Star Trek: Discovery – everything you wanted to know about the space whale


Star Trek: Discovery’s Aaron Harberts, Alex Kurtzman, Jason Zimmerman, and Neville Page talk about bringing the space whale to life in episode seven of season one.

Fans of Star Trek: Discovery will undoubtedly remember the moment Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd walked out of a space whale ready to take over the Discovery through the power of persistence and time travel — and a large gun.

The moment is as unique and memorable as the sight of the very space whale that he rode in on, a creature dubbed the gormagander. The designers of the gormagander talked to Variety about the process of bringing the special creature to life.

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The gormagander was initially intended to be a practical effect but was eventually executed by the digital effects team. It came down to time and money, as it always does when making the decision to go digital.

Executive producer Aaron Harberts credits co-exec producer Alex Kurtzman, as a veteran of effects-driven television, and the design team for pulling it off.

The design of the gormagander itself fell to creature concept designer Neville Page. The idea of a space whale seems ridiculous, but Page felt that the best way to proceed was to ground the creature in science as much as possible while still staying true to the vision of a whale.

What physical attributes would be necessary for an animal like that to live and move through space? How does it eat and breathe? What functions would whale-like features like fins and blowholes have in the vacuum of space?

“Once I had all of those parameters set as my rules, I began simple pen sketches and evolved them into renderings that showcased the various ideas,” explained Page.

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The design then goes to visual effects supervisor Jason Zimmerman and his effects team for rendering.

“If Neville’s going to do it, I know that it’s going to be good,” says Zimmerman. “It’s just a question of us getting it and building it from that point forward.”

Meanwhile, production shoots around the pending effect, not spending time and money attempting to integrate anything. “We’re going to cut the episode for story, and then we’re going to hand every shot over to Jay Z,’” Kurtzman said.

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And while the gormagander (and I have a really hard time not typing “Demogorgon” every single time) was beautifully rendered and integrated into the final product, Kurtzman admits that it doesn’t always come out that way with a special effects challenge like this.

“There’s always a learning curve of what you can and can’t accomplish. I would say that 99% of what production gives us is amazing.”