Star Trek: Discovery wrapped up its second season last Thursday with a time-twisting finale that looped back through the entire 14-episode run, before shooting the Discovery and crew off to the far future for a story yet to be told — and now, some of the creative forces behind “Such Sweet Sorrow” have shared some behind-the-scenes secrets from the making of the finale.
Director Olatunde Osunsanmi wrote an amazingly-detailed, lengthy piece for StarTrek.com last weekend, diving into all angles of the two-part production, from the moment he learned the finale would be expanded into a two-hour event through the staging of specific scenes and action sequences.
It’s much too lengthy to be quoted here, but his journey through “Such Sweet Sorrow” features insight into the dynamic, rotating set used to create the Georgiou-Nhan-Leland gravity battle, preparing for Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham’s farewell moment, filming Sarek’s moment of meditation on location, and much much more.
In addition to a number of interesting personal photos from the set, Osunsanmi also shared video of the on-set action as Burnham prepared to leave the ship in her Red Angel suit, illustrating just how far the Discovery visual effects team must go to transform the live-action facility into a futuristic starship.
Osansanmi also spoke at length in an interview with SciFiBulletin.com, where he expanded into more technical details on camera lenses, filming techniques, lighting choices aboard the USS Enterprise, and more — including the new dynamic camera movements used in Season 2.
It’s all about transparence and parallax; we constantly struggle with making the flat screen, the 2-D screen, feel like it’s not there any more. The more you move the camera, the more you move the background and foreground and the actors within that space, the more the screen feels like you can just put your hand through it and touch what’s going on there. The more you feel it’s real, the more it emotionally impacts you.
That’s why usually an audience member, or even me when I’m watching, might not notice the camera’s moving if it’s done right but in certain moments, when a character is experiencing a particular emotion and the camera moves in to that particular character, just seeing subtle stuff like that impacts you in a stronger way than if the camera were to be particularly still.
The director also dove deep into how different frame rates in shooting were used to heighten the action during the battle sequences, compared to the moments of relative peace aboard the Enterprise during its introduction and farewell.
When we first arrive on the Enterprise bridge, Pike steps out of the lift and he walks in and there’s a nice big epic wide shot that starts in a close focus and pulls back to a wide shot. That’s the first time we’ve seen the bridge. After that, all the shots of Pike on the bridge, and when the crew are talking to each other, they’re on dollies, and nice and smooth.
Juxtapose that the same day with the battle beginning [in 214], the shot sequence for that, so suddenly I realize I’ve got to get off the dollies and go handheld for a lot of this, and I want to put liquid filters – which are just crushed up water bottles with water in them that slosh around as you move the camera around – in front of the lens so the camera’s more herky-jerky.
On top of that, 213 was shot on a 180 degree shutter, and 214 was shot on a 90 degree shutter. For the 180 degree shutter you’ll see the smooth frame rate that is normal to cinema. However at a 90 degree shutter, you get more of the staccato ‘Saving Private Ryan’ effect. Though Spielberg went down to 45 for battle sequences, I only went halfway to 90 degrees. With all the shaking and camera moves, I felt 45 would be too extreme. So 214 feels a little bit choppier, a little bit edgier, the frame rate as it’s going through is not as languid and smooth as it is in 213.
All those types of micro-adjustments just make it feel a little bit different between the two.
Also speaking with SciFiBulletin.com was Discovery’s visual effects supervisor Jason Zimmerman — nicknamed ‘JZ’ by the crew — who covered how his team prepared to take on the extremely VFX-heavy two-part finale, from the elongated battle sequences through the massive time-travel wormhole created to send the Discovery crew into the future.
Alex [Kurtzman] let me and everybody else in production know really early on and we started the battle planning. What ships are going to be involved? Who’s going to be there? The choreography started really early. We finished it somewhere around April 5 [less than two weeks before the episode aired].
I worked with [director] Tunde [Osunsanmi] and Alex to lay out the battlefield in advance so we had an idea of how the ships surrounded everybody, and how they were going to be, at least at the start, until the fire started coming.
So we had a good idea, and with an episode that so heavily relies on CG, you have to have a pre-vis for the editors when they start to cut the episode because it’s a large component that plays into all the rest of the shots, and we wanted to be sure to give them something to play off. In some cases, there were adjustments that had to be made, but at least it gave them something to say “That’s it”, or “That’s absolutely not it.”
We went through several revisions with Alex and Tunde, changing the animation [in the pre-vis], changing the blocking to make sure that it coincided well with what we had shot practically.
Moving into the practical side of the finale, series costume designer Gersha Phillips revealed some of her work in designing the now-infamous Red Angel time travel suit on Instagram this week, teaming up with the Discovery prop and production design teams to build the practical gear worn by Sonequa Martin-Green.
In a lengthy post shared on Wednesday, the designer went into detail on how the practical costume was put together.
The Red Angel suit took roughly nine months [to design and build] before going to camera. We started last April, and went through multiple revision with fabrics, textile design, the fit, colour, and the shell components.
The fit of the Red Angel suit was inspired by Scarlett Johansson’s costume in the film ‘Ghost in the Shell.’ I absolutely LOVED what they did, and I wanted our Red Angel suit to look just as streamlined on Sonequa.
We developed our own fabric design by 3D-screenprinting three different layers, two of them being a different scale of a circuitboard pattern. Inspired by Burnham’s mother’s suit (which we were developing simultaneously), we injected new technological elements into making Burnham’s suit look more futurisitic.
[Prop designer Mario Moreira] came up with the idea to match Burnham’s suit to the Discovery uniforms, and it was quote the process to perfect it to the exact colour that we wanted. For example, in one of the earlier designs, we had the thigh plates in lighter-coloured metal, but after going through camera tests, we toned it down as it was standing out quite a bit.
In addition to Phillips’ insight, Discovery prop house Walter Klassen FX shared an impressive look at two of the built suits used to represent the Red Angel both in the finale, and for use as ‘mannequin’ standees in “Perpetual Infinity.”
Finally, a handful of new behind-the-scenes photos from the finale have been released by CBS on social media, including a fun look at the Discovery cast and crew marveling at Ethan Peck’s arrival on set as blue-shirt Spock.
Behind the Scenes on ‘Such Sweet Sorrow’
Our Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 coverage will continue with our final Canon Connections article for the last few episodes of the season, and additional interviews with the series production team!