Star Trek: Discovery's VFX Supervisor Talks Building a Bold Future for the Aesthetics of Space

From the far-flung future of Star Trek: Discovery.
From the far-flung future of Star Trek: Discovery.
Image: CBS

Another week, another interesting Star Trek: Discovery interview. This one is about the visual effects.


VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman had an interesting challenge ahead of him when facing down work on the third season of Star Trek: Discovery: establishing the visual language of an entirely new era of the show’s canon, one that is farther removed from established times than anything we’ve ever seen in the series. What should it look like? How faithful should it be to what came before? Would it even be recognizable to our heroes?

Talking to Wil Wheaton for “The Ready Room,” Zimmerman discusses the challenge and particularly the difficulty that goes into, say, designing a new take on Federation headquarters, or the Voyager. It’s a tricky balance, as he shares it, wanting to develop new thing while still capturing something that fans can recognize and claim as their own.

Honestly, this would be a pretty compelling interview show if Wheaton just let the guests talk more. All the same, Zimmerman has some really interesting things to say here. Discovery is going to some fascinating places, and Zimmerman’s role in designing the visual language of those places is significant and really interesting.

Star Trek: Discovery is airing weekly on CBS All Access. 

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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.


The visual effects on Discovery are amazing.

As amazing as the effects are they are also equally if not more so overstylized and removed from reality to the point of breaking immersion. I’m reminded more of being underwater than being in space when I watch this show. The effect is that any sense of scale or grandeur is lost and what you’re looking at, while technically impressive, is just distracting to the story and the intended message.

I totally get that the creators of this show aren’t going for a scientifically accurate or realistic depiction. They’re clearly aiming to create their own visual style which is great and impressive. As the consumer I can’t help but think that they’ve gone to far artistically and they would be better served by not overstuffing scenes with colorful gasses, floating sparkly thingies, and blurry lights that tell the viewer that whatever they’re looking at isn’t space at all.

I’d contrast this with prior Trek shows where the special effects technology wasn’t quite up to the task leaving the audience to fill the gap with their imagination.  Here the technology to produce the visuals has clearly surpassed what’s required to produce a realistic image but now the audience has to compensate for the design teams over use of all of the visual effects bells and whistles.  Which again, technically amazing and visually stunning, but completely overdone and distracting to the point of breaking immersion.