When it came to doing a renovation on the Enterprise, J.J. Abrams and his design team knew that they would have to walk a very fine line, one that would allow them to exercise their own imaginations yet reflect the legacy and logic of a future that had been seen for decades on both small and large screens. Much of the task fell to production designer Scott Chambliss (Felicity, Alias, Mission: Impossible III), who relished the fact that he could tackle many of the familiar elements on the bridge with far more advanced technology at his disposal than the original designers had at theirs. To that end, Chambliss worked closely with the visual effects team from Industrial Light & Magic, particularly supervisor Roger Guyett, carefully figuring out the most efficient delineation of tasks, so that Chambliss knew what he had to physically build and what Guyett’s team would add synthetically later on. Guyett’s main focus on the bridge was the panoramic window that looks out to the stars—actually a viewscreen that could be turned on and off in previous versions of Star Trek. But here, that window was more akin to a windshield in an airplane or an automobile, so that the characters had a contant connection to the environment they were in. The bridge set was built on gimbals so that it could twist, shudder and tilt in viscerally, realistic ways when coming under attack or accelerating into warp. Explosions on the ship were shot live-action to “up the ante” for the cast and photographic team, despite the fact that there would be additional computer graphics added later to enhance the scene. Abrams’ directive for the engineering room was to make it functional and feasible. Chambliss initially hoped to build a massive set, complete with catwalks and power bays; location shooting proved to be much more affordable, and several sections of the engine room ultimately were shot at a Budweiser plant in Van Nuys, California, where the giant tanks and stainless steel tubing stood in for the pristine works of a working starship. In contrast to the sleek, well-lit interiors of the Enterprise were the dark, threatening guts of the Narada. In creating the Narada’s skeleton-like exposed interior, Chambliss says he was influenced by the Spanish architect Gaudi, who liked to reveal the inner structure of buildings, turning architecture inside out. Chambliss started with the idea of using a lot of cables and pipes that would metaphorically stand in for the Narada’s ligaments, tendons and nerves. Unfortunately, even Paramount’s largest soundstage would have been too small to build the entire interior. The team’s creative solution was to build modular anchor pieces of the Narada that could be reconfigured at will to form new spaces. This allowed Chambliss to give the director five or six different looks at the Narada on a single stage.
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