Warp Factor Trek

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Dave Blass is highly enthusiastic about Star Trek. He worked as Production Designer on the second and third seasons of Star Trek: Picard, supervising the various design staff who teamed up with him on those seasons. “I’m always open to collaborating with someone throwing a good idea out,” he positively notes. Where did his enthusiasm for the Star Trek franchise and production design come from? And now that his work on Picard is over, what views does Blass have on the proposed series Star Trek: Legacy?

Star Trek Roots

Dave Blass has fond memories of initially finding Star Trek. “My earliest experiences with Star Trek go back to The Original Series,” he recalls. “I was born in ’68, so I caught it in reruns, which was great because it wasn’t one of these things where you had to wait a whole week before it was on. I just kind of grew up with The Original Series and then into The Animated Series. So, I was a huge fan, had the original MEGO Star Trek action figures and everything of that nature. That was my introduction really into science fiction as well.

Blass’ interest in the production design side of science fiction developed later. “It was when Star Wars came out,” he reminisces, “because that was such a big motion picture event, but more importantly because that was so successful that they had these behind-the-scenes specials that would be on, where you saw them making the spaceships. And that was the first time that I saw that ‘Oh wait! Someone actually does that,’ that that’s a job that you can do, and that really intrigued me. I’m like, ‘Well, that’s what I would like to do,’ and taking that idea to make that a career choice.

The TNG title card

Blass continued to watch Star Trek as The Next Generation began. “It was hard because, when Next Generation came out,” he continues, “I was in college and we couldn’t get cable in the dormitories. There was just no way to do it. I had a job at the media center and I would schedule my work so that I could work there on the nights that The Next Generation was on, so I could actually watch the show at work. But later on, when I didn’t have that job anymore, it was harder to schedule, so I was a big fan of The Next Generation and then fell off and then I ended up rewatching Voyager later in syndication and Deep Space Nine as well.

Blass was thrilled when Star Trek: Picard was first announced. “I was like every fan. I was excited that the story was going to continue and hoped that it would be done by people who loved the show.” The show’s first season pleased him. “I thought that Season 1 had a great story arc,” he praises. “Michael Chabon, the writer, did a beautiful job of going into the internal demons that haunt Picard, and the whole situation with the Romulans was very well done. So, I think it was a well done thing.

Picard Season 2

Following production on the first season of Star Trek: Picard, Dave Blass replaced Todd Cherniawsky, who had been the Production Designer for Season 1. “Todd had gone off to do several other shows, one of which was Obi-Wan. For me, coming into Picard was mainly just taking the original concept of Star Trek and bringing it into a modern world,” he explains. “In Season 1, they didn’t have any Federation ships, not really until the end. But I had the idea of going, ‘Okay, well let’s look at what has been done in the past, use that as a guide, and try and update it rather than completely change it.’

For the second season, Blass took inspiration from specific previous eras of Star Trek. “In the middle of shooting Season 2,” he says, “we had a screening of First Contact and the wonderful work that Jonathan Frakes did on that. So, I think First Contact was high up on our list again because of the tie-in to the cast, the fact that Jonathan directed it, and the Borg Queen. So, we probably watched that ten times while we were shooting, and then Season 2 was a lot for me about Voyage Home because it’s travel back in time. But we also then watched a lot of Voyager and Deep Space Nine, the ‘Past Tense’ episodes and the episodes where Voyager comes back to present day. It’s a fun thing because a lot of those episodes we had seen but hadn’t really gone back and revisited them and studied them as well, so it was fun to do that.” The second season’s contemporary setting was also influenced by the comic adaptation of “The City on the Edge of Forever”. “We pulled a bunch of things from there,” notes Blass.

Jackson Roykirk Plaza

The same modern setting allowed the inclusion of particular elements that called back to earlier-produced Star Trek. “We danced around the whole idea of the Botany Bay and Jackson Roykirk and the ‘Changeling’ episode and when that would have happened in the timeline of Star Trek and adding those little bits in,” Blass recalls. “That was always fun to do, to put those little elements in.” The episode “Watcher” included Jackson Roykirk Plaza, obviously named after Jackson Roykirk, who is referenced and appears photographically in The Original Series episode “The Changeling”. Remembering another deep-dive reference, Blass states, “I put in a little snow globe that would have been on Sarah Silverman‘s desk in her office and we put that in Soong‘s lab, with the idea being ‘Ooh! Maybe they had a thing together and Soong gave it to her.’ I’m like, ‘Here’s a deep dive for all you people.’

A Sean Hargreaves concept image of a turbolift’s interior aboard the Stargazer

Senior Concept Designer Sean Hargreaves, in a recent interview with Warp Factor Trek, mentioned that he suggested including a red door for the Stargazer turbolift (it later became the Titan-A’s turbolift) as a callback to The Original Series. Blass comments on this, saying, “Sean was a huge part of the design of what was, at the time, the Stargazer, and he had a great idea with the red doors. I think he put the red doors in one of his original renderings and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’  And then we did them with this carbon fiber look to give them a little bit more texture. We kept the bridge doors red primarily as an homage. We wanted to lean into the idea of tying it back into the the world-building of Star Trek. And then, throughout the rest of the set, they changed colors to kind of work within the environment that they were in, so it wasn’t just the same thing over and over again.” Blass highly recommends the book Places that Hargreaves has written. “It’s a great book of all his designs,” Blass comments, “and he’s done some amazing work.

Blass and the rest of the show’s staff found that beginning production on Star Trek: Picard’s second season was imperiled by the overall medical situation. “As we started into Season 2, that’s when the COVID pandemic hit,” he explains. “It made everything far more difficult, and we had to adapt to it the best we could.

Blass wearing a face mask on the set for 10 Forward in the second season

Picard Season 3

Immediately after Season 2 was filmed, it was time to produce Season 3. “We shot Seasons 2 and 3 back-to-back and that was a challenge because, especially going into Season 3, there was not a lot of time to prep and design and focus,” Dave Blass remembers. “That was the initial plan, to do them back-to-back. So, we had back-to-back seasons on top of a pandemic, and that was a challenge.

The requirements of the show changed in the third season. “As we moved into Season 3,” says Blass, “the show became more starship central, so it was less about scouting locations and more about building the starship sets.

A Klingon cloaking device from the Season 3 episode “The Bounty”

As Blass notes, the design of a Klingon cloaking device in the third season came from an illustration that Rick Sternbach had done for the Klingon Bird of Prey Owners’ Workshop Manual by Haynes. Blass describes this as one of several “little things for the fans.”

Establishing the USS Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation enabled more callbacks to the past. “When we were doing the capsule stickers, as we call them, we had the joke version with what they really were back then, and then we had the non-joke ones and again we all kind of said, ‘You know what? Even though we want to make it accurate, we’re gonna make it actually accurate and make it proper, rather than having to joke, because people will see it and it will distract from the world. But it still had things like the ‘Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing’ (‘GNDN’) labeling and things like that throughout, so we tried to again mix the history with the reality.

Blass with veteran graphic designer Michael Okuda, behind the scenes of Picard’s USS Enterprise-D set

Design Philosophy

While working on Star Trek: Picard, Dave Blass had an ethos that it should be regarded as an historical show, simply set in the future. He explains, “The challenge with Star Trek is you’re designing for the future and you have to spend more time envisioning what things could be, so everything becomes more of a thought process. It’s about considering what the methodology is of doing whatever you’re going to do in the future. It’s like, you don’t put a pencil on the set of Star Trek. It has to be something, so everything has to be created, everything has to have thought go into it, so that is always a challenge. Because if you’re doing a historical show, you may have to fabricate things to make them historically accurate, but you know what you’re going for. Whereas in Star Trek, it’s more envisioning what it might look like and even if I think something doesn’t have to function, it needs to look like you have put some thought into it about how it would function if it did.

Blass felt it important for the seasons of Picard to fit well within the Star Trek aesthetic.  “My design principle was to make it look like Star Trek. And again, it was… start with what existed and what we know. If you look at an elevator, what did an elevator in our world look like twenty years ago? A turbolift should look like a turbolift, a door should look like a door. So, we kept a lot of the architecture and the design aesthetic of The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, and just brought it forward with the technology so it didn’t feel dated. But a door should still look like a door. So, that’s why the big doors that went to the holodeck and other things still look the same. And that was our whole idea.

The Fleet Museum from Season 3, which was meant to originally be Spacedock from the TOS films

The TOS series of six motion pictures was highly inspirational to Blass’ work on Star Trek: Picard. “I’m a huge fan of The Original Series films,” he notes.

Blass is somewhat dismissive of the term “Easter eggs,” saying, “I think that that term becomes almost a negative term because it becomes that thing of, like, ‘Oh, we’re just doing it to get fan service.’ And for me, it’s actually about adding as much history into the show as possible, because Star Trek isn’t a fantasy show; it’s a historical show that has sixty years of history. So, it’s about world-building and putting elements of the past of Star Trek into that.” On the other hand, he later refers to Soong’s snow globe as an Easter egg, adding, “I think that would be the only Easter eggy thing.

Picard in his chateau

In response to fans expressing surprise at there being certain elements in Château Picard, Blass points out that Picard would have these things, like the Ressikan flute, the Mintakan tapestry, and the painting of the Enterprise-D. “These are things that he would keep,” Blass reasons, “and so we kind of tried to add those little bits of his history in.

Picard Positivity

Dave Blass observes that Star Trek: Picard stands out as a unique entry in the Star Trek franchise. “I think it’s great,“ he declares, “because it’s a legacy project that brings the past forward, and as far as the new shows go, it’s really the only one that’s directly tied to one of the previous shows. Where Strange New Worlds and Discovery are really tied to The Original Series, it’s its own thing. They’re not really directly linked to Enterprise, but in a lot of ways they are.

In addition to commenting positively about Season 1 of Picard, Blass has high praise for the later two seasons. “Season 2 is good fun. I think Akiva did a wonderful job, Patrick was very instrumental in the story, and the cast did a wonderful job. I also like what Terry did with Season 3. Each season is its own thing and they’re all wonderful journeys.

As such, Blass is extremely proud to have worked on Star Trek: Picard. “My favorite aspect of working on Star Trek is finally getting to design Star Trek after so many years of wanting to do it, really throwing myself into it and doing what I felt were the right designs, and then seeing the fans react to it, both good and bad,” he remarks. “It’s great to see so many passionate people, whether it’s the fun debates about carpet or, you know, this or that. I love that the fans are passionate about it. I love that they love stuff that we did. I love that they hate stuff we did, because if what you did was so meaningless that no-one cares about it, that’s the worst thing in the world. But I think if you’re out there trying to push the envelope and do something different and important, you are never going to please everyone. If people don’t hate your stuff, you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not pushing hard enough. So, I think that that’s a great thing, is having the fans. I have hundreds of emails from fans who have said that Season 3 of Picard made them cry and reconnected them with their parents. Those types of things are just priceless.

The first shot of the Season 3 premiere, “The Next Generation”

Blass is also proud of having been involved in the first couple of installments from the show’s third season. “I think that the two episodes at the beginning of Season 3 that Jonathan Frakes directed, where we’re in the nebula, are probably some of my favorite Star Trek episodes ever,” he enthuses. “I mean, I think that what he did, the directing, the acting and the script, everything was just spot on. It’s got drama, it’s got character, it’s got adventure, it’s got humor. So, those two episodes for me are really some of my proudest achievements in film history, because to do that and to get a chance to work with those actors and then to succeed as well, that was pretty amazing.

Star Trek: Legacy

Fans have been vocal about the proposed series Star Trek: Legacy. Does Blass think it still has a possibility of being made? “Quoting Paramount, Star Trek: Legacy isn’t a thing,” he states, “so it’s not in development and it’s not in any way moving forward. Until that changes, it’s just a cool idea. It’s like Phase II of Star Trek: The Original Series. That actually got greenlit and was moving forward, but Legacy is just a nice idea. It’s great that the fans like it and want it, and maybe it will happen at some point. But right now, it’s not remotely a thing. It’s not happening unless something massive happens. Paramount is deep into production on Section 31 and Starfleet Academy.

Blass is cognizant that some people get the wrong idea, thinking that — just because the word “Legacy” is said — the series will enter production immediately. But even if it is announced that Star Trek: Legacy has been commissioned, it will take much longer before it’s ready for filming, requiring sets to be built and scripts to be written. “It would be a year before we would start shooting,” says Blass. “Everything takes time and a lot of money.

In the Star Trek: Picard series finale “The Last Generation”, a scene aboard the Enterprise-G, with Seven of Nine in command, would seem to serve as a fitting precedent for Star Trek: Legacy

Ultimately, Blass remains enthusiastically hopeful that the proposed Star Trek: Legacy series will be commissioned. He observes, “I think everyone would love to see it happen.

Expanding the Final Frontier

Dave Blass remains a Star Trek fan to this day. “I love all Star Trek shows,” he proclaims. “I don’t think that there’s necessarily a ‘bad’ Star Trek show, So, I really love all of them, and I think that each one is unique in its own way. There’s creators out there trying to evolve the world of Star Trek in different directions and fans have to just be open to new ideas.” The Kirk quote “Young minds, fresh ideas, be tolerant” from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock seems appropriate at this juncture. Blass adds, “We’ve got to be tolerant; I think that that really is important.” His passion for the franchise continues despite his exclusion from it. “I’m no longer in the Star Trek universe. Much like with the JJ ’verse, they’re going with the different teams of people to do the new shows,” relates Blass. He concludes, “I wish them all the best.

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