It’s funny to think alien design has rules when you consider how varied they are in universes like Star Trek and Star Wars. Can you think of how often you’ve seen aliens in Star Trek that were computer generated? In fact, I learned by reading this book that Star Trek aliens need to be functional for the actors underneath the costumes. After reading this book I learned not only the various approaches to designing aliens but also the many rules required to make them functional and appropriate for a Star Trek film. Watch out Face Off, there’s a new way at looking at costumes.
Why, might you ask, is Joel Harlow getting a book devoted to him? He’s been a makeup artist on such films as
From the first page it’s obvious this book is incredibly thorough in its approach to the costume design and the production. It opens with a foreword by director Justin Lin which gives you a grasp of Joel Harlow’s past work and why he was the perfect choice for this film. There’s also a fantastic essay by Simon Pegg on why Star Trek is so very important. After a brief intro of Harlow’s career in his own words it’s revealed much of this book will be detailed and described by multiple designers who worked under Harlow. Why so many? How else can you make 50 alien designs to commemorate Star Trek’s 50-year journey?
Before reading this book I always thought Jaylah’s design was too simple. I no longer feel that way!
This book goes through all 50 (56 were actually made) starting with lead alien hero Jaylah, the villain Krall, and then moving on to the various other aliens that were either Enterprise crew or background characters. Each creation gets a word from Harlow or one of the other designers with fun facts and other interesting blips in regards to the history of the design, the approach, or how it was made. There’s plenty to chew on here including a fun reveal that one of the aliens was designed for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (who ended up in the film).
In general, you get a feel for what the production was like from the early stages in of preproduction to shooting in Vancouver and finally the last minute work done in Dubai with a smaller crew. It’s obvious Harlow and his team is incredibly passionate and it’s fun to see all of their recollections for characters that may have only been on screen for a few seconds.
This design only appears briefly, but you can tell from the commentary in this book it was one of their favorites.
The art in this work is mostly photography with some computer models and sketches. Mostly it’s photos taken while the costumes were being applied on the actors. You also get plenty of pictures of the stages of the costume applications and also the many designs done to reach the final screen worthy costumes. Jaylah’s (played by Sofia Boutella who also wrote a heartfelt afterword) costume is particularly interesting as Harlow goes into great detail of the early stages of the design. It’s a seemingly simple design, but its iterations, and the actual design itself, are incredibly subtle in their genius.
My only gripe with this book is the conversational tone from the designers. Quotes litter this book which makes it authentic, but some of these quotes add little or could have been paraphrased in more succinct ways. This plus the fact that the text seems abnormally large made the narrative side of the book have a sometimes padded and filler sort of feel. While it’s nice to see these costumes in a large format it ends up making the text size do more work to fill the pages.
With designers capable of doing work like this why do we even use CGI anymore?
Star Trek fans are going to love this book for its ability to reveal the incredible ingenuity of the alien design. Star Trek is a series that’s known for a few incredibly iconic alien races so it’s nice to see a book like this one that reveals there’s a rich tapestry of alien life only begun to be explored.