Behind The Scenes Of The Deadalus Variations

“I hope fans enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it,” says writer/producer Alan McCullough of Stargate Atlantis‘ latest action-packed installment.

The idea for the episode had occurred to McCullough way back at the beginning of season four, and when season five came around the producers felt it was time to put the story in motion. Alternate realities, of course, are to be expected in the Stargate universe – but ‘The Daedalus Variations’ would be the first time that Sheppard’s team had bounced between quite so many, and together!

“The visual effects on this episode are nothing short of spectacular,” says the writer. “Mark Savela totally out did himself! We spent a lot [of money] on the visual effects for this episode – The space battles are some of the best we’ve ever done. It really helps sell the jeopardy they’re in.”

One of the reasons that the production was able to spend extra money on the visual effects was that for the most part, the rest of the episode was actually very small. The story focused very tightly on Sheppard, Ronon, McKay and Teyla, and for the most part used only one set, which was already standing at Bridge Studios.

“The cast did a great job in what was kind of a difficult episode for them,” McCullough admits. “They shot seven days all in the Daedalus. So obviously, they didn’t get the chance to get out in the woods and hunt and fight and all the things they get to do in other episodes! But they did a great job playing the confinement of it.”

Ironically, it was this confinement that made Mark Savela’s task of creating the environment outside the ship all the more important.

“With that episode, it’s basically in our one set on the Daedalus, and you really have to rely on these big, big shots taking you outside to not make it feel too claustrophobic,” Savela explains. “Because you’re just shooting in the Daedalus hallways and bridge and nothing else, you do kind of rely on these big shots just to give the episode a bigger scope. It was mostly talked about with Alan and Paul [Mullie] at the beginning, because they knew going in that we really had to open up the episode once in a while. So we planned on making the shots as grandiose as we could.”

The majority of the visual effects sequences in The Daedalus Variations were accomplished in-house by Mark Savela’s team, who had only just wrapped on the finals for the season opener, Search and Rescue.

“They worked their butts off on that show,” Savela laughs, in talking about his hard-working department. “It was a very complicated show for everyone involved, just in terms of screen direction and what was going on, and how much of the ship was working and what was powered up… there were lots of little details that needed to hold true throughout the episode. You couldn’t let any of that slip, because it wouldn’t look right.”

Savela, always eager to provide something new and unique for the audience to see, had also decided to make each space sequence for The Daedalus Variations as different as possible.

“The biggest challenge I found was the clash between the alien ships and the F302’s,” he reveals. “It was an interesting sequence. I really consciously wanted to make it very different, because we are in an alternate universe.”

Besides the inclusion of a new style of alien ship, the visual effects supervisor also felt it was important that each shot involve the Earth battle cruiser. Since the Daedalus was at the very center of the story, he wanted the huge ship to feature in each shot, no matter what else was going on around it. In turn, this led to some spectacular sequences.

“I wanted to feature the Daedalus, so while we’re dogfighting, we do a 180 turn and end up upside down, and continue the dogfight along the belly of the Daedalus. We bring it facing to the top of frame through the dogfight, and we do great circular movements around the ship as we’re dogfighting. So it does make it quite unique from anything that we’ve done. The moves are pretty cool!”

“The 302s chasing after the alien fighters – it’s the best look at the exterior of the Daedalus that you’re ever going to get on this show,” says McCullough enthusiastically. “We pan over it and the camera’s moving… it’s unbelievable what they managed to pull off!”

It also gives the audience a chance to really look at the ship close-up, as many of the camera angles come in close to its hull.

“That ship is one that can be featured, because when we built it in season two, we made it knowing that this was going to be our featured ship for years to come,” explains Savela. “So it really does stand up well to quite a bit of scrutiny and being close to camera.”

As previously mentioned, Savela’s team also got to build a new ship for the unknown aliens that board the crippled Daedalus. In fact, the aliens themselves caused quite a bit of excitement in the show’s production office.

“When we had planned out the story we knew that there was going to be an initial battle with the aliens which we would think is over and then later there would be a surprise reveal with one alien remaining that blows out the hangar bay,” says McCullough. “Honestly, if we get an opportunity to bring them back I would certainly like to, because I think there’s more to discover about this particular race!”

“I love the alien fighters that we created,” Savela adds. “I love their sound – it’s reminiscent of a pod racer, or something. It’s so different from ships that we’ve had before: the new ships are great. I really like the new fighter, and the new main ship.” He laughs, adding, “We put a lot of work in, and it’s such a one-off – we don’t know if we’ll see them again. I thought the actual aliens themselves looked really cool, and we only see them for a little bit. I hope they come back! I really like them a lot. I hope we see them again.”

Keeping the continuity of a story like this straight is, as Savela mentioned, a tough job. Each reality had to match, going backwards, what the audience had already seen moving forwards.

“We came down to one of the last days before delivery and we realized that one of the artists had turned on all the engines on the Daedalus, but at that point we were supposed to be dead in space,” Savela recalls with another laugh. “So we were seeing these final shots and we were going ‘Oh my goodness!’ We had to go in and turn off the engines in all these different shots. And it really changes the dynamic, because we’re passing by the engines. It really looked cool, so we were quite sad that we had to go back and shut off the engines! Just tracking those things was really quite a nightmare. But it was super fun to do!”


News article courtesy of the official Stargate website