Star Trek: Picard's James MacKinnon Reflects on His Emmy-Winning Star Trek Legacy

The Emmy-winning Star Trek: Picard makeup artist talks about his own legacy.

Each product has been independently selected by our editorial team. We may receive commissions from some links to products on this page. Promotions are subject to availability and retailer terms.

Working on Star Trek: Picard may have been a bit like coming home for makeup department head James MacKinnon. Though the series began focused solely on Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: Picard Season 3 brought back the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation crew. Though uncredited, MacKinnon started his career as a makeup assistant working under Star Trek legend Michael Westmore on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Since then, he's gone on to work on the film Star Trek: First Contact and to do Emmy-winning makeup work for Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Short Treks, and Star Trek: Picard. Now his oldest and latest Star Trek work is collected in the Star Trek: Picard Legacy Collection, which is on sale now and features all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, all four movies featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast (including First Contact), and all three seasons of Star Trek: Picard. had the opportunity to speak to MacKinnon about seeing his own Star Trek legacy wrapped up in one box set. Here's what he shared with us:

310 – The Last Generation
(Photo: Trae Patton)

You worked early in your career on The Next Generation, you then worked on Picard. We're doing this interview specifically for the Star Trek: Picard Legacy Collection set that collects all of that. How does it feel to see all of it in one big box set? Is there something special and sentimental for you about seeing all presented together?

James MacKinnon: Yeah, I mean, it's my career. It's my livelihood, it's my career, it's my passion as a makeup artist. Again, I have grown as a makeup artist too. I would say back in those early days, I wasn't that good. I was good, but I'm better now and as an artist, I've been doing this 35 years now and I still can't not learn more even though I'm retiring in seven years and I am trying to give these kids the knowledge that I know that Mike Westmore gave me back when I started. He's like my mentor, so that opportunity to work with him, now I get to do that with these kids and to be part of this legacy cast from when they were young kids and I was super, super young because they're a couple of years older than me, not by much. It's all smoke and mirrors here.

But yeah, it's a dream as an artist to be on a franchise that has shaped my life and taken me through a journey that I couldn't be more thankful to make these friends and that I can consider these actors friends because I've known them for so long.

I have to wonder, you talk about being better now than you were then, and thinking about the whole thing in one box, considering how much the industry has changed, how much of what you were learning on Next Generation are you still implementing and using on Picard? Or has the game changed so totally that it's a different world at this point?

It's a little bit of both. I think our technology has changed. As an artist, we're trying to keep ahead of the cameras and the TVs and all that stuff where you can see all this detail. I always say that 8K and 6K is for NASCAR and Animal Planet, not for women over 50. It's too much detail. But as an artist, I have to figure out how to make that work. I do the beauty makeups as well on the show besides the prosthetics with Silvina Knight. We have to figure out how to make those makeups, besides the prosthetics, so that you look at it and go, "Is that Mike in makeup, or is that Worf?" If you go look at him and go, "I see an edge" or "I see a weird thing, it took me away from that character." That's my job is to make sure that you are not taken away from a mistake that I made or that I was rushed or scheduled behind or whatever.

And as well as for Jeri Ryan to look as beautiful as possible because she's 27 now as well (27 is my go-to age). We just have to make sure everybody looks fantastic and that's our job. I always tell actors, "I'll worry about your face. You worry about your acting." Because they don't need to worry about what I'm watching. If I don't touch them up, it's because you look fantastic. I'm only in there because I need to do something really quick, but you worry about your lines and I'll worry about your face.

I have to wonder, you mentioned that the Next Gen crew, you've become friends, you've worked with them a long time, and that crew has something of a reputation for being pranksters, really fun, really goofy. Do any of them stand out in your mind for being the most fun when they're sitting in the makeup chair?

One day, we schedule things for it to be very smooth, and their job is not to make things smooth for me, so they change things around the next morning. We do a call sheet the previous day to know what we're going to shoot the next day, and in the morning they're like, "We're going to pull this other scene up. We need Worf, Brent, and Jonathan at the same time." And guess what? I do their makeups all three. I have literally all three actors sitting in three different chairs next to each other. They're ranting and raving and calling each other what they do, and I'm doing a quick thing and I go over to Mike and I go to him and I come back and I do some here and literally I'm touching three actors at the same time, and I still got them out, I don't know how, in the right amount of time. I don't know how I did it and I wouldn't let somebody else do their makeup because I know how to do it fast and quick, but perfect in that timeframe.

I don't want to do that, but that was a fun opportunity to have those three guys sitting in the chairs and touching them, literally too. But they got in the chair and they got to set at the same time. But they have their old habits and fun things that they do because they're friends outside of work as well. Everybody goes to dinner. Now I'm kind of part of that little thing. Me and John and Brent go to sushi every once in a while. It's fun to have that part of the family. I guess I'm the makeup legacy guy.

You submitted the episode "The Last Generation" for the Emmys and got that nomination. Congratulations, by the way. I assume that that episode was submitted because it had all the cool Borg stuff and not just because you had a cameo in that episode.

Maybe a little bit of both.

Well, for prosthetics, it's our biggest makeup, the Borgs and the Borg Queen, and everybody except for the Ferengi is basically in it. I wish he was in that episode. But yeah, you have to choose that. And for our beauty makeup category, which we got nominated, as well, we did the episode before that, and that has more cuts, wounds, and injuries that are not prosthetics as well as beauty makeup because the second that you put a three-dimensional piece on somebody, it splits from that category and goes into character. And unfortunately, two years ago, I could be in both categories, but we have some crazy new rule that you can't have the same people, which we're trying to get rid of because it's stupid because I do both, but somebody got a little pissed off that people were nominated more than they should be, I guess

Was that always clearly the one you were going to submit? Were there any other episodes that you considered as a close second or was "The Last Generation" always obviously the one?

I think Season 1 was hard to pick from because we did 1,500 makeups in Season 1, which is a lot, a crazy amount. But every episode had a ton of makeups every time. There was a lot of makeups in every episode. That was a hard one to do. I think I ended up doing "Absolute Candor," which was Jonathan's episode to direct, which had the rock guy and all that stuff. You tend to lean towards your big makeup-type things and the Borg Queen is iconic. It's a five-hour makeup. It's 14 prosthetics and oh, there was a question you asked earlier, those makeups are foam latex back in the day, silicone now, but on that Borg, her Giger-ish type piece is foam latex, because that would be way too much, she would be leaning forward and it'd probably sag off.

That combination of the past and the present does meld together. Even though foam is the past, it has its application still. It has its place, still now, and silicone has its place in certain situations too. It all depends on the prosthetic. If it's a fight scene, you don't want a silicone big 50-pound head on there. If they do a backflip, they're going to snap their neck. It's a lot of thought put into that kind of stuff. You've got to think about it. On Discovery, those heads weigh 15 pounds on a stunt person and we're like, "They can't do stunts. They got to be foam for their comfortability and their health too."

One might assume with the advances in technology it becomes easier and quicker to do this stuff. Were there any instances where that was not the case because maybe recreating some of those older style effects was established in TNG has become more difficult?

It's not easier now. I think it's actually harder. You had more availability with 35-millimeter fuzzy prints to get away with it back then because it's grainy. Now it's super crisp, so you do have to sweat it out. I sweat it out every day at work because I'm like, "Are you going to see that edge? Are you going to see that line? Are you going to see that eyebrow blocker? Are you going to see the ring or the lace from the eyebrows or any of it?" They open their mouth and there's flesh in there. How do you get rid of that flesh? You're always going in there dropping little drops of mouth stuff to change the mouth so you don't see the edge of the prosthetics.

Jason Zimmerman's amazing visual effects, as much as I love him, I want him to do the spaceships. I don't want him to touch my stuff because when you are up for an Emmy, you have to say, was this digitally enhanced or touched up? And I always like to say "no," which usually happens.

That's the other thing as an artist too, with visual effects, there's only a certain amount. We thought we were going to lose our jobs because it was all going to be monsters, and it was all going to be visual effects, and that went away, and it went back to people wanting practical and actors working with practical makeups. But there is a certain amount that we know we can't do and visual effects have to take over and there are things that Jason has to worry about, the ships, and not worry about, little teeny things where they want to shoot it later or they want to do it in visual effects because it's going to cost a million dollars instead of me doing it and it's going to cost $5,000, but they would rather spend the million later because they don't have to wait 10 minutes for me to do it on set. I guess that costs more.

I imagine that, having worked on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, there were things that maybe you wanted to do that you didn't get the opportunity to do then. Did you have the opportunity to cross things off a Star Trek wish list while you were working on Picard?

Well, one was again having my mentor be my boss, Mike Westmore. Just learning from him and watching his department-head techniques, to take those, for me, to the next level too. And Mike is still today a good friend and we talk all the time. He wrote in his Makeup Man book --  I don't think this, but he wrote it -- I'm the next Mike Westmore after him, which I don't agree with, but I appreciate him writing that because there are a million other makeup artists that worked on these shows. I've been lucky enough to work on so many and be department heads and stuff, but there are other artists who have done just as much and have worked tirelessly as prosthetic people for Picard. I just got lucky and it was a nice path for me.

You mentioned earlier your work on Star Trek Discovery, which is different from Picard, visually, despite both being Star Trek shows coming out at the same time. As a makeup artist, a prosthetic artist, is there a definable aesthetic difference to you in working on the shows, on Michael Dorn versus the Klingons in Discovery for example, that you try to keep in the forefront of your mind?

It's about lighting. It's about your DP. It's the prosthetic company that makes the pieces. There's a company that made the stuff for Discovery, so they make things differently and it's a different process. Vincent Van Dyke for Picard, he makes it easy for us. You put on his prosthetics and you're like, "Oh, that's a piece of cake" because they're so beautifully sculpted and made, and the organicness to it is flawless. It actually is easier for me. A big old alien with overlapping pieces, in theory, is pretty simple because you're not hiding a lot, but putting prosthetics on Jeri, that's a woman's skin. The prosthetic has to be spot on, beautiful edges, so it floats and melts into her skin and you don't see that separation or that ring, which we call a blood donut or a prosthetic donut where it becomes this donut on the side of her face. How do you make that prosthetic where it's so thin? And then that has 3D prints on top of it, the metal part that pops into the prosthetic. How do you get that to be flawless into her skin? She's got a tap, so this is a movable area. So throughout 18 hours of shooting, is that going to buckle or wrinkle through the day? It's those things that you have to do and know as an artist to make that realistic and believable.

When talking about makeup and prosthetics, often the bigger pieces, like the Borg Queen, get most of the attention. Is there something, a more subtle technique, a more subtle piece of work that you did on Picard that you wish got a little bit more attention in addition to the big showy Borg Queen-style stuff?

I think that our Borg Queen from Season Two was much more like the Jeri thing. Those pieces on her, she he had a lot of freckles, so we incorporated her freckles into that makeup. Our Borg Queen [in Season 3] was gross and ugly, and this one [in Season 2] was beautiful. the skull sculpture is very similar to our Borg Queen in [Season 3] Episode 10. There's a combination of those two together as well. Those makeups came together, even though they're separate. There are queen ants in different hives, so there are different queens in this world. We were able to meld those two together, and as an artist to be able to do that soft, beautiful face with all the stuff coming in the back, that's fun to be able to achieve it without it. Our Borg Queen Episode 10 is not an easy makeup. It takes a long time. But those are a bunch of overlapping pieces where you can hide all the wrinkles or buckles, but you can't do that on a woman's face.

Looking back on Picard now through all three of the seasons, what stands out as the biggest challenge? What was the biggest trick you had to figure out, or hill you had to climb to get it just right?

His name is Terry. Terry, our showrunner -- and I am saying this in a nice way -- is a fan. He's a fantastic writer. He created a beautiful orchestra of episodes that flowed together and all this stuff was really, really thought out. The whole thing was amazing, and to be a part of that, that was the best and good part about it was to achieve the creations that he wanted throughout the season and orchestrate that.

The other episodes were, to me, Season 2, besides the Borg Queen, was a current-day cop TV show because we were riding around in cars so we didn't have a lot of makeups except for the Borg Queen. The first season was just a ton of makeups all the time, but not like Season 3, where there was Ferengi and there were special characters created by him, and that flow was amazing throughout the season. I think I answered it. That was the hardest and best process to create that well-designed method, I think.

You mentioned that you've got some years left before you retire. Is there anything still left on that Star Trek bucket list that you'd like to do before then?

I was up for the Star Trek movie that got canceled last year. I got hired and then fired in a week because it went away really quickly. I hope that comes back around for me because that would be fun to do. I just worked with Chris Pine on his directorial debut called Poolman last year, which was at Tiff. We flew out to see that at Tiff. That relationship is brewing on that end as well. It's a cool ass movie. I can't wait for people to see it. Yeah, I think a little Star Trek movie would be nice.

Star Trek: Picard The Legacy Collection is on sale now. You can order the ultimate Picard Blu-ray box set here on Amazon and here at Walmart