An Interview with Picard Senior Concept Designer Sean Hargreaves
Concept Designer Sean Hargreaves worked on Star Trek Beyond and the second and third seasons of Star Trek: Picard. He notes, “I wasn’t there for the first season, came in for the second season, worked the whole second season, and did a little bit of the third season.” Having interviewed Hargreaves when Picard was airing, I recently enjoyed speaking with him again — now that the show has ended — about his Star Trek work.
Earliest Star Trek Experiences
Although Hargreaves describes himself as “by no means an expert on all the Star Trek shows,” he did watch Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation in his youth. He’d watch TOS as a boy and found the single red door on the Enterprise’s bridge highly memorable.
Hargreaves also grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation. “I watched The Next Generation when I was at school and college in the ’80s,” he explains. “And when I saw the Enterprise, I couldn’t believe it, that they actually did a ship like that.” Hargreaves was meanwhile studying car design at college. Because design goes through periods much like fashion does and many of the cars at that time were very straightlined and boxy, Hargreaves’ school was training students to design cars that looked highly streamlined. “And then when The Next Generation came out,” he continues. “I’m like, ‘Oh, they applied that to the Enterprise, the same kind of organic shapes!’”
Hargreaves feels less sure how well the Enterprise-D bridge has dated. “One of the things about the interior of the Enterprise on The Next Generation is it was beautiful for the time,” he remarks. “But when you look at it now, it’s got all of these things — they look like lockers — on the sides, and that kind of stuff always bothered me because it was just a lot of repeated things. It kind of felt like you were enclosed a little bit. I mean, if you look at that bridge, it looks a little soft now. You know, it’s a little lounge-y. It’s a real chill bridge, I would say.”
At the time, however, Hargreaves enjoyed the earliest seasons of The Next Generation, albeit with a notable nitpick. “To be honest, some of the seasons got very talky. I wanted more action, because I feel you can talk stuff to death and you can support anything by words but, at the end of the day, it’s got to be entertaining. And so, yeah, I really enjoyed the first few seasons of The Next Generation. People will say, ‘Oh well, they got better as it went along.’ But by that time, I was graduating and I didn’t have time to watch that.” He laughs. “You know, I was trying to find my career, so…”
Hargreaves credits the JJ Abrams Kelvin Timeline films for returning a sense of nostalgia to Star Trek. “They actually took a lot of stuff away in The Next Generation that they brought back recently. And people will kill me for this, but it could be because some of the JJ films, he brought back some of that stuff,” Hargreaves reckons. “And by the way, full caveat: I love the JJ films. I love what he did and brought a boost back to the series and basically brought the series back. I don’t think all those other series would have been back if they hadn’t had those successes in the films.”
On the third of those films — titled Star Trek Beyond —Hargreaves himself worked as senior concept designer and visual effects art director, collaborating with Production Designer Tom Sanders, who led the art department. “He loved to sculpt and make models, so he’d make these gigantic models of sets and they’re fantastic,” recalls Hargreaves. “He said to me, ‘You deal with the Federation stuff and I’ll deal with the alien stuff.’ And so myself and another guy, Warren Flanagan, and his girlfriend Milena Zdravkovic — who’s also an amazing concept designer — worked on a lot of Federation stuff. I had a hell of a great time on that show. It was amazing to work on that. Other than the Franklin interior, I worked on exteriors. It was ships and environments.”
Hargreaves theorises that Star Trek Beyond was impacted by improvements in streaming TV shows. “I would say that the quality of a lot of streaming shows is catching up to films,” he reckons, “and that’s where I think that maybe the last Star Trek movie — which I was on, which went down — I think that’s one thing they may have realised, that, you know, ‘Hey, we got to rethink this because the streaming shows are getting really good, the visual effects are really good, the stories are really good, and they’re something to keep in mind when you’re doing a film.’”
One memorable experience came when Hargreaves visited the set of Star Trek Beyond. “I went in the turbolift, and there was this really cool mesh that they had designed and this really cool lighting scheme that went up and down this mesh. And I can’t remember how they did it, but it was something very primitive.” Even though the mesh and the lighting scheme used traditional methods, they looked incredibly advanced to Hargreaves. Laughing, he adds, “It’s the trick of the eye, you know, and there’s these amazing technicians that pull this stuff together and make it look like it’s this incredible invention, but it’s actually something that’s old school. So, I don’t remember anything that stands out that is like, Wow! There’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s all been something we’ve seen before, presented in a different way.”
Hargreaves’ work on Star Trek: Picard was mainly on interiors, rather than mostly exteriors. Thus, it differed fundamentally from his contributions to Star Trek Beyond.
Designing the Stargazer Bridge
The other Star Trek series and films didn’t really inspire much of the art department’s work on Star Trek: Picard. “We kind of had a clean slate,” Hargreaves notes.
One of the first things Hargreaves did for the Picard TV series was to design the USS Stargazer bridge. “That had been something that had been worked on lightly. When I started, there was an aesthetic that had been established in the adjacent hallway that led to the turbolift that led to the bridge. And Igor Knezevic had worked on it, and I saw that. Dave Blass, who was the production designer, said, ‘I’m going to give you guys three days. You can redo the whole bridge or you can do elements of the bridge,’ and I just bit the bullet and did the whole bridge, meaning the shell of the bridge and also the side workstations, which were modified, but it was pretty close to what it became. I did an iteration of the bridge that Dave liked and pretty much kept it that way and then we just refined it.” Discussing the design process, Hargreaves says the main challenge was achieving a unique, Star Trek-inspired aesthetic that felt more advanced than what had been seen before. In doing so, Hargreaves ignored the hallway aesthetic that Igor Knezevic had established. “I didn’t apply that to the bridge, because it was a different thing. I kind of just did my own thing with the bridge. But in the end, it all worked together.”
All the various elements of the bridge were considered important to the design process, such as the colour of the turbolift doors, the placement of the captain’s chair and the room’s varied elevations, each of which called back to previous eras of starship design. “When we did the different levels,” Hargreaves recalls, “there was a discussion about stairs versus a ramp, because we didn’t want Patrick Stewart walking down stairs; it was best for him to walk down a ramp. So, there was both. He stood at the top of the stairs, in front of his chair, but he also could walk down the ramp.” Laughing, Hargreaves continues, “You see comments online. ‘Why do they have stairs if they have a ramp? Why do they have a ramp when they have the stairs?’ There’s reasons for it. So, we try to make all that interesting and try to harken back to what’s been done in the past. Things like the ramps and the stairs were a bit of a challenge, on how to make that look good.”
Hargreaves designed the bridge’s ceiling and faced another challenge — finding some way to suspend it. He considered the construction process, exploring options like an external truss system and whether there would be pillars. Some of the other considerations were whether there would be any potential clashes with lighting and electrical systems or overheating issues.
After Hargreaves submitted his initial concept illustration of the Stargazer bridge, a few others also contributed to the bridge’s design. “We had a team of a few designers who came on. Igor Knezevic did the side workstations, did a great job with that, and then there were a few others who did the forward conns. James Chung did the forward conns, which were beautiful. They had a nice twist to them. Rob Johnson was another guy who worked on the viewscreen at the front. Also, Geoffrey Mandel was instrumental in designing the graphics around the ship and for the screens.”
Hargreaves regards determining the width of the viewscreen as “one of the main challenges that we had” with designing the Stargazer bridge. “They call it a viewscreen; I call it a window,” he points out. “But yeah, I kept making it wider and wider. Rob made it pretty wide and we wanted to have that nice panoramic aspect ratio.” The designers began considering having it be a ninety-degree-or-even-wider panoramic view, though this would cause the visual effects budget to rise prohibitively. “So, there was a little bit of a compromise on that, and we found that out real late in the game, that that wasn’t going to work, so we had to make modifications to that.” Ultimately, however, the designers still ensured the viewscreen would have a large panoramic view.
The concept designers had to bear lighting in mind. “Most set designs that we do, in lots of films and shows other than Star Trek, we design lights into the sets and that way, you can have these amazing camera moves, 360°, and you don’t see a big lighting rig. That was one of the things about the Stargazer bridge, is we had to build in a strip of light. They all have them, in all the bridges. It’s probably about ten feet up. Ours was broken up, to make it look interesting, but that light shines onto the faces. So, when the actors are looking outside the viewscreen, their faces are lit, which is really important.”
Another matter was carpeting. “The easiest thing was to decide whether it was carpet or not,” Hargreaves says, though he then breaks into laughter. “No, that actually didn’t come into play. I’m just joking because I know a lot of people have talked about, ‘Well, it should have carpet,’ but no, the carpet was never a discussion. It was never going to have carpet.” As for why this was, Hargreaves considers, “Well, it goes back to the Matt Jefferies thing, because he based the bridge on a gigantic ship, and if you go on a gigantic ship, there’s no carpet in the pilot room or whatever you call it. It’s almost military. I mean, carpet in the hallways or something like that, or carpet in their own personal rooms, I get. That’s definitely an option, but once you get into the working horse of the ship, which is the bridge or maybe in the corridors and the med lab, I think that needs to be… I don’t want to say militarised, because that’s like weaponry, but I think it should be more hardcore. I had nothing to do with the extremely shiny floors. They wanted a certain kind of look with that shininess, and I didn’t mind it in my renderings, but I can see how it could be regarded as overly reflective.”
The bridge’s side stations feature a group of curving screens which was a challenge to design. Hargreaves comments, “When I designed that originally, it was very organic. I mean, you had a base screen that curved up into a vertical screen and then curved up again, over you, and curved laterally as well. So, there was no edge, like an edge of a computer. Everything was all kind of moulded together, but there were problems with that, and we ended up having a lot of that stuff projected from the back, and Igor had redesigned that organic look to make it work with our video playback guy, Todd Marks. And I mean, if you saw the back end of that — outside the set there — you’d be like, Wow! because it had all these projectors to project that stuff in.”
Hargreaves is pleased with how the designers met the challenge of designing the Stargazer bridge. “I think that they overcame all of it and it ended up looking really, really clean. There’s a photograph that Dave Blass did, which is a panoramic of — looking back from the viewscreen — the whole bridge. Beautiful photograph. He’s an amazing photographer, Dave. So, that was a great view of how successful that bridge ended up being. I think a lot of people liked it.”
Designing the Stargazer Observation Lounge
After working on the design for the Stargazer bridge, Hargreaves moved onto doing the observation lounge behind it. The room gave a good view of the ship’s engines, which John Eaves and Doug Drexler designed, along with the rest of the ship’s exterior. As with the bridge, multiple designers worked on the observation lounge.
Hargreaves also worked on designing the transition between the observation lounge and the bridge. “It was very important for me to make it look like a transition, not just a door frame or something like that,” he recalls. “So, I had all of these fluorescent lights in there and just tried to make it as beautiful as possible and as minimal as possible, the whole thing. As I try to do with all my designs, I tried to work in a very minimalist fashion instead of detailing it out so much.”
Both the bridge and the observation lounge were reused for the USS Titan-A in the third season of Star Trek: Picard. When asked if he was involved in the process of that small amount of redesign, Hargreaves notes, “I did a pass on it, yes.”
Designing the Stargazer Sickbay
Last time I spoke with Hargreaves, one set he wasn’t permitted to talk about was the Stargazer’s sickbay, which ended up being omitted from the show. He explains, “I designed the medbay as a kind of a semi-spiral in plan view. Though they really liked it, I don’t think it ended up being that way, for whatever reasons. Maybe it was budget. But I did a version of the medbay where the beds rose up vertically and there was a separate area for operations and there was a back area for offices. Again, it was very minimalist and to the point.” This medical centre was the last area of the Stargazer which Hargreaves worked on.
Refining the Excelsior
Although most of the designs that Hargreaves worked on for Star Trek: Picard were interiors, he also did what he describes as “some tag-team stuff with John Eaves on the Excelsior.” Hargreaves elaborates, “He had laid out the Excelsior, and I did a bunch of modifications of it. What they wanted to do was there was stuff where they wanted a hole right through the middle lengthwise, so you could see right down the middle, I think when you landed or something — there were some reasons for that. Behind the dish, there was a bunch of stuff that had to be sorted out. I cleaned up and sorted out all of that stuff. Also, underneath the ship, there’s a little docking area that I worked on.”
The final appearance of the Excelsior pleased Hargreaves. “That was a fun ship. I love that ship.” What Hargreaves particularly liked about the Excelsior was that it featured traditional starship components — like an engineering section, a pair of nacelles, and a deflector dish — while simultaneously featuring new shapes in starship design. “There were different shapes, but it still spoke to the same design language, which I think is really important in Star Trek.”
Although the Stargazer sets had been the first designs Hargreaves worked on for Star Trek: Picard, he proceeded to work out how the Borg Queen (played by the late Annie Wersching, with makeup design by Neville Page) would look while confined at the back of the La Sirena. “That was fun,” he reminisces. “That was a lot of overlays of her floating there. She had, like, a floating pod. There was a question of whether they wanted to have that or not, and how many cables were going into the system, and where they were going, and trying to keep that clean and not too spidery with all the cables coming out. That was a big discussion. So, I ended up doing a lot of renderings of that, adding and taking away cables.”
Remaining on the subject of the Borg, Hargreaves was then assigned to help design the immense Borg cube that appears at the end of Season 3. “The third season stuff was really the Borg stuff, but not much else,” he notes. Though Hargreaves describes the well-established Borg cube design as “just great,” modifying it for its Picard appearance was not easy. “It’s such a defined look,” he says. “But it’s a real challenge, because you’re given a cube and asked to make it look the same but different and interesting. You know, it’s a challenge because it’s so defined as it is. So, to change something that’s already there… It’s like, ‘Here’s a soccer ball; make it interesting,’” he laughs. “Where do you go from there?!”
Despite the degree of difficulty involved in the task of redesigning the Borg cube, Hargreaves managed to deliver on it. “I did a tonne of versions of the Borg ship and then the Enterprise going into it. They wanted it very spiky and less greebly than the traditional Borg ship. Dave wanted it to be more with, like, spikes coming out, so it would really feel pretty hairy as you went in. So, I did a bunch of those. The design went through a load of iterations. It was a separate thing, then it was a cube, and then it spread out and it was all bits, so it went through various revisions, and I wasn’t the only one who worked on that. There was a bunch of people who worked on it.”
Hargreaves did a few other bits and pieces on the Star Trek: Picard TV series. “I did some peripheral stuff, like regular hallway stuff,” he says. “There was also the NASA gala that I did, which was a location shoot and we took a hotel and changed that. I think that worked out really good.”
Another element that Hargreaves contributed to were the turbolifts aboard the Stargazer, which he didn’t design but did some some detailing on. “I said to Dave, ‘We have to have red doors,’ because everything I’ve done on any Star Trek, when I’ve done a bridge, it’s got to have the red doors, because I just remember that when I was a kid and watching the original Star Trek.”
When I interviewed Hargreaves earlier, the main thing he couldn’t talk about was the Enterprise-D bridge. “The third season, for what the art department had to do, was really taken up with a lot of the Enterprise, but there was other stuff as well,” he reflects. “But by then, I’d moved on, so I didn’t end up working on that bridge, because my time was coming to a close and it was a bridge that was already designed. It was a matter of reproducing that bridge, which Dave and his team did an amazing job with. I actually got hired for another job that would keep me busy for a long time, so I gave Dave all the designs that I could do and then moved on. By that time, they had started on that bridge. It was a huge hidden secret. I mean, I couldn’t believe it when they told me about it, so it was a great shock for everybody,” Hargreaves laughs.
In Hargreaves’ opinion, Picard compares very nicely to other Star Trek series. “I thought it was great. I thought it got so much better. I watched the first season and enjoyed it, but I really think that Seasons 2 and 3 were really good and I really was proud of working on them. I’ve watched a few Strange New Worlds and I like those a lot too.”
Hargreaves thinks the return of Picard as a character, with Patrick Stewart reprising the role, was “fantastic.” He further comments, “You know, I’m going to say something that might be controversial. I actually liked him in Picard more than I did in The Next Generation, because it was more contained on him as a character. And yeah, they took it back to his old pals and everything. But I did like, from a story standpoint, them concentrating on him and opening things up to him more and joining a new cast of characters, a new crew, per se. I think he did a great job.”
Sir Patrick Stewart highly appreciated the sets of Star Trek: Picard. “There’s a photograph that Dave Blass sent me of him showing Patrick Stewart the set the first day. And apparently, he was blown away,” Hargreaves reveals. “I almost was in tears because it’s like, that’s what you want, right? And the last thing I would want was Patrick Stewart to not get into it, but he was. He absolutely loved the sets that we all designed, and he was totally into it.”
The introduction of Raffi was also a highlight for Hargreaves. “I love the interaction between Picard and Raffi. They bounced off each other and I think that was really good. I know there’s some people who didn’t really like her character, but I thought she was great.”
When asked what has been his favourite aspect of working on Star Trek and contributing to its rich visual universe, Hargreaves cites the behind-the-scenes personnel, enthusing, “Well, working with Dave was great, because he let me do a lot of stuff. Working with John Eaves and Doug Drexler was great, just seeing what they were doing, and working with my other friends, James Chung and Igor Knezevic and Rob Johnson as well as a few other guys. They’re like the unsung heroes and that’s my takeaway from that.”
Star Trek Future
Given recent news, it’s possible that Sir Patrick Stewart may return to the Star Trek franchise. However, if the Picard TV series ends up being Stewart’s final Star Trek work, Hargreaves thinks it will make for “a great way to end his Star Trek career.”
As for whether Hargreaves himself will return to work on the Star Trek universe, he notes, “I don’t know what’s going on with regards to Star Trek. I’d love to do another one, for sure. I have to talk to Dave and see what’s going on there.” For the time being, it seems we’ll just have to watch this space…
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.