Applying makeup for Star Trek: First Contact

Creating the Borg

One Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that would exert a major influence on the future of Star Trek was “Q Who?,” which was written by Maurice Hurley and marked the third appearance of the popular Q, played by John de Lancie. The episode also had the distinction of introducing Star Trek‘s nastiest villains — the Borg.

Patrick "Locutus of Borg" Stewart reads the script
Patrick “Locutus of Borg” Stewart reads the script (CBS/Tor)

The Borg, whose name was derived from “cyborg,” meaning cybernetic organism, were intended to provide the series with what the Ferengi had failed to deliver — a deadly, remorseless enemy that could not be reasoned with or defeated. The Borg’s presence had been hinted at in the final episode of the first season, “The Neutral Zone,” as later revelations in the series suggested that they were responsible for the disappearance of Romulan outposts mentioned in that episode.

Budget restraints kept the Borg from being depicted as insectoids as Hurley had originally intended although the hive concept survived to become the overwhelming group mind knows as the Borg Collective. In addition, the Borg’s unique cube shaped ship and their eerie appearance — reminiscent of both the biomechanism designs of H. Giger and the cybernetic, laser eyed Lord Dread from the 1987 syndicated series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future — all contributed to the Borg ascending to the heights of Star Trek villainy, exactly as intended.

Though they would appear in only five more episodes throughout the run of the series, just as Khan returned to battle Kirk in the second motion picture, the Borg would also make the transition to the big screen in the second The Next Generation film.

Designing the very first ever Borg costumes presented Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s resident costume designer Durinda Rice Wood with a challenge; these half machine, half human creatures were meant to look like nothing the TV viewer had ever seen before! The only thing that everyone knew at the outset was that they were going to be a major race.

“They said to me,” recalled Wood, “This is going to be the new bad guy of the universe. They gave us a little extra time. I think we got two weeks instead of one week!”

They wanted a new bad guy and they wanted it to be a cyborg. They wanted something that was cold and like an automaton, they all kind of looked alike, and they didn’t have emotions. That’s what was going to be the scary thing about it. I was tired of the futuristic, clean, stainless steel imagery of the time. I was interested in more texture, the ugliness of humanity and the ugliness of nature. The idea was always that they would be half human and half mechanical. Their body parts would wear out and they would replace them with mechanical parts, so I wanted to make all of the mechanical parts different and unique for each person, thinking that their parts would wear out at different times. You know, when you get older one hip goes and that gets replaced and it happens differently for everyone.

Wood’s original design was inspired by a drawing by H.R. Giger, known for his work on the film Alien. His designs continue to be an influence on the Borg. Wood explains how she sough to integrate the Borg’s face with the rest of the body.

I wanted it to melt into the costume more but they wanted the face to be bright white. The thing is, we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t do it in a week — we could have done it in three weeks. For something that the world has never seen before, you need time to develop it and invent it!

One of the major factors that had prevented her from making the original design into a reality was that there was simply not enough time to cast new moulds for the various Borg parts. Fortunately, she found a source of ready made parts, which featured in all her subsequent designs.

A company I worked with already had certain mechanical human part moulds and so I incorporated those into my design. It was good in the end because this was the way they were meant to look, like a garbage yard, with parts from different places replacing their worn out human parts.

At around the same time, she came up with the idea of running tubes from one part of the Borg costumes to another. As she explained, this helped to make it clear that each Borg drone was unique. “I wanted each one to be different. There were certain parts that were totally anatomical, and then there would be a real leg that needed to have the tube.”

Wood further planned to give the Borg a more complex color scheme that mixed different shades of black to create a dark, distinctly organic look. “I wanted them to be a little bit more greeny black — in fact, in the first rendition of them the skin underneath was a dark, dark greeny black and the parts on top were black. So overall there would be a feeling of inky, greeny black — a sort of a sewer black. I didn’t want it to be regular black.” The realities of television production intervened and the finished drones were a uniform color. The Borg acquired a more complex color scheme only when they were redesigned for Star Trek: First Contact with the advantage of a feature film budget.

The producers originally intended that the Borg should be without recognizable gender. “We were trying to make them androgynous, said Wood. “I remember somebody — I think it was Rick [Berman] — saying they shouldn’t be totally male or female. That was part of the scariness of them; you couldn’t work out whether they were male or female.” In practice, nearly all of the Borg actors have been male but one of Wood’s early drawings shows a female drone, years before the viewers was introduced to Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager.

Once the look of the Borg had been agreed upon, Wood had to produce drawings for the costumes that were to be built for the show. As she explained, these was a detailed guide for the people who made the suits.

I had to go through and totally design every single tube and everything that would go on each actor. I’m pretty sure that Michael [Westmore] told me what each person was wearing on their head, because he had to do the same thing; he had to figure out who had an eyepatch and who didn’t and so on.

Because the Borg combined costume, makeup and props, illustrator Rick Sternbach was also asked to produce drawings for the episode, “Q Who?” He recalled his sketches were a little different from Wood’s. “My drawings had a number of implants and some kind of a suit for the actor to wear. My early take on the color was more of a silvery gray.”

Wood found that actually putting the finished costumes together was a far from simple matter. “The way they were first done, it was an ordeal! I had a basic jumpsuit made out of a certain strange Spandex and I found that one side of Velcro would stick on to the fabric.”

We built it so that all the tubes and things could stick on to the suit and you’d get the guy in the suit and then you’d stick the parts on and it was a real organizational challenge! We were experimenting and it had evolved to this place when we ran out of time, so that’s the way it had to be. Had I done the Borg again, I would have figured out a way to make it better; I would have had one suit and not had to deal with all the different parts.

By the time the Borg appeared again, Wood had left Star Trek and the task of improving the costumes fell to her successor, Robert Blackman. He recalled that the costumes stayed basically the same for “The Best of Both Worlds” but were significantly reworked for the episode, “I, Borg.”

That was a conscious effort to make them look less like jumpsuits with things applied to them and more like full bodysuits. They were brilliantly created by Durinda in such a short amount of time but I felt that we had used them over and over again and eventually you think, […] there’s too much space in between all of the stuff. The connecting tissue was more dominant than the actual object, so I just visually reduced it and we tried to butt as much stuff up against each other as we could and still have the actors move. Then eventually I think Rick [Berman] and I came up with this together — we repainted them so that they were a little bit more rusty, a little bit less perfect.

Michael Westmore, makeup supervisor, was asked to design the makeup for the new Borg aliens after the overall look was approved, based on Durinda Wood’s drawings. The two discussed their concepts, but basically, “She got everything from the neck down and I got everything from the neck up!”

The idea was that the Borg were almost drained of their blood. If we had them the same color as a human, they wouldn’t be as scary, so their skin went very pale and we shadowed them. In fact, because of the continuity we wanted between a pale face and shadows in the eyes and the cheekbones, it forced me to learn how to use an airbrush. I couldn’t give ten Borgs to ten makeup artists and have them turn out exactly alike. Everybody did something a little different in their touch so it became easier to literally line them up, have everybody glue their heads on, get their white faces on them and then I would take an airbrush and in one minute do all the shading on a Borg’s face. That way they all started to look alike. From that time on almost every makeup artist on Star Trek has used an airbrush.

The original headpieces Westmore designed were relatively simple affairs that featured the tubing Wood had designed for the costumes. “They wanted to keep the makeup down,” he said, “because they had all the dressing to go through, so the heads in the very beginning were like helmets with a lot of tubing running around them.”

We would use a little round rubber appliance that we would glue onto their face and literally take the tube and glue it right into this little appliance. Of course, when you do the first one you think, ; Wow, this is great!’ Then you think, ‘well, how can I improve it?’ When I had the chance to design another Borg head, I made one that had a hole in the top of the head in the helmet, over each car, over a little patch in the front on the forehead and in the back of the head. Then I made little patches that you could use to close those openings up. That way I could make one helmet and I could modify it by closing up certain areas on it so it looked like a lot of different helmets.

Most drones still had full helmets but when Patrick Stewart played Locutus, Westmore designed a smaller headpiece that featured a tiny laser.

My son Michael, who did all the Borg electronics in the eyes and the head, found this little laser that was only one inch long. We mounted it on Patrick Stewart as Locutus. There’s that scene at the end of the first part of “The Best of Both Worlds” where Patrick turns his head and looks directly into the camera with his laser. We had no idea what was going to happen. Boy, the phone rang! Rick [Bermanj saw it and said, ‘Oh, my God, what a great effect!’

Ricardo Delgado
Ricardo Delgado
Borg Queen concept art by John Eaves
Borg Queen concept art by John Eaves

For Star Trek: First Contact, production designer Herman Zimmerman had hired artist Ricardo Delgado, who had previously worked on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to work on Borg concepts. Delgado, who excelled in artistic creation that meshed the organic with the mechanical, was, at the time First Contact was being filmed, also designing dinosaurs at Disney, a job that came to him as a result of his brilliant comic book series The Age of Reptiles.

Sadly, Delgado was unable to continue his work for the feature due to the demands of his work for Disney. The task of creating a look for the sinister and seductive Borg Queen then fell to Debra Everton, who with her illustrator, Gina Flanagan, did all the costumes for First Contact, save for the Starfleet uniforms which were designed by Star Trek veteran Robert Blackman.

Everton designed an entire new set of suits, which went on to be used on Star Trek: Voyager. “I came up with this concept,” she said, “a similar silhouette to the old Borg but much more elaborate for a feature’s scope.”

I wanted it to look like they were Borgified from the inside out rather than outside in. It was tricky to get the layers and the depth into the costumes so it would look like the piping and the tuving were coming out of them. We collaborated on the headpieces with Michael Westmore. I’m really happy with them. And when you see them all lit and in their element, they’re very creepy.

Borg concept art by Deborah Everton

Makeup on the Borg again fell under the supervision of Michael Westmore, who looked forward to having the opportunity to refine the Borg’s overall look. Rick Berman, noting the extra development time and money a feature film afforded, said, “This is our chance to see the Borg the way we’ve always wanted them to do them.” For Westmore, that meant that what had taken two hours for a makeup artist to create for a television Borg, now took five hours for a motion picture version. The culprit was, of course, the amount of detail that could be incorporated into the Borg’s look.

The first thing that Berman wanted changed was the Borg’s helmet. Supposedly, that was where the Borg’s biomechanical components make their connection with their body. But for the film, Berman wanted to see that connection revealed. “Instead of having an entire helmet,” says Westmore, “now we have these individual pieces that are on the head, so you get this bald look. That way the pieces look like they’re clamped into the head individually, instead of being a full cap that pulls over the top.”

The Borg’s makeup grew more sophisticated as shooting advanced. “When we first see the Borg come into the nightclub,” says Westmore, refering to the holodeck scene, “they look great. But by the time you see them in the hive, the early ones are simplistic compared to the later ones.”

Applying makeup for Star Trek: First Contact
Applying makeup for Star Trek: First Contact

All of a sudden they’re much more ferocious than the earlier ones, much scarier. What happened was — the makeup artists got bored! They got bored putting one tube onto the face. So all of a sudden they were using two tubes, and then they were using three tubes, and then they were sticking tubes in the ears and up the nose!

The movie also marks a long overdue first for the Borg. Previously, all Borg appeared to have been created from the bodies of human or humanlike entities. For the first time, Star Trek fans get to see Borg assimilated from other species. Among the new recruits to the Collective, watchful fans will spot Klingons, Vulcans and Bolians, among others. “One day for the fun of it, when I came in they had thrown some Bajoran noses on some Borg,” recalled Westmore, “so we had some Bajoran Borg. Then near the end, I asked Rick [Berman] about letting me do a Cardassian Borg. You have to look quick for him because he only worked two or three days.”

From Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Continuing Mission (1998)

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