‘Star Trek: Discovery’: The Changing Makeup and Hair Looks of Michael Burnham in a Trippy Season 3

Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham became more badass in the Mirror Universe, while Doug Jones' Saru turned human for the first time.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
"Star Trek: Discovery" Mirror Universe
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“Star Trek: Discovery” got very trippy in Season 3: traveling into the future 900 years to the 32nd century, returning to the Mirror Universe, and venturing into a holographic simulation. That meant the makeup and hair teams were given greater creative freedom with the characters’ shifting appearances, especially Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who became more badass as an Egyptian-style warrior and more glam with braids.

Makeup department head Shauna Llewellyn and hair department head Ryan Reed focused on how a character’s visual concept could bilaterally reflect both who they were in the present and then how they changed in the future. With the Mirror Universe, it was a case of going extreme with alter egos. In addition, Emmy-winning makeup effects department head and prosthetics wiz Glenn Hetrick continued worked closely with Doug Jones on Commander Saru’s transformation, while Llewellyn and Reed got the rare opportunity to turn the Kelpien Starfleet science officer into a holographic human for Episode 11 ( “Su’Kal”).

“In Season 1, they entered the Mirror, but we never got to see the real Mirror Michael Burnham, which we all knew was pure evil,” Llewellyn said. “So we gave her an angular eye look, almost like an Egyptian, and a very dark, strong lip. It’s so far outside what we’re seeing from Michael Burnham and the rest was left up to Sonequa. We pulled references from different things [including Cleopatra] and landed on that look together.”

"Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
“Star Trek: Discovery” Mirror UniverseParamount+

Llewellyn looked at makeup artist Danessa Myricks for inspiration, with her dark, smoky-eyed glam signature style, and already had a dark purple eggplant color for Burnham’s lip. “It’s the polar opposite of Prime Burnham,” she added. “I wanted that striking lip to almost be the first thing you see.”

Likewise, Llewellyn gave Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), the Emperor of the Terran Empire in the Mirror Universe, a tougher Egyptian look, which complemented the military outfit from costume designer Gersha Phillips. “Her palette was basically gold and the theme was regal,” she added. “I didn’t really need photo references because Michelle and I discussed it being age appropriate. We worked with her features [and rougher hair style], the angle of the eyes, and put gold on her eyes, cheeks, and lips.”

For Burnham’s hair style in the Mirror Universe, Reed went for a more severe, structured version of her short military cut. “That reflects the vicious alter-ego,” he said. But in dealing with the passage of time for Burnham and being away from the crew so long, a scripted montage allowed him to also reveal varied lengths. However, the question became:  Where to land with her hairstyle at the end of the season? Thanks to the persistence of co-showrunner Alex Kurtzman, Burnham wound up with a more liberating, braided look.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
“Star Trek: Discovery” Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green)Paramount+

“Sonequa played a large role, of course, but Alex pushed for the braids,” Reed added. “When she suggested long and curly hair, Alex said, ‘Or how about the braids?’ When she asked about doing it another way, Alex came back with, ‘Or how about the braids?’ She was not resisting, she just offered other versions of her natural hair. But, after seeing her on a red carpet event with her hair in braids, that’s how Alex saw the future Michael Burnham. Once Sonequa and I read the script, we agreed that it was the right look. It just shows a drastic difference in her character arc.”

Meanwhile, Llewellyn and Reed had a lot of fun turning Jones human for a holographic transformation on a radioactive planet. “We were so happy to have Doug Jones working in our trailer,” Llewellyn said. “But what was funny, him as a human, was that it still took almost the same amount of time [as prosthetics] because of the [radiation burns] that were applied as special effects.”

In terms of the radiation, they referenced acid burns and applied them to the sides of Jones’ face and on top of his hands. “We used prosthetic transfers and it looked like there were deep sores, and we also put a wet, yellow wound gel so they looked raw. Basically, it looked like the planet’s surface was eating away at the flesh.”

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
“Star Trek: Discovery” Human Saru (Doug Jones)

However, playing with Jones’ prosthetics as Saru in Season 3 involved variations of the makeup design. “The Kelpien evolution contains tweaks to convey different story points,” said Hetrick, who spent a lot of Season 3 introducing the green Orion creatures, which demanded full, translucent silicone work. “As part of the evolution toward building back up to his normal self, he became slightly stripped down. It’s the opposite of how we accomplish it. It’s filling in, removing appliance, taking away secondary and tertiary forms and smoothing everything over to make it less complex.”

Yet Hetrick needed to also create an elderly Kelpien (played by Jones) during the holographic sequence. “There were discussions about an entirely new set, about wrinkling, but there are other ways to fabricate,” he said. So Hetrick looked back at previous tests from Season 2 for an approach to the elderly Kelpien that was merely a minor fabrication. “It was adding textures to create the final look, blending the face to the head and the lip to the chin.” Once again, he returned to the insect and amphibian toolbox that has served him well, pushing boundaries “to find something scientific and biological.”

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