New ‘Star Trek’ Digital Shorts Director Was Told “Don’t Hold Back. Just Go for It” | SDCC 2023

The Big Picture

  • Star Trek’s 50-year-old franchise continues to thrive with top-notch shows like Discovery, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and Prodigy.
  • Fans can look forward to a new series of animated digital shorts featuring fan-favorite characters Riker, Saru, and Quark.
  • Director Casper Kelly discusses his history with Star Trek and the process of making the shorts feel like the original Star Trek: The Animated Series.

Television currently has a wealth of top-notch Star Trek shows. From Discovery to Strange New Worlds to Lower Decks, and even the gone-too-soon (but hopefully not forever) Prodigy, there are no signs that the 50-year-old franchise is slowing down any time soon. Now, in honor of that milestone anniversary, fans will soon get to see a new series of animated digital shorts, featuring the return of fan-favorite characters Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Saru (Doug Jones) and Quark (Armin Shimerman).

In a new interview with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff at San Diego Comic-Con, Casper Kelly, the director of the upcoming shorts, talks about his history with the franchise, and the steps they took to make sure the shorts felt like the original Star Trek: The Animated Series. They also talk about Kelly’s work in horror, and how writing a comic book is vastly different from writing for animation.

For more with Kelly, watch Perri’s full interview above, or read the transcript below:

PERRI NEMIROFF: I feel like you could probably get a crisp view of our background right now and see that it’s says Star Trek back there, which is very appropriate for my conversation with Casper Kelly, who is working on some new Star Trek digital shorts. Congratulations on those. I can’t wait to hear about those, but I also want to hear a lot about your passion for animation and your background.

CASPER KELLY: Oh, thank you so much Perri. I’m so excited to be here! A passion for animation…I’m not sure.

Do you know what sparked it? What was the first moment when you’re like “this is a storytelling medium, and a craft that I feel like I can make the most of if I go down that path.”

KELLY: Well, I think Star Trek: The Animated Series was actually one of them. I’m dating myself, but I was very young when that happened, and was obsessed with that cartoon. And I told my mom I was changing my first name to Captain. Captain Kelly, because I wanted to be like Captain Kirk. And my mom was like, “well, that’s, that’s a title.” I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s my first name.”

Image via CBS

I’m surprised I haven’t heard of people actually doing that now that you say it, I kind of love that. This isn’t what the Star Trek shorts are, but I know you are also heavily involved in adult animation and I feel like that sector of animation doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how rich and thematically relevant it can be. So, do you remember the first thing you saw in that sector that showed you the storytelling possibilities in that realm?

KELLY: You know, there wasn’t a lot. As far as adult feeling, it might have been either Wizards by Ralph Bakshi, or Fantastic Planet was a real mind-blower. It was just very dark, and odd, and like a dream, so I like that a lot too.

We need more in that space. It does feel like it’s becoming more widely embraced than ever, but it just always feels like something that needs to be in the spotlight even more so than it is right now.

KELLY: I think there could be more adult animation for sure.

Is there anything in that realm you would recommend to our viewers right now? Whether it’s something you worked on, but also something that you’ve seen recently that will maybe inspire you in the future.

KELLY: In terms of adult animation? Well, definitely, I want you to watch my shorts that are coming out. But I would say. Well, it’s not recent. I’m kind of newer to anime but I did finally watch Neon Genesis and I was like, “Oh my God.” I love that. I just heard it influenced Nope, that, Nope used a little bit of that too.

I’m here for anime suggestions. I need to get into that realm a little more so than I have. All right, leaning into Star Trek, now, how exactly does one get involved in this capacity in a new batch of shorts? Is it something you seek out or is it something they come to you to work on?

KELLY: This isn’t my first Star Trek thing. I did a little piece for a Star Trek short. There was a Star Trek short which was an origin story about the Tribbles, and Alex Kurtzman, I think inspired by Too Many Cooks, which I did, and also the Cheddar Goblin sequence in Mandy, he wanted me to do a commercial for a Tribble cereal.

So that was the first thing I did for him and he’s wonderful. The whole Star Trek family is wonderful. And then when this anniversary came about, he very kindly thought of me since I do things like that. Like Too Many Cooks has the ‘80s G.I. Joe sequence in there, so he thought I was a good fit. And hopefully, I am.

Image via CBS Studios

Can you tell us a little bit about your role on this particular project? And maybe if there’s something within that role that is a new creative challenge for you, something you’ve never done on any of your past projects?

KELLY: Well, I’m writing them along with these two other writers, Claire Friedman and Aaron Waltke. I write them and then I’m directing them basically along with Awesome Incorporated, the animation studio. And I think the challenge is this isn’t something new I’m making myself, it is a beloved thing with a storied history. So it is negotiating, but you want, you want to push limits. So what’s the right limits to push? What’s not right? What feels good? What makes this not feel like Star Trek anymore, and just figuring all that out because it is a show about optimism and hope for the future. But it’s also a show that does not take itself too seriously.

I have so many follow-ups about that idea, but more broadly in terms of finding the right stories because there’s five of them in total. What is it like picking the right assortment of characters? So, you know, they all fit together but they stand on their own two feet as much as you need.

KELLY: I have a true answer to this, which I’ve learned about myself. I am not a great judge of my own work. So what I usually do is overwrite. So we wrote 10, and then I go, “Alex and everyone which are your favorites? And if you don’t like any of them, we’ll write more.” But they loved them and they picked five. I don’t want the pressure of deciding that myself, I just do a lot, and then let someone else decide, and hopefully the audience of which ones they like.

I mean, this doesn’t feel fair to ask when these haven’t even come out. But is there a possibility that that other batch can be saved for future?

KELLY: Absolutely. And there are some good ones. Yeah, I think so. But I will say this, and maybe you’re seguing into this anyway, but I’m doing a comic book and they originally said, “well, why don’t we use those five scripts in the comic book?” And I go, “hold on, I’ve never written a comic book. I want to write a comic book. I want to take advantage of that medium. I don’t want to just adapt these animation scripts to a comic book. I’m gonna write something new for you.” So they didn’t go into there either, but something will happen.

You always hold tight to that stuff, you never know in the future. So, with these five shorts and the characters you get to work with, which one were you most excited to get to write for and play with? And then ultimately, thus far, which one has been more creatively fulfilling to work with than you ever could have imagined?

KELLY: Well, we have released three names: Doug Jones, Armin Shimerman and Jonathan Frakes, and I loved all of them. But I did grow up with Next Generation, so I was pretty darn star struck with that. But with Saru and Quark, it was interesting because they wear prosthetics, that even though they were just coming in for a voice record, Quark had to bring prosthetic teeth and Saru brought a prosthetic nose to help. ‘Cause Saru can have that nasally sound, and you need those teeth to sound like Quark. So that was very interesting.

Image via CBS Studios

I’m surprised I’ve never thought about that, but that makes all the sense in the world.

KELLY: Originally they were going to just put them in full makeup, a long time ago and I think it was Quark, or Saru who was like “there’s got to be a better way. Can’t you just make me just the nose?” and they’re like, “OK.”

I have many more layers I wanna hit here. Just in general, in terms of the stories that you’re telling here, I love the fact that that Star Trek is always hopeful, but also, even though it’s futuristic, it has like a timeless quality to it. So what is it like recapturing those feelings that we know and love from Star Trek stories, but while also maybe leaning into what modern audiences want now as well?

KELLY: Yes, it’s something to negotiate because when I was talking to Alex Kurtzman, I was like, “my style is a little more irreverent and can be a little raunchy, or a little this, or a little that, or deconstruct it, or destroy it” and, and he was like, “don’t hold back, just go for it.” So I tried some things.

I don’t want you to spoil anything but is there anything you tried and thought to yourself, “there’s no way they’re gonna let me do this,” but we’re gonna see it in one of the finish cuts.

KELLY: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And also I was nervous that the talent would say, “wait a minute, you can’t have my character doing this.” But I think I’m gonna do some stuff and I hope you like it.

I’m eager to see it. I want to apply a similar question to the style of animation here, because it’s obviously supposed to capture the original animation style. But there are so many new techniques and tools that you have at your disposal. So what was it like recreating what we know and love, but also being able to implement those new tools to make it better than ever?

KELLY: Well, I’m doing it with Awesome, so we’ve done stuff like this before. There’s a few tricks I learned. One of them is called Gate Weave. So I’d watch a cartoon and it would be a little bit blurred and a little off register, but it still didn’t quite feel old and we learned that old cartoons were on film. The sprockets didn’t quite line up in the film projector, so they would just move around. They bounce around just a tiny bit because it’s not perfect. So you have to fake that, and you watch The Animated Series, it’s like that too. That’s one thing you have to do. There’s a million little things like that.

I love details like that.

KELLY: It’s not just adding like film scratches to make it look like an old movie. You want to do a lot more than that.

Just to tease the comic now a little bit. Is there anything about what it takes to write and develop a comic that even with all your storytelling experience that blew your mind? Something that is specific to that storytelling format.

KELLY: In the sense of you can only have so much dialogue in a panel because you want to see the art, and so you have to pace it in that way of how much you can do in a page. Because in a TV show, you can have someone do a monologue for three minutes. It’s no big deal, but it’s a different animal. But it’s wonderful. And there’s so many things you can do in a comic book that no other medium can touch. So it’s just a great art form for freedom.

I’m ending right now with two selfish questions because my favorite genre is horror. And I love Mandy. I think it would be a real shame if the world didn’t get more cheddar goblin.

KELLY: From your lips to God’s ears. I would love that.

Image via RJLE Films

I will assume then there’s been no actual conversations about Mandy 2 or maybe even personal things that you would like to do with that concept and that character in the future.

KELLY: Well, I don’t own that character but there have definitely been conversations. There are things bouncing around, because I’m friends with Panos (Cosmatos), the director. We’ve talked. Yeah, there’s been conversations.

I love Panos. Anything he makes, sign me up for. And I know he said his Mandy sequel idea, and that it’s not possible, and that he’s not so interested. But I’m a greedy Mandy fan and I want more. I still have my cheddar goblin box that I was sent in the mail when that movie was coming out. And I look at it all the time like we need more of that in the world.

KELLY: I can’t believe I was a part of that. It’s amazing to me.

It is so unique and incredibly special. The other horror question I wanted to ask you though. Is there anything on the horizon in terms of feature directing for you, post-Yule Log?

KELLY: Oh, yes. Yeah. There’s a pause now because of various labor issues but yes, knock on wood. Absolutely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *