When it came to the world building of “Star Trek: Picard” on CBS All Access, production designer Todd Cherniawsky embraced a completely different set of challenges and opportunities from those on “Star Trek: Discovery.” In particular, he needed to reflect some of the inner turmoil of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard as he emerges 20 years later from Starfleet retirement and exile in his French chateau in LaBarre. The death of his best friend, android Data (Brent Spiner), the destruction of the planet Romulus, and the mysterious disappearance of Data’s daughter, Soji (Isa Briones), all prey on his mind as he searches for redemption.
“The world building advantage to ‘Picard’ that I didn’t have with ‘Discovery’ was that it had an easier springboard that had been established on ‘The Next Generation,'” Cherniawsky said. “Transparent screens, holography were touched on, but 20 years later, the availability was so much better. ‘Discovery,’ in a design sense, was trickier because we were [pre-dating] the original series and 50 years had passed. And thus…it was more open to criticism from the fan base.”
In “Picard,” the look of the design was about “balancing the past and memories, but also facing the future and change,” Cherniawsky said. “The French chateau, the vineyard, Data’s death, were a place to come out of.”
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Staying with the franchise’s essential scientific foundation, Cherniawsky and the art department relied on futurist research to inform many of their design choices, as well as post-modern architectural trends — such as parametric design based on algorithmic patterns for urban planning — when it came to presenting San Francisco, Boston, Paris, and Okinawa in the 24th century. The approach throughout was a holistic one, contrasting hard, dark, masculine looks with soft, bright, pastel tones.
“And taking the approach that everyone’s carbon footprint is near zero as much as possible,” said Cherniawsky. “We were adapting the idea of green technology and trying to offset the appearance of hard surfaces with whatever future version of polymer or concrete that might be used. And yet preserving as much of the past as it made sense to do so, which is why there is still The Golden Gate Bridge and The Eiffel Tower.”
They lucked out in finding the perfect chateau for Picard in Santa Ynez, near Santa Barbara, California. “Alex Kurtzman [the co-showrunner] pushed us to really look outside the zone,” Cherniawsky said. “It was not convenient for production, but it was well worth it. We couldn’t have found it in Toronto or New Orleans. It’s similar to Bordeaux. In fact, the stone on the chateau was actually harvested in Bordeaux. It was a bit of a magic find.”
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La Sirena, the principal Starship of the series, piloted by former Starfleet captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera), marks a fittingly rogue departure for the franchise as a non-Federation vessel. The spruced-up freighter was conceived as a visual metaphor for Rios: “The idea being that he lived carrying around a lot of skeletons in his closet and almost different personalities,” the production designer said. The lower decks were inspired by The Nostromo from “Alien.”
La Sirena serves as an open black space where it could be constantly modified as the series progressed. It is further exemplified in the script by all of Rios’ holographic versions of himself (engineering, hospitality, medical). “It was made obvious to me that his ship should be an empty warehouse of stored memories,” Cherniawsky said. “It contained militaristic technology and multiple upgrades with defined areas. Even Picard’s hospitality suite has been programmed to become his study from his chateau.”
Meanwhile, the Romulan Reclamation Site represents the series’ most ambitious design achievement. It’s described by Cherniawsky as “an archaeological dig installation,” where surviving Romulans have taken over a Borg cube and are harvesting its cybernetic tech. “Based on how secretive the Romulans are, we tried to figure out how they would dig in and explore,” he said. “And also find a way to take advantage of and spin-off any technology.”
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Working with artist John Eaves, who designed the original Borg Cube sets from “TNG,” they took a new crack at it and were heavily influenced by American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, riffing on his holistic approach to cubist spaces. “This was taking nanotechnology to where the whole cube was a machine, and deviating from the idea that, although they were assimilating technology, it was so extensive that they replaced maybe 80 percent of their past technologies that they had pilfered from other species,” Cherniawsky said. “So it was a chance for us to downplay the hoses for the wires and create a much cleaner look to help it feel like it was an archaeological dig.”
Finally, Soji’s Synth planet appears as a hippie oasis, paying homage to the utopian vision of the original series. “We wanted to try and maintain a timeless look, but also give it a ’60s/’70s science fiction overtone,” Cherniawsky said. “I looked at some other space shows, including ‘Space 1999.’ And, given that it had this wonderful hippie, free love, beach house kind of feel, it wasn’t a risky way to go, with coral colors and a pastel wash.”