McDonald worked on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey with producer Seth MacFarlane.
The Orville Edit
Luke McDonald joined the set of The Orville when he was personally recruited by its creator, Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane wanted McDonald to create a universe that resembled science fiction television of the 1990s and late 1980s, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The look we tried to achieve was a new twist on old genres that we all like, with Seth as the driving force to get what he wanted visually. It wasn’t specifically original Star Trek or Star Wars — and he definitely doesn’t want it to be Star Trek Discovery, because this has to be a more uplifting type of universe.
Filming the Orville Edit
Working with the director of photography Marvin V. Rush and Rob Legato, McDonald's team created a motion-control miniature photography lab capable of shooting a model of the USS Orville. The process was largely ignored since the 1990s, but revived by McDonald to film scenes of the Orville flying through space. Jon Favreau, director of the series premiere Old Wounds, preferred non-computer graphics effects and loved the idea of an "old school" shoot.
McDonald supervised The Fox VFX Lab as they built a five-foot model of the Orville, then spent six days on a motion-control photo shoot against a blue screen. He insisted on separate, carefully-done passes to capture beauty lighting, matte and fill, and lights emitted from the model's engines and windows. Used to working on movies with laxer time budgets, McDonald was taken aback by the strict scheduling constraints of television:
After Seth approached me, I started finding out what the time crunch really is in television. One show needed eight weeks for the effects, but we wound up only having three. That made for long days and was a big part of the challenge of this first season.The immense workload behind motion-control miniature photography gradually forced McDonald to transition from shooting the model to computer graphics, which was significantly faster to complete. By mid-season, McDonald did only one physical shoot of the Orville per episode, completing the rest digitally.
Designing space Edit
After shooting or computer-rendering of the Orville was complete, McDonald needed to create convincing backdrops of space. He worked with science consultant André Bormanis and staff futurist Taylor Faulkinberry to generate depictions of the galaxy that would be both beautiful and realistic.
McDonald's design ethos is to take realistic concepts of space and to add a personalized, unrealistic twist for visual appeal, a philosophy he inherited from director J.J. Abrams when the two worked together on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Lieutenant Yaphit was created digitally by Tippett Studios, but as lighting was overseen by Luke McDonalde, he coordinated with the studio company so that digital lighting falling on art assets would match the lighting of the physical set.