Todd Cherniawsky Interview: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ production designer
“The jumping off point for ‘Picard’ was without a doubt examining Herman Zimmerman‘s production design work on [‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’] and many of the movies,” explains production designer Todd Cherniawsky about his work on “Star Trek: Picard,” which aired its first season on CBS All Access this spring. From there the art department considered “a lot of futurists’ work as far as where things are going to be maybe in a hundred years. We started to kind of just overlay those into the visual history of ‘TNG.'” Watch our exclusive video interview with Cherniawsky above.
Having “The Next Generation” as a reference point differentiated this experience from Cherniawsky’s work on “Star Trek: Discovery,” which took place before the original series but after “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “so it was new territory with a much more contemporary appetite for visuals.” But recreating established settings like the Borg cube was still “a bit of a tricky thing because it is so well established, and it’s got a very distinct look that Herman Zimmerman and his crew helped define.” So he took the Borg’s “futurized steampunk look” and pushed it forward “to be completely made out of smart material, the purest of pure Borg components.”
Other settings were informed by character, like the starship La Sirena, owned and captained by Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and hired by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) in his mission to save an advanced android from Romulan spies. “Rios was kind of a warehouse of memories and had an extensive collection of skeletons in his closet,” Cherniawsky explains, so he designed the ship to be “this open, undefined black space,” quite unlike most of the starships we’ve seen in “Trek’s” past.
The voyages of Picard on La Sirena brought the show to a wide variety of locations, which “definitely got tougher and tougher along the way … World-building is tough on a feature film, so to have it on a television schedule definitely pushed the art department every day to try to deliver things that were reasonably unique but still of course very respectful of the original show.”
But a couple of his favorite scenes to work on didn’t take place in the real world at all. They were the season’s bookend scenes in which Picard dreamed of his android friend Data (Brent Spiner) and then was able to visit him in his virtual consciousness. For the dream sequence, “you’re revisiting one of the great sets from ‘TNG.’ Being able to recreate just a small portion of Ten Forward was fantastic.”
And for surreal scene in the Dataverse, “it became very clear that what made sense was to do a kind of monochromatic version of the study from Picard’s chateau … We went with a gun-metal silver aluminized metallic paint … The visuals that the art department came up with were not only an imitation but a nice build on what we’d seen in the past.” That’s fitting for a story about how Picard’s unresolved past informs his journeys into the future.