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August 27, 2015

Set Visit: Stargate Universe ups ante for veteran franchise

by John Scott Lewinski, posted Oct 21st 2009 11:00AM
The starship Destiny is the home of the crew for Stargate Universe.The writers and producers of Syfy's Stargate Universe could've played it safe and got along just fine with their latest series.

After Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's 1994 feature film from MGM, the series' first TV adaption (SG1) arrived in 1997. When you throw in the follow-up series, Infinity and Atlantis, the Stargate franchise has run on TV in one form or another for more than 12 years.

When the time came to invent the next step in the franchise, show-runners Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper could have trotted out more of the same and done perfectly well. Instead, they upped the ante -- bringing a bigger budget and updated production techniques to Stargate Universe.

MGM and Syfy welcomed journalists to Vancouver's Bridge Studios to explore the show's starship Destiny set and discover how this series cruises beyond its successful predecessors.

Wright led the tour himself, guiding the assembled media through the extremely detailed and atmospheric set. He said acquiring the budget necessary to build what would become the Destiny (the first space vessel known to house a star-cruising Stargate) was his and Cooper's first priority.

"We wanted to focus on one production and give all of our attention and resources to it," Wright said. "Before we even pitched the concept to MGM, we made sure they would give us the resources to do what we wanted to accomplish."

The show Wright and Cooper envisioned would be bigger, more ambitious and more challenging than any previous Stargate production. The cast would be bigger and would include veteran stars of film and television, including Robert Carlyle, Ming Na and Lou Diamond Phillips. And the production values would be a step beyond the other Stargate shows shot at Bridge Studios.

The first visual evidence of this aggressive new approach shows in the highly detailed art design and set construction. The interior of the Destiny is designed to look like an ancient, steam-powered rust bucket of the stars. Jets of mist cloud the extensive passageways. The metals floors are scarred and grimy. The walls are marked with centuries of wear.

Of course, if you lay your hands on any of the equipment, it's plastic and cast Styrofoam as any modern set would be. But, the mood is dark and oppressive once the set is properly lit. The hallways include false walls that open to reveal new entrances and exits to change the layout of the set and create the illusion of more space.

The Stargate aboard Destiny itself is massive. It looks big on TV, and that's no optical illusion. The room that holds it is the centerpiece of the set -- large enough to hold two control stations and a double helix staircase.

The sheer size of the layout and its inherent freedom of movement makes Stargate Universe's new production style possible. Utilizing multiple mobile cameras and longer takes, the show looks to create a higher degree of reality and emotional honesty -- mimicking the intimacy of a stage play.

"It offers the director immense freedom," Wright said. "He or she can use longer takes to shoot more of the cast's performances as they play off of each other."

Wright added that the longer shots and ever-moving and expanding frame means each actor has to remain active and aware in every scene. They never know when it might be them the director focuses on or the editor chooses to use in a reaction shot.

"There's been more than one instance of an actor wondering how the director caught them in that shot," Wright said.

Stepping from the Destiny set out into the cloud-obscured sunshine of autumnal British Columbia was a bit jarring. A set as finely crafted as the Destiny is as close to a real space ship as any of us will ever come. Fortunately for the cast and crew of Stargate Universe, the show's positive reception indicates that set will be standing for years to come.

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The follow-up series were SG1 and Atlantis not Infinity. Infinity was an animated follow-up not considered to canon.

October 21 2009 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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