adding a bit more eye candy. Some more screens, and things that people can touch and play with. Unfortunately, we really had eight days from when it was the Stargazer to when it was the Titan. So we barely had time. We didn’t even have time to repaint the floors. There were still scratch marks from the finale of season two on the floors when we hit season three.
Another ship you designed for Picard season three was the enemy ship the Shrike. Spoilers, but eventually we learn that Captain Vadic and crew are changelings. Aliens that are part of Deep Space Nine lore. Did you go back and look at the Dominion ships at all when designing that ship?
Blass: We ignored it because there was an initial concern of going, “Okay, do we go Dominion?” And then as soon as you see the ship, you’d know. “Oh, they’re Changelings.” So, it was the idea that this ship was not specific to a race that they had acquired. And it’s also the idea that if you’re going to go out and do something sketchy, you don’t drive the company car to do it. It was the whole idea of they were out there doing this, they would find a ship that would be unique. One they could do whatever they wanted in, but be on the down low.
M’Talas Prime is the planet that we spend the most time on in Picard’s third season. Without a feature film budget, you designed a fully realized world. Can you talk about the influences that went into designing it?
Obviously, you can’t really do a dystopian world without talking about the original Blade Runner. And years ago, I was designing an episode of ER and I was shooting on the back lot of Warner Bros. And then I realized that was one of the main Blade Runner streets that was in the show. All of a sudden, I realize I’m decorating the Blade Runner street. But also it was like we were shooting in the Iraqi village from American Sniper. So it was a backlog studio set that was out in the desert. So it was finding this thing, taking the elements that we wanted to add. It’s at night, so the lights, the neon, the smoke, and then just give it an alien world type of feeling.
You designed the “Nu Borg” ship, or should we say the Jurati-Borg ship, in season two. And also the new but more classic-looking Borg ship from season three. These are two different Borg, so how did you approach designing them differently?
Blass: Yeah, the funny thing is when [Picard showrunner] Terry Matalas came to me for season three, he said, “Okay, so we want a Borg ship completely new, something I’ve never seen before.” I reply “Dude, you just said that to me like six months ago [for the end of season two] and I just gave it to you.” So we did that for season two, and I think that I feel that the Borg singularity ship that we did for that, it’s cool, it’s different. It looks like a Borg but not. But then when we came back, it was the whole idea of how do you do a Borg cube but don’t do a Borg cube? But also, there was the idea that we wanted it to be decaying, but then if you go back to season one, they had a decaying Borg cube in season one.
So it was the whole idea of going, “It’s got to look like a Borg ship. It can’t look like season two’s, it can’t look like season one’s.” And then we looked at all the different variations of Unimatrix Zero [in Voyager] and what else had been done and how do we do that? And we had dozens of different ideas. In the end, Terry’s like, “What if it’s a cube?” I’m like, “Good idea. Let’s just go with a cube.” But it’s like a super cube. And then he came up with the idea that this box is sending out antennas and signals. So the spikes on it just gave it a little bit more of a mean look. And that was something that Doug Drexler and John Eaves developed, and Igor Knezevic also worked on that. So a lot of people doing some great work on that.
Was there anything you really wanted to do in the third season that either time or money just didn’t let you do?
Blass: I would’ve loved to change the Titan around a little bit more. It’s like, thank you to the audience for not giving me a ton of shit on Twitter for the Titan looking exactly like the Stargazer bridge. I would’ve loved to, because also we learned stuff after seeing how it shot. And if I had painted the walls a little bit brighter, going with something different on the floors or something. But we didn’t have time. And again, we knew that we had to budgetarily focus on a lot of stuff. But [I/m] really, really pleased with how season three ended up.
Star Trek: The Picard Legacy Collection Blu-ray set arrives on November 7 from Paramount Home Entertainment. It contains seasons 1-7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 4 feature films, and seasons 1-3 of Star Trek: Picard.
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