‘Star Trek: Discovery’: The Vibrant Opening Credits That Give Space Its Own Renaissance

The gorgeous, soaring trip through the fundamentals of the "Star Trek" universe at the start of each episode is a delicate balance of color, deconstruction, and emptiness.
Star Trek Discovery Credits Season 2

Before Ana Criado was brought on to help craft the opening credits sequence for “Star Trek: Discovery,” she wasn’t all that versed in the ever-expanding universe of “Star Trek.” That became an advantage when one of the only parameters for the 90-second sequence that opens each episode was to make it look like nothing any of the series had put forth before.

Criado, a creative director at the L.A.-based Prologue, now says she has a much better handle on “Trek” lore. At this point, her own contributions to this latest series’ legacy is impossible to overlook; her team earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Main Title Design. Established in Season 1 and retooled for a Season 2 with slightly different plot ambitions, the opening credits of “Discovery” do stand out as a singular creation, even as they draw on recognizable items from the franchise’s half-century history.

“It didn’t seem like a huge challenge until I started to know more about ‘Star Trek’ and then I said, ‘OK, this isn’t gonna be easy.’ We were lucky that we found this idea of blueprints and it fit in perfectly with the concept of the TV show. It’s a prequel, so it leaves its own space to create and to present the elements that everybody knows,” Criado said.

Letting the relative position of the show within the better-known corners of popular “Trek” mythos inform the style, this sequence reflects the ways a prequel outlines the origins of what’s to come. Working from that premise of literally deconstructing “Trek” iconography, one of the initial instincts was to take things in a more monochrome approach.

“At the beginning, we started to work with black and white. But the black and white by itself looks very cold,” Criado said. “We are relating to the Renaissance. I wanted to make it look like we are designing everything from scratch. I wanted the white, sepia color in the background. I didn’t want to put too much color, but I didn’t want to leave it just black or grey.”

One of the sequence’s most distinctive strokes is its contrasting color scheme. Against that parchment-style backdrop, those two competing tonal ideas not only set up the ongoing battle between heroes and villains, but offer striking bits of detail in the process.

“When I started to design the storyboard, after we decided we were going to keep going with it, I tried different colors, but those colors were the ones that worked so well when we tried it with the design. They work perfectly when we use a solid object or when you use X-ray,” Criado said. “At the beginning it was more orange than blue, but with just the orange it looked more flat. When you introduce a secondary color, everything is very colorful. They work very well together, so we kept it.”

The first season’s credits featured a summarizing parade of characters, items, and creatures that established tone and expectations for what “Discovery” might tackle. At the start of updating the sequence for Season 2, one of the first tasks was figuring out the main pieces that would be swapped in. Criado and her Emmy-nominated team — which also includes Nader Husseini, Francisco Sánchez de Cañete, Zachary Kinney, Christian Antolin, and Kyle Cooper — received a list of potential additions from their “Discovery” partners. Some pieces didn’t particularly lend themselves to the existing style, but one that certainly did was the all-important captain’s chair, a symbol of new pivotal figures and shifting command over the course of the coming episodes.

“It was one of the most important pieces that they wanted to show. It was iconic for the fans, because it’s related to a new captain,” Criado said. “We needed to take into account which pieces we were removing and gonna be replaced. We tried different representations, but the one that we chose — with the balance of the transparent, X-ray parts of the chair and the solid parts — they fit together perfectly. We did put some easter eggs for the fans in that part, if they want to look closely.”

Aside from having the established template, this Season 2 update also had the added benefit of working with a final piece of music. Having only a few weeks to complete the original credits sequence, Jeff Russo’s rousing series theme was still being finalized up until late in the process. Now with those sweeping strings firmly in place, one of the main points of emphasis was making sure things stayed in rhythm.

Among the other new pieces are the introduction of Red Angel, a mysterious figure that becomes more defined throughout the season as the other characters learn more about its true identity. One of the more striking additions, though, is one of the seminal pieces of “Trek” lore: the Starfleet logo. Presented in two different forms, this introduction of Starfleet into the “Discovery” opening credits proved to be one of the trickiest ways to update for Season 2.

“For me, that specific moment was the most difficult one to fit in the sequence. That image is very crowded, because you have the room and the three symbols. We decided to not make them appear at the same time, which would make it more distracting,” Criado said. “I think it finally worked, but it was a bit of a nightmare for us to try to fit them perfectly and not make it distracting. It still shows the three badges, which was the most important thing for us.”

That overall working rhythm to make visions like this come to fruition is so well established at this point that Criado says that she and her team are in the middle of working not just on the extreme time-jumping “Discovery” Season 3, but the latest TV franchise installment coming to CBS All Access in the spring: “Star Trek: Picard.”

“It’s very exciting and we are so happy to keep going with this amazing team and CBS. They are very collaborative and it’s always a pleasure to work with them, honestly,” Criado said.

“Star Trek: Discovery” Seasons 1 and 2 are now available to stream on CBS All Access.

Final-round Emmy voting is open from Thursday, Aug. 15 through Thursday, Aug. 29 at 10 p.m. PT. Winners for the 71st Primetime Emmys Creative Arts Awards will be announced the weekend of Sept. 14 and 15, with the Primetime Emmys ceremony broadcast live on Fox on Sunday, Sept. 22.

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