The pilot of the Brunnen G ship sees through a membrane of skin streached and clamped across the front. Like an artificial limb, LEXX's ships aren't pretty--just facinating!

Customizing a new look for their SF design.

By Ian Johnston               Paul Donovan wanted an original and inconsistent look for the universe of LEXX: THE DARK ZONE STORIES. So he brought in a mismatched group of designers with varying levels of experience in movies, and set them to work on different parts of his universe.
        "One of the concepts we have is to keep pushing design," said Donovan. "If one architect designs a town, it never looks as good as if you have a lot of different architects. Even if every building isn't entirely successful, it's still more interesting."
        Applying this philosophy to his TV show, Donovan hired industrial designers, architects, a matte painter /book illustrator, model builders, and an expert in theatre set design. Heading the group was producer Bill Fleming, a longtime Donovan associate. "Rather than the traditional hierarchy where I would set the design tone for everything, do sketches, and hand them to drafts people, designs were coming from a lot of different people," said Fleming. "They'd get filtered through the command office, and then get sent to the various different locations like C.O.R.E or the model shop or whatever."
        It sounds rather confusing, but Fleming insists the approach fit the project well. After all, LEXX tells a story that covers thousands of years on several different worlds. It doesn't make sense that the look would be the same.
        "Our world is chaotic," said Nigel Scott, a Halifax theatre set designer who worked on the organic interior of the living insect ship The LEXX. "All the cars and buildings are designed by different people, so nothing really matches. And LEXX is exactly the same--it's just chaos."

LEXX's title ship is the "unfrinedly marriage" of animal and machine--a crude adaptation of a living organism. Inside, the crew is surrounded by grotesque living elements that pervade every aspect of life on board--including showering.
        The only consistent look is organic--best reflected in the giant, living, breathing title "character." Fleming says the decision to have living spaceships was always in the script--though it eventually came to drive the plot. "The insect culture developed sometime during the writing and the early drafts of the script and when a few of the design concepts were being kicked around," said Fleming. "The LEXX ship was always this giant, biological form, but that organic idea seeped into other designs. The writers saw some of these designs, and took those ideas into the writing. Along the way, this back story about insect wars came out, and that worked its way into the story."
        The insect wars--which precede story #1--involve the defeat of an insect culture by the humanoid Brunnen G. The Brunnen G have harnessed the defeated culture's ability to turn living insects into spaceships, and now sport flying dragonfly fighters capable of firing weapons out of their tails.
        However, at the beginning of story #1, the Brunnen G are wiped out by the forces of the tyrannical His Shadow. Fast forward 2,000 years, and His Shadow is still attempting to master the technology of breeding insects to be spaceships. Several of his experiments are insect-inspired machines of various shapes and sizes. They look organic, but they are not.
        The interior of the LEXX features the program's most elaborate sets, including the LEXX's bridge, galley, bathroom, and a cryogenic sleeping chamber. However, though the humans have grown and tamed the insect, they haven't exactly renovated its interior for comfortable habitation. The LEXX is a gooey mess of veined or ribbed walls (constructed using insulation foam, to give it that inconsistent, organic look), putrid swamps and chambers implanted painfully into the living tissue.
        The Galley itself has the appearance of a stomach, a rounded room which spits out predigested food on demand from a set of thick clammy protrusions in the pinkish walls.
        "Most science fiction has this modern architectural look, a particular style of architecture that's all octagonal doors, grey walls and hard angles," said Donovan. "I look at that and think--I don't know what the future will bring, but I don't need to follow a tradition. So our world is going to be organic in a design sense--the buildings, space craft and environment are all living material."
        Nonetheless, you've got to be able to drive the darn ship. So for the LEXX's bridge, Fleming enlisted the help of stage designer Scott, who had some inside knowledge on what was needed "I'm the son of a surgeon, so I had a little knowledge to work with," said Scott. "In this show, it's not a friendly future. And the LEXX is not a friendly marriage of man and dragonfly. I compare it to that old high school experiment where you make the dead frogs legs move with a small battery. The interaction between man and insect is more like an incision. It's like living inside a monster that's not happy about it."
        So the bridge became a raised platform on a precipice that's enclosed by walls of transparent skin, stretched tight, and clamped awkwardly to metal struts. "It's like a surgical implant or an artificial hip. It's functional, but it sure doesn't look good up close," said Fleming. "From a filmmakers point of view, the stretched skin was easily removable, so you could shoot the bridge from any angle."
        The command "chair" where Stanley Tweedle controls the ship is also organic in nature, wrapping around Tweedle when he's driving the ship. There are also a noticeable lack of computer consoles to read on the bridge. "It's more sensual," said Fleming. "The ship appears to embrace him when he's in command. But all he has to do to is raise his hand, and a screen will come up anywhere through CG."

The Moth shuttle, another of LEXX's insect adaptations. The insect theme eventually influenced the look of almost all other aspects of the series, giving the show its highly organic, sensual feel.

        The LEXX crew can't get away from the living space vehicle even when they're freshening up. "It [the shower] is this luminous pink tube that features a phallic shower head that's a little too interested in its work," said Mark Laing, who served as head art director on story #2 and #3. "It'll snake all over you if you're not paying attention. It's quite frisky."
        Although LEXX discourages viewers from questioning the science of what they're seeing, you've got to ask yourself--where's the light coming from in this insect? "That was an endless problem," said Laing. "So we created the idea that there are luminous membranes and these pock-marked things that are fluorescent. Maybe it's best you don't think about it much."
        "We tried to create the idea that this structure creates its own light," added Fleming. "It's a bit of a cheat, but it's like THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE where everything is lit up around these blood vessels."
        LEXX's sense of chaos carries over to The Cluster, the center of His Shadow's tyrannical League of 20,000 Planets in stories #1 and #4. It's a small planetoid that--as His Shadow's propaganda constantly tells its citizenry--is the center of justice and enlightenment in The Light Zone, a peaceful haven from all evil that exists beyond the fractal core in The Dark Zone. All of which is a bad lie that reveals itself more and more as the stories progress. The Shadow loses his ability even to keep up appearances.
        "The Cluster is one of those fascist empires that makes a great effort to maintain control, yet never really succeeds in halting chaos," said Laing. "Cluster City is an inherently chaotic religious dictatorship where the architecture is also chaotic and irregular. You can see that right away--there's a huge crater right in the middle of the city that's never explained. It looks like it was blasted out."
        Laing--a conservation architect by trade, specializing in the restoration of historic buildings--seems well-suited for the creation of Cluster City, a thousand-year-old city that's showing its age. "The whole city is built on a ruin built on a ruin. Buildings are built on top of buildings, incorporating still standing structures into their own structures, which are also somewhat run down."
        Laing noted he took a lot of his inspiration of Cluster City from medieval cities, with huge, windowless buildings and shadowy monasteries. "It just made sense really, because a lot of the action takes place in the Hall of Predecessors with all these monk-like clerics running around," he said. "So we just made it resemble sort of this vast medieval astrodome, with the entranceway, the ruins of a past Hall."
        Of all the places in the LEXX universe, The Cluster has the most echoes of past TV science fiction--featuring lots of uniformed soldiers, long, grey corridors, and sparse furnishings. Fleming admitted that the show took advantage of LEXX's multiple sets in a converted warehouse for the filming of one STAR TREKian cliche--the long, long corridor. "I really hate that long curving corridor, but we couldn't get around it. There was this one running shot that went on for 150 feet. We ran it through one studio, into a dressing room area, and into another studio." he said.
        "The Cluster is definitely the most traditional-looking place. That's sort of the idea, and maybe that's why the Cluster is the place everyone's trying to get away from. When the show heads to another planet, it'll just make it look all the fresher."