(Image credit: Paramount+)
Paramount+’s “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” just wrapped its impressive second season .
The season’s final episode, titled “Hegemony,” ended in an unsatisfying cliffhanger that angered some fans after a brilliant season filled with exceptional episodes like “Ad Astra per Aspera,” “Among the Lotus Eaters” and the historic singing and dancing chapter, “Subspace Rhapsody.”
Despite some narrative hiccups in that climax, there’s no argument regarding the return of the Gorn and the reveal of the snarling, 7-foot-tall (2.1 meters) alien decked out in an ultra-cool helmet and spacesuit.
The Academy Award-winning visual effects studio Legacy Effects was responsible for hatching the principal onscreen villain for “Strange New Worlds” using a clever synthesis of old-school puppetry, modern 3D fabrication, digital modeling, cutting-edge animatronics and suited-actor practical effects.
From screeching Gorn hatchlings to crawling younglings to a full-sized bipedal Gorn clad in a gothic spacesuit complete with an illuminated helmet, showrunners Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers chose wisely when deciding to use the angry reptilian aliens as the show’s primary antagonists.
We spoke with Legacy Effects co-founder J. Alan Scott — whose mindblowing resume includes everything from “Jurassic Park,” “Galaxy Quest” and “Real Steel” to “Pacific Rim,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “The Expanse” — about the genesis of the Gorn and how his team created the terrifying cinematic magic.
Space.com: As a Hollywood creator working in creature effects for over three decades, what inspired you about the form and function of the Gorn?
J. Alan Scott: What’s nice for us is that the reveal of what we’ve been developing for two seasons now is that we still haven’t revealed the full creature yet, so we now have another opportunity to do that. We originally designed it for Season 1 and then they wanted to inch into it and wanted to tease and build up the expectation, which for me is a great horror trope. The anticipation and the anxiety of it is much better than the reveal. But you still have to show it.
With my roots with “Jurassic Park,” when they said they wanted a horror episode — and I’m a huge horror fan and love the idea of scaring people — to take what was in broad daylight at Vasquez Rocks with the original “Star Trek” episode’s Gorn, there’s no scare factor there. It was great, but what would they have done if the series could have supported a horror episode?
When we were designing, they had a couple rules. They wanted to tie it back to the original as much as you can. But the idea to make it a hard-R horror movie with carnage and blood and gore was for me — couldn’t have been a better ask. The trick was adding technology and figuring out where they land. Which was different from the original show that was basically just a loincloth and a bandolier. It didn’t really inform what they were capable of.
Space.com: Take us through the developmental challenges in creating a hostile alien species beyond its humble origins in “Star Trek: The Original Series.”
Scott: Since they’d already explored in Season 1 that they’ve got space travel and warp drive technology, the trick is, How do you make a monster that’s sentient and intelligent? Can you talk with it? Does it speak? And that mix of horror and technology was a long exploration that culminated in the EV suit. I’m still looking forward to see if they wear armor. Do they have weapons? Do they wear sidearms? All that’s going to come later. Do they use communicators? Are they using iPads? What are they using with their hands, and how do you do that when you got this thing that’s supposed to be a ravaging beast? How do they interact with each other?
They can’t be screaming raptors all the time. But raptors are a great parallel. They have a culture, and there’s a society there. Now add technology to that. Now how do we design the EV suit around that whole thing? You can only screw it up. That’s the problem with something as iconic as the Gorn: You’re being asked to recreate something, modernize it and do it in a respectful way, but also make it exciting.
You have to be very cognizant of whether it’s going to be silly. The writers and the production team guide us through all of that. I’d love to say that these were all of my ideas. They’re not. It’s a visualization of a team of ideas. It’s a balance and a little bit of exploration that unfortunately happens in a very quick timeline. It seems like it was two seasons’ worth, but you really only get two months to build it in the end, and then there’s no time to go backwards and change it.
Space.com: What was discussed for lighting schemes in the zero-G fight scene?
Scott: Yes, we have to work with the lighting team and the DP [director of photography] and the director on how much we’re going to reveal. We actually had to alter the design of the helmet because the lighting wasn’t quite right. The fixtures team came to us, and they got new LEDs and put them in there, and we had to change that a couple of times to get the right balance. It’s not something that we can anticipate here, even though we’d sent up a mockup [to Toronto]. Uplighting was great because it makes a real spooky face, but then it wasn’t really enough of the eyes so we changed the helmet so we could hide LEDs inside to illuminate the eyes more. In that dark set, it pops, and you can see the teeth and eyes and the movement in there. You see the animal inside.
Space.com: For “Strange New Worlds” Season 3, what can fans expect with the Gorn? Will we see them flying their strange starships and firing weapons?
Scott: We haven’t shot it yet, but there have been discussions, and I’m looking forward to the same thing. We’ve seen their entire life cycle now, discussed and designed, so I love the fact that we’re just inching into it. I’m looking forward to seeing it full-body. We’ve seen the EV suit, but we don’t know what they look like inside yet. For Season 3 Episode 1, we’re anxious and waiting almost as much as everyone who watched [the finale] last night!
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Season 2 is streaming now on Paramount+.