LOS ANGELES – At 11, Seth MacFarlane dreamed of creating his own spaceship. At 43, his dream came true.
This fall, the "Family Guy" creator introduces “The Orville,” a look at space exploration 400 years in the future.
Sprawling over two stories on a stage at the 20th Century Fox lot, the starship Orville recalls a post-“Star Trek” era, when space travel was optimistic and exciting.
The set is so realistic actor Scott Grimes said he got motion sickness when he sat on the bridge for the first time.
A screen showing three times the resolution of an IMAX theater surrounds the bridge, giving the impression the ship is actually moving through space.
VFX producer Natasha Francis says it can “travel” at a number of speeds. “When the actors are sitting in these chairs and they want to say, ‘What is my motivation? What am I looking at? Where are we in the world?’ This is the world.”
Technology, according to editor Tom Costantino, gives the actors not only something to look at but “something to sort of act against.”
Interactive lighting adds to the effect.
When creating “The Orville,” MacFarlane wanted to make it as realistic as possible, with limited use of green-screen technology.
As a result, the set is as impressive as any environment at Walt Disney World. Brightly lit hallways lead to officers’ quarters, dining facilities and other multi-purpose rooms. Because there are several halls, they can be shot to look like any number of places on the massive ship.
Some 300 souls are aboard The Orville, according to MacFarlane’s plan, and there are futuristic elements that enable residents to press buttons and automatically get any number of food options.
To separate the Union (as The Orville’s folks are known) from enemies like the Krill, there are various gadgets, guns and tools designed to mimic its optimistic outlook.
Propmaster Bryan Rodgers says Union objects have smooth curves and lines. Additionally, weapons actually light up when fired and have a heft that makes them seem real.
Scanners, which look like iPads, enable the ship’s doctor (played by Penny Johnson Jerald) to size up problems while the team is on field trips.
The Krill, meanwhile, “are a militaristic, intimidating race,” according to Rodgers. “So they use scary-looking things.” Created to complement the costume design by Joseph Porro, the items have sharp edges and an old-world feel. A Krill dagger, for example, has a blade inside a blade. Angles are key.
Meanwhile, the makeup is intense. Like that created for early-day “Star Trek” characters, it takes hours to apply and, often, isn’t all that comfortable.
Grimes, who plays the captain’s friend and helmsman, says there’s an episode in which he and MacFarlane dress up like Krill. “It took two-and-a-half hours and it sucked,” he says. “I’m glad I don’t have to do what the others have to do every day.”
Makeup designer Howard Berger created 40 different species who live on the ship. “New ones keep popping up,” he says. “Seth’s like, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this?’”
When designers tested the looks last November, “Seth was really blown away and said, ‘Can I do this every week? And I said, ‘No. We’re going to do this every day.’” Approximately 95 percent of the creatures and alien races are done through makeup techniques.
By the second episode, adjustments were made. Halston Sage, who plays an eager security officer, says her headpiece changed from the pilot to give her more range of motion and less time in the makeup chair. “It used to take three or four hours but now we have it down to one and a half,” she says. “The goal was to bring a little more humanity to her character. That piece was so thick in the pilot I couldn’t even move my face.”
Costumes can also be a challenge. Porro says they’re made from high-tech fabrics imported from China. On other sci-fi shows, “if you’re on a planet 100 years in the future, you will design and make your background tribes and that’s what you will see all year long. I have to throw my tribes away after one episode and start a new tribe. It’s hard. And it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.”
While ads for the new series emphasize its humor, “The Orville” actually has a lot of drama. That’s on purpose, MacFarlane says. He wants it to have a sense of optimistic realism.
“I kind of miss the forward thinking ‘Star Trek’ used to occupy,’” he says. “I think they’ve chosen to go in a different direction, which has worked very well for them in recent years, but what has happened is that it’s left open a space that has been relatively unoccupied for a while in the genre.
“For me, it’s a space that’s kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction…but it can’t all be ‘The Hunger Games.’ It can’t all be the nightmare scenario. I think there’s some space for the aspirational blueprint of what we could do if we get our (act) together. This is sort of an attempt to fill that void in the genre.”
Production designer Stephen Lineweaver say after more than 150 tries at creating the ship’s look, MacFarlane sketched one with rings. “It took us a long time to get there but, boy, did we celebrate when we finally did,” Lineweaver says.
Now, a model looks like it’s zipping through space.
Inside, there are many futuristic amenities (and lots of storage space).
Adrianne Palicki, who plays the captain’s first officer (and ex-wife), says the set is so large, “I still get lost.”
Adds co-star J Lee: “It truly feels like we’re on the ship. And the amount of time we spend shooting, it really feels like we’re in space.”
"The Orville" blasts off Sept. 10 on Fox.