While Richard Lewis was credited as Production Designer for Steven Spielberg’s undersea adventure series, the real auteur of the show’s pioneering visual style was a young man named James Lima.
indeed, as one of the ‘founding four’ (The others being creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, Production exec. Philip Segal, and Amblin President Tony Thomopolous) not only was Lima responsible for the final designs of the interior and exterior of the futuristic submarine and supporting vehicles but also the creator of the series iconic logo (designing the ‘LimaOblique’ font from scratch).
As described in the 1993 ‘Submerged Special’ from UK Publication TVZone above, Joe Nazzaro’s feature on the design of seaQuest reveals that despite originally being conceived as a ‘large aircraft-carrier type’ of vehicle, the seaQuest went through many incarnations before Lima wowed producers with a more organic design based on his philosophy of ‘Nautical Nouveau’. His concept for the main sub, for example, was unabashedly based a Squid, and the U-boat’s ‘offspring’ (the ‘Stinger’ and the ‘Speeder’) followed the same aesthetic. So radical were his creations that they were an instant hit with the target demographic and hurriedly translated into model kits and toys to kick off the inevitable merchandise campaign.
Lima would eventually be made visual effects supervisor, overseeing his creations in the many demanding CGI sequences. Though critics had originally branded the show’s visuals ‘dark and murky’ the underwater FX sequences were gradually improving with each episode under Lima’s direction. With 10 episodes of the first season in the can, however, Lima, like so many other key creative personnel (O’Bannon included!) decided to part ways with the show and move on to features (his next project being Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days).
Thankfully the production was shrewd enough to maintain Lima’s visuals for the remainder of the first season and beyond (despite a proposed Hammerhead revision of the sub for season 2) and though the show would go on to showcase an impressive armada of vehicles throughout its three-season tenure, none would surpass the standards and sheer innovation as initiated by Jim Lima, the true designer of the seaQuest.