Interview: Production Designer Tracey Collins Talks Netflix’s ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always’ Anniversary Special and More

Megan
24 Min Read
Geoffrey H. Short/Netflix

It’s been 30 years since the teenagers with attitude made their debut in their brightly colored spandex back in 1993 in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The franchise is still going strong to this day, and Netflix recently premiered a 30th anniversary special, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always. With the return of several cast members from the first three seasons, the special sees the Rangers having to fight against their oldest arch nemesis, who’s more powerful than ever. With Easter eggs and tributes galore, the special includes plenty of reimagined set pieces and props that are familiar to fans, all thanks to production designer Tracey Collins.

Including the Juice Bar neon sign, Robo Rita, Radbug 2, and even the Dino Megazord, Collins honored the original as much as she could, updating fan-favorite pieces while also giving them a contemporary edge. Nerds and Beyond had the pleasure of speaking with Collins about how she approached the special, her background in production design, and more. Check it out!

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity*

Nerds and Beyond: First of all, what drew you to production design? Because it seems like such a fascinating profession.

Tracey Collins: It is a fantastic profession. It’s the best, actually. No two days are the same. You need to collaborate with amazing people, getting to create work that you create on your own. Because writers, directors, producers, lighting, D.O.P., all of those, somehow all of those great ambitions can come together and create something that you can never imagine in the beginning will be created. At the time I designed things, I think I didn’t exactly know this will happen, but I knew with all the talents coming together, that will support each other. So to me, that’s the most unique experience.

Nerds and Beyond: How did you end up getting into design?

Tracey Collins: Well, it’s interesting. I went to art school. I wasn’t really sure what, you know, young sort of 17-year-old. What am I gonna do? But I found myself designing operas and musicals. So all of this kind of crazy stuff because there was quite a big music school at the University as well. So I found myself doing that, and then as soon as I left art school, I got a job as sort of a trainee set designer at a big theater that we have here in Aukland. It was called The Mercury. So I started doing theater, besides many shows, and then the film industry was really picking up here in New Zealand as well. Like Lord of the Rings, and there just seemed to be a lot of work around, and I just sort of got pulled out, really.

And before I knew it, I had been designing theater, and then suddenly, I was designing television, mostly television and film. Then, in 2014, I got my first chance to design for Power Rangers. Chip Lynn, Judd “Chip” Lynn, we call him Chip, he came to New Zealand, and he was looking for a new team, and we just hit it off straight away, And I mean, he’s such a big kid. Loves the Rangers, everything about the Ranger Universe. So then, suddenly, I sort of started that, and then I was working alongside Simon Bennett, funny enough, as a director is directing. And I’d already worked with him back in the theater days, actually, so we already knew each other really, really well. And so then, when he took over as executive producer, I was just really excited to see what we would do together. You know, what sort of work we would create, and I also knew the writers, Becca [Barnes] and Alwyn [Dale], really well as well. Just each year, you know, from Dino Charge to Cosmic Fury later this year, we just have been building our strengths. I’ve been doing projects, but mostly Power Rangers.

Geoffrey H. Short/Netflix

Nerds and Beyond: Since you’ve been with the team for so long, with the anniversary special, it’s a little bit different since you’re doing something new, but you’re also doing something that’s been around for 30 years. How was it like trying to mix the old with the new?

Tracey Collins: I felt quite scared at first, actually, because it was quite intimidating to kind of take on something that has a huge following and that the fans love so much, but I think my process for this one was just a little bit different in the sense that I really analyzed the original production, quite a lot of detail. I had it in my mind right from the beginning. And you know, Simon and I discussed it all, and because I was designing it before there was a script, actually, and so we just really wanted to upscale the sort of production values of it and make it a little darker. Really keep that colorful and kind of quirky tone of the original. So it’s kind of looking at it really carefully from a design perspective. And then kind of upgrading it, upgrading it as well. I know that sounds quite general, but it’s almost like absolutely nothing that exists on screen.

For every visual, we consider every shape, every detail, every prop, everything. I wanted to keep it really aspirational but also have the fans still go, “Wow, it’s the same. I recognize that.” But it’s, hopefully, it was what was my plan.

Nerds and Beyond: Kind of going off of that, there are a lot of props that had been recreated, like the Juice Bar sign and even the design of the original Megazord. How was approaching that and updating the quality of it?

Tracey Collins: I was really obsessed about that Juice Bar sign, but actually, every detail of that Juice Bar set. At first, I was kind of freaked out because everything is so ’90s. The sort of colors, everything. How can I do this? How can I make this exciting? So I carefully sort of analyzed all of those sort of set shapes. You know, those arches, those colors. I did fine-tune all of those things to make them just a little more punchy for a contemporary audience. But I really wanted the neon sign to be a real neon sign because an LED sign wouldn’t be the same. I had to talk to the D.O.P. because that was going to be something that he wasn’t going to be able to control; the light level of it so much.

But we found a neon artist. It was an artist still existing, and so it was really important to me to have that. And it wasn’t just that, actually. It was everything. We went for getting trays, all the smoothie cups. We found a lot of the same kind of stuff, and then I curated it so that it actually looked a lot kind of funky and kind of contemporary and kind of approach for now. But it also would fulfill the fans looking for those little Easter Eggs that they might be looking for in the set. We did the Dino Megazord, the same process, really, except that it’s an absolutely very different set, but of course, it looks the same. Still got that same color palette, you know, the red, the silver, the black, but I added so much LED light strips into the set. Every single line, every single shape is all upgraded to give it a more sci-fi, high-tech feel, and of course, monitors with images on and moving images. So I think it’s a similar design, but it’s really contemporary to make it more sci-fi, basically.

Nerds and Beyond: Especially now that the camera quality has changed a lot over the last three decades.

Tracey Collins: 4K digital; I think we were using 6K sometimes. So yeah, everything’s got to be spot on with the finishes. You can’t really get away with it. And even if you want smooth textures, they are still going to come out textural. So you have to be aware of everything, every surface. Every paint finish has to be a lot of sanding. We tried to work as hard as we could on getting really good finishes. Just probably a lot more time spent maybe than the original production didn’t have to do with film.

Nerds and Beyond: You were talking about this a little bit before, but there have been 29, almost 30 seasons in the franchise. There are Easter eggs scattered across the entire special like the Ranger cities popping up or even some of the smaller versions of Rangers. Was there a favorite of yours or maybe one that wasn’t included that you wanted to include?

Tracey Collins: I guess I just focused on what we were going to do. The original Rita Repulsa and then transforming her into Robo Rita. I still wanted to honor the original design elements to make it move away from a flatter, more cardboard feel. You know what I mean? I wanted to turn that into a real moon base with real moon textures. But the way that I kind of got those little Easter eggs in there was sort of by developing up her astrological details and sort of bringing those into the stage and then in a contemporary way. Also, you know, recreating a new telescope for her that kind of honored the original scope and having that sort of glowing ball underneath the telescope.

So I think it’s all in the details. It’s all in the small details. Once again, the same sort of thing of, “Okay, they were pillars, they were arches, how can I take those original shapes and give them a twist? But really honor what was created before?” So I think it was more that kind of way working for me on this production.

Geoffrey H. Short/Netflix

Nerds and Beyond: Do you have a favorite set piece or prop from the special?

Tracey Collins: Interestingly, it may end up kind of being a funny piece that kind of came in quite late, and that was the RadBug2. I know it came in really late on the script. Later than the sets. I’d already sort of designed the sets. We were starting to make them next month like, “We want to put the Rad Bug in.” So we had to find an original old Bug. We found one, and I kind of looked at the original, and I thought, “Oh no.” So I kind of want to once again, I wanted to honor it to make it cool. I really wanted to, you know, “pimp the ride,” as they say. So I wanted to make the call. So we turned it into a convertible. We put big speakers in the back. There was this beautiful woodgrain on the dashboard. I thought we can paint that woodgrain on the back. Because it was old, you know, old buttons, and was an original Beetle. Then we gave it a new paint job. We added new pieces onto the front that kind of looked a bit like the old pieces, but we actually built them. We made them just a little bit more, you know, put my right foot, a contemporary audience.

I think I have special, fond feelings about the Rad Bug because it was so scary. But you know, it was actually quite a cool thing to do. I mean, I love all the sets and the Command Center as well. That was a big challenge as well. Because I felt on the original production, that it was kind of floating in space a bit with the kind of fairy light cloth in the background. I really wanted to ground it into Cranston Technologies. So I kind of created this, that sort of strip of graphics around the outside that kind of made it into a real space. I like to believe that we are somewhere. On all my sets, I like to believe that we are somewhere, so I wanted to believe I’m inside the architecture, but I also wanted to open it up. And suggest subliminally, as you do with visuals all the time, that the Rangers are out there in the universe, saving the universe.

So I had those sort of complimentary of range of colors, shooting past in the universe, and that sort of window strip at the back. Same thing with another element. I love the idea of that circular shape, that circular form that was from the original. I knew there was going to be an Alpha 8 and Alpha 9. So I wanted to still create that space for them to work. It was also a quite dynamic circle that they would all work with them. So I tweaked that shape and played around with that. But essentially, I tried to capture the same feel. Once again, just upgraded the surfaces much more, almost a lot more shiny. Lots of LED strip lighting built into the set everywhere. So it was really great actually working with the lighting department and collaborating really carefully on that. We created a beautiful circle light-up above that set that was full of LED strips. I was very proud. I thought it was beautiful. And it still really honored the original production while remaining aspirational, Hi-tech, and contemporary.

Nerds and Beyond: Working on a project like this can’t be easy, knowing how passionate the fans of the franchise are. Were you ever worried about what they would say when you were creating some of the pieces?

Tracey Collins: Oh, yes. I was more worried about this one than the others because the others were sort of starting from scratch. We’re always careful because we know there’s a lot of trainspotters out there, as we call them. And they notice all of those things. Luckily, Becca and Alwyn, the two writers, are really all over the whole universe. And so if I ever have any really particular worries about small things I talk with them, we have a very collaborative and quite close working relationship here. We were working on the show. None of us are very far from each other, so we can always just sort of check in, and I always encourage my team to check in. If anything’s not quite right, you know, all things. We worry about the props, all the coins. You know, I know the franchise; I’ve seen all the Power Rangers productions, the ones that I haven’t worked on. I’m a fan as well. So I guess it’s all on my instinct, really. And you know, go for it, really.

Nerds and Beyond: You’re working on the upcoming season, Cosmic Fury. Since it’s the 30th season, can you tease if there’s going to be any Easter eggs from previous seasons? Since you’ve already done this special, probably not, right?

Tracey Collins: Probably not, yeah. But I can tell you it’s gonna be fantastic. And I’m so excited by some of the new sets, so there are new sets that I’ve created for that. And also we created the hero props from scratch. We didn’t use the Japanese designs throughout the whole of the series. So that was very exciting. Creating some hero props, like the morphers and aspects like that. I think all of that information is out there because there’s a poster out there that shows all of it. I’m sorry, I’m gonna get in trouble. But there are things that have already been leaked out to the media. But it’s really exciting, and I can’t wait for that, too. It was interesting working on both productions alongside each other. It’s really interesting because they’re quite different. And yet, they’re still aspirational Ranger world, you know, crazy world that it is.

Geoffrey H. Short/Netflix

Nerds and Beyond: Aside from Cosmic Fury, do you have any other shows or films coming up that you’re working on?

Tracey Collins: I don’t presently. But I could be very, very soon, but I can’t say. It’s actually two projects I could be working on. You know what it’s like until they’re actually here; I feel like I can’t say. I’m sworn to secrecy, semi-secret.

Nerds and Beyond: So many secrets! For my last question, here at Nerds and Beyond, we believe in waving your nerd flag high. Is there anything you’re really nerdy about? Anything that you geek over or really love in terms of comics, superheroes, shows, or films?

Tracey Collins: I think I probably am a pretty classic nerd. I’m very detailed as well. Quite obsessed about certain things. I love sci-fi, generally. I am a huge Star Trek fan. I’m very obsessed with it. I like Star Wars, but not as much as I like Star Trek. Like anything that’s kind of sci-fi. What do you think about time travel? I’m obsessed with time travel.

Nerds and Beyond: Time travel is always interesting to me.

Tracey Collins: Me too. I’m really obsessed about that. I think even when in the past when I’ve designed period production, shows, or biographical productions, initially, people didn’t want to design that. Would you?You’ve got to go right into that time, and you’ve got to learn everything about that period. And what was cool was, “What was this and who did this and how they do that?” and also the sort of social mannerisms of the time. So I kind of think maybe just kind of whatever I’m working on, I’ve become really quite obsessed with that. And it does become my sort of whole world. I like to dig really deep and understand all the aspects of it, and I don’t think there’s many accidents, you know, as many accidents and in the end result of the design aspect of the sets anyway, all the details because I think I’ve thought about all of them. But yeah, I think I’m probably into a bunch of sci-fi and time travel across all media.

Nerds and Beyond: I think that’s all I have for you. Thank you so much for this!

Tracey Collins: Thank you, that’s great.

Nerds and Beyond: And I loved all of the set pieces and seeing the difference between the ’90s and 2020s. It was interesting and seeing how updated everything was.

Tracey Collins: Oh good, thank you. Thank you very much. That’s nice to hear. You know, you work away, and you don’t know what people are gonna think. I’ve been really pleased with the response to the production. I feel like there’s been lots of people who have been quite excited about it.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always is streaming now on Netflix.

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By Megan
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Megan has been passionate about writing since she was little and has been passionate about all things pop culture and nerdy since almost as long. Joining Nerds and Beyond in 2019, she also graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Megan is constantly binge-watching shows and finding new things to obsess over. 9-1-1 and Marvel currently reign as the top obsessions. You can find her on Twitter @marvels911s if you ever want to discuss some certain firefighters.
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