Set Decorator Lisa Alkofer SDSA brought elegance, while Production Designer Todd Cherniawsky brought a deep working knowledge of the sci-fi canon to the latest STAR TREK iteration, PICARD, the eponymous series starring the beloved character, Jean Luc-Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart.
The combination proved ideal for portraying the now retired Starfleet Admiral, who is, yet again, willing to take up a noble and likely hopeless cause
...and for the worlds we visit with him on this quest throughout the galaxies.
Château Picard, La Barre, France...
Stewart and Alkofer conferred several times over the character’s traits and likes, thus giving full force to the visual depiction her set choices convey, particularly in the Château Picard.
Stewart noted Picard’s deep interest in history, anthropology, art and the classics of literature, indubitably, Shakespeare...all characteristics he happens to share with the character.
Set Decorator Lisa Alkofer SDSA
In Conversation with SET DECOR
Alkofer notes, “Gene Roddenberry’s original through-line is humanity and being interested in somebody’s soul, whether they’re a Romulan or a Borg or whatever the next alien is going to be. Roddenberry always tried to find a common ground. So that’s sort of how I interpreted it through Patrick’s/Picard’s oeuvre.” Thus, artifacts representing different cultures, eras and places. Among the actual antiques and vintage pieces, “We did a riff off of those initial artifacts, so we also have some that might be alien artifacts in the year 2399,” Lisa smiles. [See video here and gallery above]
“It all came from history and humanity, trying to have a common goal and to communicate with people that are not like you.”*
Having worked as a buyer and Assistant Set Decorator for some of the top Set Decorators in the world throughout her career, Lisa knows her way around antiques, fine furnishings and luxurious fabrics. She and Buyer Sondra Thorpe [SDSA Associate] delved into finding the treasures within treasures at the esteemed Pasadena Antique Mall, looking not only for actual antiques but unusual objects and shapes that could be re-interpreted in a variety of ways. “We literally spent weeks in that place alone, combing each vendor’s stalls, going through each of those cabinets and trunks, and we kept going back and looking for more unusual stuff...and making great finds!”
“When you see Picard sitting at his desk, at his right elbow is an unusual piece, a glass half-sphere that has a little light on it. That was an original large camera lens and a microscope light that somebody had made into this odd little sculpture. I was going to use it as if it were the original television for the Enterprise, a piece that Picard had discovered and kept.
That’s how I approached STAR TREK. Every time we found an unusual object, or one with an interesting shape, I was always planning on making it into something else! Shapes were very important, especially in maintaining a more humanistic aspect to our design.”
“The globe standing next to Picard’s desk is, indeed, enormous, but I kept looking at it, and realized he’s a person who’s interested in the world, he would definitely have something like that.”
“His desk was pretty spectacular. Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos that show the entire desk. It was shaped like a trapezoid, another stunning antique that felt right for Picard and would hold distinction across time. I bought that from Anne Hauck Art Deco, one of the premiere Art Deco stores in the world, certainly in LA. In fact, half of THE AVIATOR sets, Ava Gardner’shouse, all of that, was shopped out of that store.”
[Editor’s note: THE AVIATOR, for which Production Designer Dante Ferretti and Set Decorator Francesca LoSchiavo SDSA won an Oscar, was the beginning of a long and close relationship with Alkofer, both working and personal.]
Art of the Château...
The hero painting titled Daughter hangs above the fireplace mantle behind Picard’s desk. The storyline was that Data had painted the piece...actually two versions of it, the difference being the direction she is looking. We learn later of twins Dahj/Soji, who are perhaps his daughter[s] due to fractal neuronic cloning. The painting, in all of its versions, was a collaboration between Set Dec, Art Dept and Props. “Todd found the artist, Andrea Dopaso. I brought in imagery of styles I liked and our Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman agreed, so it became a Turneresque seascape/portrait. Prop Master Jeff Lombardi took it from there, as there needed to be various degrees of completion for the flashbacks of Data painting, circa 2369.”
“All of the other paintings in the Château are museum pieces that I licensed through museums...The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, Art Resources and others...and are from different eras and different styles, different civilizations.”
“The painting in the center above the fireplace, on the opposite wall from Picard’s desk, is a Ferdinand Léger. We licensed two of those paintings for the whole season, one for his study and the other was going to be used in another part of the chateau. The reason we featured a Léger was because Patrick Stewart is a collector...and, obviously, he’s a French painter, in fact, he was from the south of France near the location of the chateau. This piece is early 1900s/1920s, during the Cubism period – this style was dubbed Tubism, so it fits into our scheme to have art from all different times, styles and places. I chose this specific Léger because it is a figurative painting, almost like a family portrait. Picard is longing for a family. Although he doesn’t vocalize it, it’s obvious that is what he’s searching for. Since on the opposite fireplace is the painting Daughter by Data, whom he considers a family member, and because Picard has such eclectic taste, this seemed ideal.”
“As I mentioned, all of the other pieces on that wall are from museums, so the framing had to reflect that. David Smith [another Set Decorator extraordinaire] taught me early-on the importance of good framing. He said, ‘If you’re ever going to spend money on anything, spend money on frames, and spend money on flower arrangements. If you’re going to go cheap on everything else, that’s fine, you can have Ikea furniture, but if you spend $200 on that floral arrangement sitting on the dining room table, it will make the whole room.’
That was a long time ago, I took it to heart.”
“Those fine art pieces were all chosen because of Patrick and his interest for the character, and I wanted the framing to look old world and carved and important, and make the art pop. So, I brought them all to U-Frame-It Gallery and worked with Adrianna for literally hours to choose the designs for the frames, because it was so important to both of us to get it right.”
[Editor’s note: Adriana Cruz-Ocampo is the owner of U-Frame-It Gallery, details which can be found in the Resources section above.]
“Because I tend to do stuff very early in prep, we had enough time that she could source really unusual frames and unusual mats. She took care, and I took care, on how everything looked. She and her team did such an amazing job. It made the set.”
“We initially had an antique tapestry hanging on the perpendicular wall, but it was threadbare, probably 200-hundred years old, so we decided it would be wise to have it framed. The embroidery was really beautiful. It had hints of red in it, so Adrianna floated it in a heavy, carved frame, with a little bit of red velvet kind of echoing it. That’s the only piece that wasn’t licensed from a museum, but it looked like it belonged in one!”
She points out that Picard’s family estate, the vineyards and chateau, are literally hundreds of years old. The Old World refinement of this rustic, organic setting offers a complete counterpoint to the technical advances of the 24thcentury, which it also holds, including replicators, holographic computer components and heads-up displays that appear on command in the ancient home...and more so and in more complexity on sets throughout the series. [See gallery above.]
La Sirena, A Kaplan F17 Speed Freighter starship...
The heightened sense of style is a visual leit motif Alkofer carried into the 3-storied spacecraft and in consideration of each of the other worlds we visit. A cargo freighter, the ship La Sirena reflects the vastness and the emptiness of space.
Cherniawsky’s design offers an open cockpit/bridge, literally bridging the fore end of a mezzanine. The opposite end berths the updated transporter with a dynamic light array. Exposed framework, with cargo nets covering niches to hold whatever within, along with boxes, trunks and other minimalistic storage compartments, comprise the length of the mezzanine, as it overlooks the exposed two-story-high central expanse in this highly functional transport ship. Below decks are an eating and common area, medical bay/infirmary on the second deck, the bottom deck has multi-use holds and storage containers and engine room, while the upper deck holds the bridge, control panel and living spaces, including the individual staterooms, with beautifully designed modular units Alkofer employed in different aspects. [See gallery and video for more details!]
The bridge has virtual screens and heads-up displays that can be manipulated to appear anywhere needed. Alkofer brought in a definitive organic touch for the captain’s chair, a special woven fabric with a hint of metallic to reflect more light in the dark ship, a great framing device for the actors who sit in it. [See gallery above re: a special detail...the logo & its meaning!]
She translated that visual connection onto the set for the Qowat Milat, a sect of warrior nuns on the planet Vashti. For a giant treehouse that Cherniawsky designed as their quarters, a safe and effective shelter, Lisa incorporated linen fabrics in bi-hued double-panels which provided both color and privacy, and used a German open-weave natural linen for beautiful yet simple thin futon-like pillows that serve as bolsters for the benches and as mobile beds when the warriors are on the move. Art has a natural tribal quality, furnishings a Japanese influence. Her work with the legendary Gretchen Rau on MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA informed the female Samurai-like aesthetic.
[See gallery and video.]
Freecloud and Nepenthe...
From there, we jump to the entirely futuristic nightclub/bar on Freecloud...with so much more style and panache than the usual...and then to its opposite, the very naturalistic setting of the planet Nepenthe, where Picard’s dear friends Admiral William Riker [Jonathan Frakes], formerly his first officer, and his wife Counselor Deanna Troi reside with their daughter...the forested mountain lake retreat as welcoming as his friends.
The Cube a.k.a The Artifact, Romulan Borg Reclamation Project...
But we also step into The Cube.
Literally an enormous cube, this is a captured Borg spacecraft, cold and imposing.
Again, using softened metallics and unique shapes, Alkofer brought a depth of visual style to a completely sci-fi high-tech, highly graphic metal design.
[See video for details!]
Coppelius, Synth planet... Picard’s ultimate quest was to reach Coppelius, the sanctuary planet for androids who are created based on the original Data, the pristine oceanside setting rendered in creams with golden orange hues. “It’s an all glass house. Because La Sirena is so dark, and the Borg Cube so dark, we wanted to embrace that lightness, to bring all the light in...”
The two constants throughout the series are the starship La Sirena and Picard’s chateau, which appears on the Holodeck aboard the ship whenever Picard wishes to make it so, which fortunately is at some point in most episodes! A matrix version appears in the season finale.
As Alkofer points out about the look of the entire series, “It was truly a collaboration of two different worlds...a more fashion humanistic organic world that I come from and Todd’s world of the science fiction gear. We had a great collaboration, which is how I always prefer to work, and which could not have been possible without the great collaborative spirit and talents of my team, especially Lead Jason Bedig and his stalwart crew, Head Buyer Sondra Thorpe and Buyers Ed McCarthy, John Bradley and Gregory Beech.”
She also acknowledges the collaborative spirit of SDSA Business Members as resources, with a thank you to all, especially those she worked with most often on this project: Alpha Companies Motion Picture Rentals, Arte De Mexico, Art Pic Gallery, Exclusive Sales & Rentals, LCW Props, U-Frame-It, Universal Drapery, Universal Property, Warner Bros. Property. She points out, “We purchased and designed and augmented most of our set dressing.” That includes lighting, draperies and wallcoverings, furnishings, art and thousands of space and otherworldly elements.
In the video and gallery, Alkofer generously shares more fascinating details!
Click on the video, visit the gallery above...
Karen Burg, Editor
*From Producer/Co-Creator Akiva Goldman on CBS All Access THE READY ROOM...
“We want to address the issues of the day, and many of today’s issues seem to be founded on a loss of empathy, driven by our inability to see with an empathetic eye. There’s been an escalation of “us” vs “them”. We’re obsessed with the differences, we’re so fixated on “the other” as a threat, it’s as if empathy has gone off. It’s as if somebody snuck up at night and turned it off culturally. So, part of what we’re trying to do...true to all STAR TREKs ...is to speak to contemporary problems...”