VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (2024)

  • THE FINELY-CRAFTED LOOK OF RIPLEY IS A BLACK-AND-WHITE AFFAIR June 25,2024

    By OLIVER WEBB

    Images courtesy of Netflix.

    Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, and stunningly told in black and white, Steven Zaillian’s eight-part Netflix limited series Ripley stars Andrew Scott as a grifter living in New York during the 1960s who is hired by a wealthy man to bring his vagabond son home from Italy.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (1)

    Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley in Episode 101 of Ripley. Creator/director Steven Zaillian envisioned from day one that the show was going to be in black and white.

    Zaillian envisioned from day one that the show was going to be in black and white, so it was essential to develop a unique but efficient workflow for the internal VFX team and VFX vendors. “Early on, we even considered a workflow in which vendors would deliver two deliverables of every single shot submission, one in color and one in black and white,” VFX Producer Joseph Servodio notes. “However, since we had over 2,000 shots, you can only imagine how much media management that would create for the vendors, VFX team and Editorial. Ultimately, what made the most sense was to work on the shots in color, then our team presented them to Steve, predominately within cut context in our black and white look. Occasionally during reviews, we would flip back to the color look just as a quality check. Since black and white tended to be more forgiving, we would sometimes be able to see flaws in the color that we otherwise didn’t catch in the black-and-white viewing.”

    “[W]hat made the most sense was to work on the shots in color, then our team presented them to Steve [director Steve Zaillian], predominately within cut context in our black and white look. Occasionally during reviews, we would flip back to the color look just as a quality check. Since black and white tended to be more forgiving, we would sometimes be able to see flaws in the color that we otherwise didn’t catch in the black-and-white viewing.”

    —Joseph Servodio, VFX Producer

    VFX Supervisor John Bowers joined the show during the post-production stages. “I was brought in by Executive Producer Ben Rosenblatt, who I have worked with for 11 years now,” Bowers says. “The show needed someone who could collaborate hands-on in New York with our director, Steven Zaillian, to take sequences to final, and someone who could translate his notes about overall look and feel into concrete visual terms.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (2)

    There were 2,146 visual effects shots in Ripley, most of which consisted of train windows, bus windows and apartment windows, as well as environment extension work.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (3)

    The VFX team worked on shots in color, then presented them to Zaillian cut in the context of a black-and-white look. Above: In Ripley, Tom (Andrew Scott) is sent to Europe to bring back a wealthy man’s wayward son.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (4)

    EDI, led by VFX Supervisor Gaia Bussolati, was in charge of the part of Ripley set in northern Italy. Since everything was based on previous footage or existing locations, it was important for EDI to find documentation about Sanremo in the ’60s and the paintings of late 16th-early 17th century Italian artist Caravaggio.

    Since Bowers was joining a show that was already in progress, he was able to watch rough assembled cuts. “The visual effects when I joined were in varying states of completion,” Bowers notes. “Our director had actually been working on the show for years at that point, having started writing Ripley in 2019. My job was to come in and ask him as many questions as I could to understand his vision, both in general terms and for specific sequences and shots. We also always knew that Steve’s vision was to present the show in black and white. We did VFX work in color throughout, but editorial was cutting in black and white, so we were always designing shots with an eye towards how clearly elements and compositions would appear in their final form. It was coming in and understanding the conversations that had already happened between Steve and his editors and figuring out from that point how to carry it forward to final.”

    “We also always knew that Steve’s vision was to present the show in black and white. We did VFX work in color throughout, but editorial was cutting in black and white, so we were always designing shots with an eye towards how clearly elements and compositions would appear in their final form.”

    —John Bowers, VFX Supervisor

    Bowers focused on period photography from the time, as well as black-and-white films from the ’60s. “Steve would frequently make reference to films from the period, for example La Dolce Vita, which was an important cultural touchstone for him,” Bowers explains. “A recurring visual motif throughout the show is Caravaggio paintings, which create visual drama through their use of light and dark. We took inspiration from that as well, but honestly, for shots where we were designing camerawork from scratch – like our big CG sequence in Episode 3 – the most important reference point was Robert Elswit’s cinematography from the rest of the show.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (5)

    Andrew Scott, who plays Tom Ripley, is in frame for almost every shot of Ripley. Shots were always designed with an eye towards how clearly elements and compositions would appear in their final black-and-white form.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (6)

    Fellini’s lauded Italian film La Dolce Vita (1960) was an important cultural touchstone for Zaillian. From left: Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley, Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf and Eliot Sumner as Freddie Miles in Episode 102. (Photo: Stefano Cristiano Montesi)

    There were 2,146 visual effects shots in total, most of which consisted of train windows, bus windows and apartment windows, as well as environment extension work. “Episode 3 had 400 shots in it, with as many shots in one 16-minute sequence as existed in some entire episodes,” Bowers says. “We had teams working all over the world: EDI in Italy, Wētā FX in New Zealand and Redefine in Canada, India and Europe. In order to coordinate a team on that scale, you really have to have a consistent vision and clear communication. We always wanted to make sure that we were prioritizing and making progress on our most challenging shots, especially in Episode 3. With different vendors working on different things, we often had to work in batches to present the director with coherent sequences that were nearly complete before soliciting his feedback. It was risky, but for some sequences, it was the only path to success.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (7)

    The use of light and dark in Caravaggio’s paintings influenced the shots designed from scratch, inspiring Robert Elswit’s cinematography. (Photo: Philippe Antonello)

    Chris White was Wētā FX’s VFX Supervisor on the show. “We were given a rough cut of the show when we began work,” White explains. “You could quickly tell it was a beautiful show with solid compositions and lighting. The visual effects would also need to support this aesthetic – with attention to the subtle details of highlights, shadows, environment and composition. Creative reference is always an instrumental part of the process and gives us a clear target. Because the series had so many beautiful shots, we went through the season cut and requested footage of other shots to reference. We used the series cinematography as our first inspiration. I studied chiaroscuro at university many years ago, so I drew on my memories of those studies, along with references from the old masters and noir photography.”

    “Steve would frequently make reference to films from the period, for example La Dolce Vita, which was an important cultural touchstone for him. A recurring visual motif throughout the show is Caravaggio paintings, which create visual drama through their use of light and darkness. We took inspiration from that as well, but honestly, for shots where we were designing camerawork from scratch – like our big CG sequence in Episode 3 – the most important reference point was Robert Elswit’s cinematography from the rest of the show.”

    —John Bowers, VFX Supervisor

    Wētā FX’s work for the show included two types of shots: the boat action sequence, where each shot had a unique action, and a series of shots in a static location on the water. “For the action shots, our animation team crafted dynamic boats that could simulate motion through the water,” White says. “For the static shots, we invested in an automatic setup. Once the look of the sequence was established, we could run multiple shots through a setup and tweak each shot to taste. The setup was crafted as a primary lighting and comp scene, establishing the base look. The digi-double shots were the most challenging, but they also brought the most satisfaction. They needed to be spot-on likenesses to the actors, with the complexities of underwater clothing simulation, bubbles, hair motion and lighting while preserving detail. The way light exits skin underwater differs from in the air, so particular attention had to be paid to underwater digi-double rendering.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (8)

    The overall look of the series and its classic black-and-white aesthetic was one of the highlights of the show for Wētā FX VFX Supervisor Chris White. (Photo: Philippe Antonello)

    For Bowers, the 16-minute boat sequence in Episode 3 was the most challenging sequence in the entirety of the show. “It’s the most important story point of the show. Everything in the first two episodes leads up to it, and everything that happens in the remaining five episodes happens because of it,” Bowers explains. “If people know just one thing about The Talented Mr. Ripley, it’s usually this murder scene. The success or failure of the show as an artistic endeavor really depended on the realism and the artistry of this one scene; that was the challenge for us, and those were the stakes. On the technical side, every shot of either Tom or Dickie underwater was a digi-double, and those were quite close-up angles. Andrew Scott, who plays Tom Ripley, is in frame for almost every shot of Ripley, so the audience would be intimately familiar with his face and expressions by this point in the show. To then hand off to a digi-double? In a close-up of his face, underwater? We had to get that exactly right.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (9)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (10)

    A main concern of production was related to the locations. All the required elements couldn’t be found in one location at a time, so EDI focused on designing locations by assembling different components from different sources, like a “collage,” with great attention to detail.

    Continues Bowers, “Wētā FX did fantastic work throughout that sequence. The underwater effects they created to make the environment feel literally immersive was really outstanding work. There was one full-CG shot in particular – near the end of the scene – where the camera is pointing straight down into the water, and Dickie’s body is sinking down into the depths. That was definitely the most challenging visual effects shot to create in the entire series. It needed to feel still and quiet and sort of melancholy at the end, but we still wanted to have the feeling of the camera being 15 feet underwater and really present. The first version of that shot that we presented for creative approval was version 223, and the final comp was version 557, so it went through quite a lot of iteration.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (11)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (12)

    EDI was responsible for all of the Caravaggio shots, working on around hundred, spread over six of the eight episodes of the series.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (13)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (14)

    A recurring visual motif throughout the show is Caravaggio paintings, which create visual drama through their strong contrast of light and dark.

    Gaia Bussolati served as EDI VFX Supervisor on the show. “We started work on this project in mid-2021. The inspection and pre-production began in June. We were involved from the very beginning,” Bussolati says. “Thanks to our well-established relationship with American supervisors and studios, the production’s head of post-production visited us and asked us what kind of structure we had, if we had supervisors who could stay on set and follow their director, considering that there would be other main suppliers involved in the project. We were then told that we would take care of the part set in northern Italy.”

    “We always wanted to make sure that we were prioritizing and making progress on our most challenging shots, especially in Episode 3. With different vendors working on different things, we often had to work in batches to present the director with coherent sequences that were nearly complete before soliciting his feedback. It was risky, but for some sequences, it was the only path to success.”

    —John Bowers, VFX Supervisor

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (15)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (16)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (17)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (18)

    Wētā FX’s work for the show included two types of shots: the boat action sequence, where each shot had a unique action, and a series of shots in a static location on the water. (Image courtesy of Wētā FX and Netflix)

    When Bussolati and EDI came onboard in the pre-production stages, they received the scripts for all the episodes, which they then read in order to understand the mood of the series. “The main concern since the very beginning seemed to be related to the locations. Even the simplest, Atrani, which was the best preserved, did not seem to have all the elements that could reveal the director’s vision. So we realized that the work ahead would have been designing locations by assembling different components from different sources. Like a collage. The director’s vision was very clear; he knew what he wanted, and this was translated into a work with great attention to the smallest detail.”

    Since everything was based on previous footage or existing locations, it was important for Bussolati and EDI to find documentation about Sanremo in the ’60s and Caravaggio’s paintings. “Our aim was to create the most realistic output for the story and the context, so any reference was based on real references. This meant a lot of historical and iconographic research on our end,” says Bussolati. EDI was responsible for all of the Caravaggio’s shots and worked on around hundred, spread over six episodes out of eight of the series. “We were also responsible for the St. Louis of the French Chapel in Rome, The Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence in Palermo and David with the Head of Goliath at Villa Borghese in Rome,” Bussolati adds.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (19)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (20)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (21)

    For the action shots, Wētā FX’s animation team crafted dynamic boats that could simulate motion through the water. For the static boat shots, Wētā invested in an automatic setup. Once the look of the sequence was established, they could run multiple shots through the setup and tweak each shot to taste. (Image courtesy of Wētā FX and Netflix)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (22)

    If audiences remember one thing about The Talented Mr. Ripley, it’s the murder scene. According to VFX Supervisor John Bowers, the success or failure of the show as an artistic endeavor depended on the realism and artistry of this one scene.

    “We were given a rough cut of the show when we began work. You could quickly tell it was a beautiful show with solid compositions and lighting. The visual effects would also need to support this aesthetic – with attention to the subtle details of highlights, shadows, environment and composition. Creative reference is always an instrumental part of the process and gives us a clear target. Because the series had so many beautiful shots, we went through the season cut and requested footage of other shots to reference. We used the series cinematography as our first inspiration. I studied chiaroscuro at university many years ago, so I drew on my memories of those studies, along with references from the old masters and noir photography.”

    —Chris White, VFX Supervisor, Wētā FX

    “In Episode 3,” Bussolati continues, “we worked on recreating Sanremo, since the original scene was shot in Anzio. We also worked on other paintings, including Picasso’s, which can be seen both in Atrani and Venice. Sanremo’s scenes on the boat were shot with blue skies and sunshine. But the narrative was intended to start with a slightly cloudy sky and end with an almost stormy one to match in continuity with another vendor’s following sequence. This implied a very careful work on each and every nuance. A couple of other interesting scenes were related to Caravaggio’s paintings. The one in the St. Louis of the French Chapel in Rome was shot in Naples with a greenscreen, and then we have rebuilt the chapel based on photo reliefs and database images. Then The Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence in Palermo, was quite challenging, since the original painting was stolen in 1969 – it is in the world list of the 10 most important stolen masterpieces. According to the story, there was still the original, so we had to reproduce the brushstroke, the cracks, the texture of the canvas, and this was done thanks to an accurate analysis of documents and historical references.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (23)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (24)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (25)

    Dickie’s body sinking down into the depths was the most challenging visual effects shot to create in the series, according to VFX Supervisor John Bowers. Underwater effects were created to make the environment feel literally immersive. (Image courtesy of Wētā FX and Netflix)

    Bowers enjoyed collaborating with the vendor side VFX supes at all the various companies that were working on the show. “Working with Gaia at EDI, Chris White and Francois Sugny at Wētā FX, Tehmina Beg and Eric Sibley at Crafty Apes and Teddy Wirtz at Powerhouse: just a great group of creative problem-solvers that were able to take sometimes vague, or seemingly contradictory direction, and work together to come up with solutions. That was, for me, the great pleasure of the show.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (26)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (27)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (28)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (29)

    Every shot of either Tom or Dickie underwater was a digi-double. The digi-doubles needed to be spot-on likenesses to the actors, with the complexities of underwater clothing simulation, bubbles, hair motion and lighting while preserving detail.

    For White, the overall look of the series and its classic black-and-white aesthetic was one of the many joys of the show. “As someone who used to shoot black-and-white photography, I found the most enjoyable part of the show to be crafting images that reflected that aesthetic,” White says.

    For Bussolati, the joy was in the depth of detail and quality of the result. “We really loved the passion for the detail, the story, and we loved to work on historical documents about Italy, in particular about the landscape, the art and the buildings such as the churches. We’re really glad that this series is getting the great worldwide success it deserves.”

  • FORGING A PARTNERSHIP – AND AN ADULT ANIMATED SERIES – THAT’S INVINCIBLE June 18,2024

    By TREVOR HOGG

    Images courtesy of Skybound Entertainment and Prime Video.

    Subverting genres is something that American comic book writer, screenwriter and producer Robert Kirkman has done so well, whether it be zombies in The Walking Dead or superheroes in Invincible. The latter, which has been turned into an animated series for Prime Video. revolves around teenager Mark Grayson coming into his supernatural powers and having to deal with the revelation that his extraterrestrial father was sent not to protect but conquer Earth. The second season consisting of eight episodes was divided into half with Part 1 released in November 2023 and Part 2 in March and April 2024.

    “To a certain extent I admit it is somewhat a detriment to my career that everything I do is different because a fanbase cannot go, ‘I like A from that guy so I’m going to like all of this other stuff,’” states Kirkman, Co-Creator, Co-Showrunner, Executive Producer. “But I would be bored if I was doing things that were so similar to each other.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (30)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (31)

    Exploring the poses and colors for Angstrom Levy before and after his accident.

    “We have the benefit of the series being completed and a 144-issue roadmap. We’re able to say, ‘This story is more important because it comes into play in seven different issues.’ We can spend a little time on that scene and put more foreshadowing to certain things that are going to come. I didn’t have that when I was writing the comic book series. There were far reaching plans, but for the most part it was put together as I went along. It has turned the show into a second draft.”

    —Robert Kirkman, Co-Creator, Co-Showrunner, Executive Producer

    Invincible is not the typical production in terms of size and scope. “I’ve never worked on a project that is this big,” remarks Marge Dean, Head of Animation for Skybound Entertainment. “It’s 45 to 50-minute episodes as opposed to a 22-minute episode, so it’s twice the amount of content. But also, the nature of Invincible is that in every episode there is a big fight scene, lots of destruction, a high body count, even the main characters are constantly in flux in how they look because they get beat up or shot. What that translates into is an awful lot of pencil mileage. We have to draw all of those things. A major lesson was learned by Dean. With the scope and the way story is, it’s more like three times the [average] episode.”

    Outsourcing animation to Korea has been going on since 1980s, so the industry pipeline has been refined. “We have 70 people working on the show, and that’s not counting the folks in Korea,” Dean explains. “You figure out the whole season and decide how each episode fits in there. Then you have those written, and that’s given to the team. The directors are responsible for keeping the whole thing intact and on track. Once it gets to Korea, they’re replicating what we created. We have done a refined [version] and worked out a map for them of what we want the main animation to be, and this is in the form of our storyboards, animatics and model packs. All of the information that they need is there. Then we have conversations with them. When they send us the show, if there are things that do not fit the continuity or story or is not what we instructed them to do. we call retakes and make them do it again. When we make a mistake and do a creative retake, they’re given extra compensation.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (32)

    Experimenting with various facial expressions for Debbie Grayson.

    What has changed is the acceptance and popularity of adult animation around the world which has made shows like Invincible possible. “In North America and Europe, people believed that animation was for comedy or kids,” Dean notes. “Then as anime started working its way out of Japan, and we have Millennials and Generation Zs who have grown-up with 24/7 animation on the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and have a broader understanding of animation as a medium not a genre. Then ‘Adult Swim’ launched Toonami, which introduced anime to the general public, definitely in the U.S. and other parts of the world, and that blew the lid off because in Japan, they totally get that you can do animation for all of the different forms of audiences that you have. It’s okay to make stuff for people who have a specific interest. There can be mature themes and stakes, and the characters don’t have to be cute little kids but can be grungier older people or people starting their professional life.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (33)

    A mouth chart for Debbie Grayson to illustrate how various spoken letters are to be animated.

    “Quite a lot [of CG animation] was used in Season 1. We still use an element of CG, such as to build our backgrounds that are sent to the overseas studio, but, ultimately, the background is drawn into the animation. The overseas studio usually has a CG team, and they may decide on their own to turn some vehicles into CG and blend them into the scene. We allow that to happen. That’s the extent of the CG.”

    —Marge Dean, Head of Animation, Skybound Entertainment

    Given the strengths and needs of animation, the series is not an exact replica of the comic book source material. “Visually, everything has to be animated. We’re a hand-drawn animated program,” Kirkman states. “With comics, everybody is drawing those panels one or two times, so it’s easy to put crazy detail and little flourishes on everything. But there is a streamlining process for animation. Then, with the story, most of the changes come from hindsight. We have the benefit of the series being completed and a 144-issue roadmap. We’re able to say, ‘This story is more important because it comes into play in seven different issues.’ We can spend a little time on that scene and put more foreshadowing to certain things that are going to come. I didn’t have that when I was writing the comic book series. There were far reaching plans, but for the most part it was put together as I went along. It has turned the show into a second draft.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (34)

    Great attention to detail was paid to Mark Grayson down to his eyes.

    The sensibilities of Kirkman were different when he began writing Invincible. “There are a few off-handed jokes in the old issues where I was like, ‘That doesn’t play so great these days,’” Kirkman notes. “We were able to broom those things out and make everything more modern and updated. There are things that are antiquated as well, like technology, because the comic book series is 20 years old. Another thing is I feel that I’ve improved as a writer, and so there’s a lot of, ‘I don’t like how this dialogue goes.’ Or, ‘I can make this sequence flow better.’ There is also this notion of trying to top myself, so you’ll notice that a lot of the big memorable moments in the Invincible television series are enhanced. An action sequence will go on longer or some sort of gut-wrenching sequence will have an element added to it that makes it more off-putting or nerve-racking, or the tension is heightened more. Some of that comes from the scenes in the comics weren’t moving and didn’t have sound, and the show has that, so there is more latitude you can take in the individual scenes to amp up the emotion, scares and intensity.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (35)

    Determining the look of a bruise on the face of Omni-Man.

    Lessons were learned from turning the demonic-exorcism comic Super Dinosaur into an animated series for Teletoon in 2018. “That show was so unsuccessful people might not be aware that it even exists, but we did 26 episodes, a half hour, and it was CGI,” Kirkman recalls. “It takes a lot to build CGI assets because every single character is constructed, and there are a lot of things that go into that. A lot of the budget is adding new characters into the show. I knew that Invincible could never be limited with how many characters that I could introduce per episode because this is such a vast world, and there are sprawling aspects that would be hampered tremendously by a 3D pipeline. There is a rich history in superhero programs having a 2D animation look so we’re playing off of that.” There is CG animation in Invincible, but the amount was purposely reduced for Season 2. “Quite a lot was used in Season 1,” Dean states. “We still use an element of CG, such as to build our backgrounds that are sent to the overseas studio, but, ultimately, the background is drawn into the animation. The overseas studio usually has a CG team, and they may decide on their own to turn some vehicles into CG and blend them into the scene. We allow that to happen. That’s the extent of the CG.”

    “That whole episode [Episode 208] was difficult, if you think about every single trip into the multiverse as almost a completely different show. They’re going to completely different environments, characters, color palettes, and it’s a lot to ask of a team. I don’t remember the actual number of dimensions, but that was monumental. It is great to have a team that is willing to push things and take those risks and put the extra work into accomplishing those kinds of things.”

    —Robert Kirkman, Co-Creator, Co-Showrunner, Executive Producer

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (36)

    One of the characters who has a unique set of powers is Atom Even, as she can manipulate matter and energy at the sub-atomic level.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (37)

    The personalities of the Immortal and Bulletproof are what separates them as they essentially have the same abilities in being strong and durable.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (38)

    The heart of the storytelling is dealing with the trials and tribulations that the various characters experience, in particular Mark Grayson, who is trying to balance his personal life with being a superhero.

    Violence is depicted within reason. “I want to stay on a narrow path,” Kirkman states. “If you go too far into different things it can distract from your story. The cool thing is that we have never had any content restrictions placed upon us by Prime Video.” Each season needs to be bigger than the previous one, not only in action but also in emotion, character arcs and the cast interactions with each other. “We have to make sure we’re not repeating ourselves and hitting those same notes. We’re shifting the storytelling and trying to make sure that different things are happening, so when we do huge moments of graphic violence, as we do frequently, we need to have in mind how to maintain that sense of momentum through the show. If someone is watching this show in Season 5 and goes, ‘They’re not reaching the heights of Season 3,’ we’ve failed. We’re always trying to have something new to spring on the viewer to shock and excite them and keep them engaged. In Season 1, the violence that Mark Grayson experiences is at the hands of his father, so you want to show that. In Season 2, it looks at the violence that Mark is capable of. The fact that Angstrom Levy is receiving it isn’t as important as the emotions that Mark is feeling having done it.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (39)

    Character designs were simplified to streamline the animation process.

    “There is also this notion of trying to top myself, so you’ll notice that a lot of the big memorable moments in the Invincible television series are enhanced. An action sequence will go on longer or some sort of gut-wrenching sequence will have an element added to it that makes it more off-putting or nerve-racking, or the tension is heightened more. Some of that comes from the scenes in the comics weren’t moving and didn’t have sound, and the show has that, so there is more latitude you can take in the individual scenes to amp up the emotion, scares and intensity.”

    —Robert Kirkman, Co-Creator, Co-Showrunner, Executive Producer

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (40)

    Co-Creator/Co-Showrunner/Executive Producer Robert Kirkman has a preference for 2D animation, which is the style of choice for Invincible.

    Superpowers do not reflect personality traits. “We’re trying to make these characters feel real and three dimensional; they have hopes, dreams and aspirations,” Kirkman explains. “The superpowers serve the story and keep things moving. If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that a lot of characters have a similar powerset. Every now and then you have an Atom Even, Rex Splode, Duplicate or Robot who have a unique powerset. But Bulletproof, Invincible, Immortal and Omni-Man, these guys have the same powers! What differentiates them is their personalities, and that’s what makes them interesting.” A particular character has benefited from the animated series. “Debbie Grayson [Mark’s mother and wife of Omni-Man] was a major part of the comics and had a lot of big storylines, but there were long periods where the storylines were dealing with superpower, not human level stuff, so she would recede into the background. There is a tremendous opportunity in the show to find ways to keep her present. Then you also know that Sandra Oh is there to embody whatever we do. If we try to put some emotion into something, she takes that nugget and expands it. It’s a good example of an actor’s performance taking over and guiding the character at the writing stage.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (41)

    The animation is outsourced to Korea, which is a trend that has been happening in the animation industry since the 1980s.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (42)

    One of the reasons that 2D animation was chosen over CG is that Kirkman did not want to be limited by the number of characters he could introduce.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (43)

    Serving as the main protagonist for Season 2 is Angstrom Levy, who has ability to open portals from multiple dimensions.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (44)

    A character who has received more story time in the animated series is Debbie Grayson.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (45)

    The growing popularity of adult animation, due in part by the streaming services, means that Invincible does not have to pull punches when depicting violence.

    Invincible delves into the multiverse, which runs the danger of being the answer for every narrative problem, thereby negating any sense of peril. “The sweet spot of multiverse storytelling is witnessing other aspects of what could have been or seeing what happened in other dimensions and wringing as much emotion out of it as possible,” Kirkman notes. “We’re also doing our best to keep it as simple as possible. There is one character who accesses the multiverse in Angstrom Levy, and everything that we experience with the multiverse is through that character.” A riddle to solve was the portal sequence in Episode 208. “That whole episode was difficult, if you think about every single trip into the multiverse as almost a completely different show. They’re going to completely different environments, characters, color palettes, and it’s a lot to ask of a team. I don’t remember the actual number of dimensions, but that was monumental. It is great to have a team that is willing to push things and take those risks and put the extra work into accomplishing those kinds of things. For most shows it would be like, ‘You only get six of those.’ Often times, there are no corners to cut and we have to knuckle down and do it.”

  • STUNTS, SFX, PRACTICAL AND VFX TEAM UP TO IGNITE THE FALL GUY June 11,2024

    By CHRIS McGOWAN

    Images courtesy of Universal Studios, except where noted.

    In The Fall Guy, Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) – a stunt double for action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – suffers a horrific accident in a 12-story stunt fall in a building atrium. While recovering, Colt withdraws from both the film business and camera operator Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), with whom he had been having an on-the-set romance. Eighteen months later, Colt re-emerges when Tom’s producer Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddington) invites him to do stunt work on Metalstorm, an epic sci-fi movie directed by Jody, whose career is taking off, and starring Tom. However, when Colt arrives at the shoot, he learns that Tom has gone missing. Gail tasks Colt with finding him – or the studio will pull the plug on Metalstorm and, with it, Jody’s ambitions. Meanwhile, Colt is doing all that he can to win back an aggrieved Jody.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (46)

    Stuntman Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) is suspended from a camera crane attached to a pickup driven by director Judy Moreno (Emily Blunt) in The Fall Guy, directed by former stuntman David Leitch.

    The plot of Universal’s The Fall Guy allows for a smorgasbord of dangerous feats, including a 150-foot fall out of a helicopter, a 225-foot truck jump, and a world record of 8½ car “cannon rolls.” It is a spectacular ode to stunt work inspired by the ’80s TV series of the same name. The frenetic action is directed by former stuntman David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Bullet Train). While The Fall Guy is a tribute to old-school stunts, it is also proof that stunts, practical effects and visual effects can live harmoniously together.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (47)

    The over-the-top VFX for the Metalstorm movie-within-a-movie included fighting aliens, explosions and spacecraft. Flying through the air, leaping and sword-wielding were made possible by rigs and wires that were later painted out.

    “David [Leitch] … knows how to use VFX in his films to help the story. We had one rule when it came to the VFX on The Fall Guy – Don’t. Touch. The. Stunt. Everything else in the frame was pretty much fair game if it helped tell the story. The movie is stunt driven, a movie about a stuntman directed by a stuntman. The stunts are real. That’s the whole heart and soul of the film.”

    —Matt Sloan, Production VFX Supervisor

    Production VFX Supervisor Matt Sloan comments, “Working with David [Leitch], he is hugely inclusive and knows how to use VFX in his films to help the story. We had one rule when it came to the VFX on The Fall Guy – Don’t. Touch. The. Stunt. Everything else in the frame was pretty much fair game if it helped tell the story. The movie is stunt driven, a movie about a stuntman directed by a stuntman. The stunts are real. That’s the whole heart and soul of the film.”

    “To work on a movie inspired by a cult classic like The Fall Guy was a great experience,” says Cinesite VFX Supervisor Jennifer Meire. “The original series was known for its practical stunts and effects, so there was a delicate balance to strike between honoring the nostalgic elements and incorporating the more modern visual effects.” She adds, “Director David Leitch’s background as a stunt performer and action designer brought a valuable perspective to the creative process, which led to some seriously mind-blowing action sequences. He and Matt Sloan had a clear vision for how the visual effects could enhance the storytelling and action sequences, and their expectations were focused on achieving a seamless integration of practical and digital effects to create great shots.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (48)

    The Fall Guy focused on executing difficult old-school stunts and practical effects that were cleaned up and amplified with the help of VFX.

    The Fall Guy was written by Drew Pearce and produced by Kelly McCormick, Guymon Casady, Gosling and Leitch. Jonathan Sela was Director of Photography, David Scheunemann helmed Production Design, Dan Oliver was Special Effects Supervisor and Chris McClintock served as Production VFX Producer. Contributing visual effects studios included Framestore (VFX Supervisor Nicolas Chevallier), Rising Sun Pictures (VFX Supervisor Matt Greig), Crafty Apes (VFX Supervisor Jordan Schilling), Opsis (VFX Supervisor Tefft Smith II) and Cinesite (Meire).

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (49)

    Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) “surfs” with sparks flying on a tailgate across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia.

    “[For the 225-foot truck jump] Logan Holladay jumped that car across the canyon on set. Utterly terrifying to watch. Naturally, there were a ton of cameras on that shot. For The Fall Guy movie [not Metalstorm] we cleaned a bunch of cameras out along with some crew vehicles and some distracting power lines in the BG. The Jody double got such a shock when the car suddenly roared over her that she did not pan her prop camera, so we fixed that as well. It was a perfect example of VFX being used to support a 100% real stunt.”

    —Matt Sloan, Production VFX Supervisor

    For his work on The Fall Guy, Chris O’Hara received the first ever Stunt Designer credit from the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America. The recognition is “well overdue,” according to Sloan. “If you think VFX has it bad when it comes to under-recognition, it’s nothing compared to the stunt department. These guys work hard. Like really hard. The planning and prep that went into the stunts on The Fall Guy were insane. It’s a long and meticulous process, and it should be – that sh*t is really dangerous. On top of that, the daily discipline required to maintain the levels of fitness and agility for each stunt performer’s skill set is incredible.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (50)

    Trucks on the beach readying for a cannon roll, which set a world record at 8½ vehicle rolls. (Photo: Eric Laciste)

    Sloan continues, “Of course the math part isn’t sexy, so you’ll never really see that stuff in any of the behind-the-scenes footage. You just see a guy flying through the air, and you think, ‘That looks cool.’ But in the end, the designer takes responsibility for a series of decisions and calculations that, if incorrect, could result in a member of their team – and usually a friend – being seriously injured or worse. Designing stunts is a high-stress, serious job and deserves any and all recognition that comes its way.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (51)

    Director David Leitch, left, readies a helicopter stunt with Ryan Gosling onboard for a Metalstorm sequence. (Photo: Eric Laciste)

    The Fall Guy had several death-defying stunts. The 225-foot truck jump “was practical,” Sloan says. “Logan Holladay jumped that car across the canyon on set. Utterly terrifying to watch. Naturally, there were a ton of cameras on that shot. For The Fall Guy movie [not Metalstorm] we cleaned a bunch of cameras out along with some crew vehicles and some distracting power lines in the BG. The Jody double got such a shock when the car suddenly roared over her that she did not pan her prop camera, so we fixed that as well. It was a perfect example of VFX being used to support a 100% real stunt.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (52)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (53)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (54)

    Because the original Fall Guy TV series was known for its practical stunts and effects, Cinesite VFX Supervisor Jennifer Meire aimed for a balance between nostalgic elements and modern VFX. (Images courtesy of Cinesite and Universal Pictures)

    The high back-fall was “again, real,” Sloan explains. “Troy Brown back-flipped from a helicopter and fell 150 feet into an airbag. Watching that happen in front of you is incredibly unnerving – I did not realize I was holding my breath until the thumbs up came from the bag. Pure spectacle. VFX-wise, for safety reasons, we used a static helicopter buck as the platform for him to jump off. We replaced the helicopter buck so it could still be spinning in continuity with the rest of the sequence and added smoke from the gunshot damage. We did not touch the stunt itself!”

    “The Metalstorm shots were the antithesis of The Fall Guy, Massive, overwhelming VFX silliness. We threw everything in there. Fighting aliens, explosions, spacecraft and we even blew up the moon – why not! A lot of the Metalstorm shots were shot deliberately as Metalstorm shots, but some were not. We had a VFX team getting data with cams and ref on pretty much every shot on the film because we really did not know on a shot-to-shot basis where we would have to step in.”

    —Matt Sloan, Production VFX Supervisor

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (55)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (56)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (57)

    Stunt double Ben Jenkin in flames on the set of The Fall Guy. Backup with a fire extinguisher is at the ready. (Photo: Eric Laciste)

    “Each sequence is a series of different shots, each with its own VFX or stunt considerations,” Sloan remarks. “At the beginning of production, I told Chris [O’Hara] that I did not care how many wires/support equipment we needed to paint out as long as it was safe. He was great at minimizing the work we needed to do, but there were instances where we had a huge amount of rigging to remove, especially if it was Ryan and not one of the doubles. We opted for bluescreen for a lot of the interior car work; to shoot that practically would be too costly in terms of time. Time is the most expensive asset you have when you are shooting. David is super aware of this, and shooting that material on stage was just economically sensible. The work is perfectly serviceable to the story, and we could utilize that time-saving for larger, more complex shots/sequences.” There was other bluescreen work on and off throughout the movie. Sloan notes, “Our grip team had a bunch of ‘fly-in’ screens that we could run onto the set if something came up that required them. In saying that, this movie used less bluescreen than any other I’ve been involved in. [Yet it] also used more roto than any I’ve been involved in!”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (58)VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (59)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (60)

    The stunt structure with wires for Ryan Gosling`s 12-story fall inside a building atrium.

    “When it came to post-production [on the Metalstorm shots] and we started fleshing out the shots, it just kept going bigger and bigger. I always loved the telling silence from Nicolas Chevallier, our [VFX] Supe at Framestore, on our calls each time we would increase the scope in these shots. ‘More explosions!,’ ‘More aliens!,’ ‘More lasers!’ and, of course, ‘The moon should explode on frame 67.’ They took it in stride and produced some very fun and technically spectacular shots.”

    —Matt Sloan, Production VFX Supervisor

    The use of visual effects was extensive for the movie within the movie. “The Metalstorm shots were the antithesis of The Fall Guy,” Sloan explains. “Massive, overwhelming VFX silliness. We threw everything in there. Fighting aliens, explosions, spacecraft, and we even blew up the moon – why not! A lot of the Metalstorm shots were shot deliberately as Metalstorm shots, but some were not. We had a VFX team getting data with cams and ref on pretty much every shot on the film because we really did not know on a shot-to-shot basis where we would have to step in. When it came to post-production and we started fleshing out the shots, it just kept going bigger and bigger.” He continues, “I always loved the telling silence from Nicolas Chevallier, our [VFX] Supe at Framestore, on our calls each time we would increase the scope in these shots. ‘More explosions!,’ ‘More aliens!,’ ‘More lasers!’ and, of course, ‘The moon should explode on frame 67.’ They took it in stride and produced some very fun and technically spectacular shots.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (61)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (62)

    One of the most dangerous stunts in the film is a 150-foot fall out of a helicopter. Here, Gosling hangs from a helicopter buck to capture the shot, though it was stuntman Troy Brown who back-flipped from a helicopter and fell 150 feet into an airbag.

    For Sloan, the Bin Truck chase was the most challenging sequence involving VFX. “It was an incredibly complex, fast-moving sequence that made us utilize pretty much every trick we had,” he says. “We had multiple driving rigs, vehicles, doubles, locations and, of course, massive stunts. Face replacements, CG vehicles, background changes, adding sparks, huge rig removals. Added to that, we were shooting multiple cameras, so you never knew which angle was going to land in the cut. Some were great, and some were absolute monsters of roto and prep. There was a huge amount of work in that sequence, and the Framestore team did an amazing job.”

    “The third act with the helicopter work was a close second for most challenging,” Sloan says. “We utilized [a] helicopter buck for the majority of the sequence, and Rising Sun Pictures absolutely rose to the challenge, adding rotors, downwash, rotor flicker, smoke, explosions and backgrounds. Matt Greig and his team in Australia did some stellar work there.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (63)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (64)

    Face down in the sand for a Metalstorm sequence, Gosling gets flames added to his back courtesy of VFX, for safety’s sake. (Images courtesy of Cinesite and Universal Pictures)

    Cinesite delivered over 350 visual effects shots to The Fall Guy, according to Meire. She notes, “Fire was an important theme for much of our work, including a fire-breathing shot, a sequence where Colt is set on fire in a movie set stunt and a dramatic boat-chase explosion. Throughout our fire-related VFX, we utilized advanced computational fluid dynamics solvers and combustion models to simulate the turbulence of the flow of gasoline or relevant gaseous fuel. In addition, we generated realistic turbulence and heat release.”

    Although the boat chase next to Sydney Harbour Bridge was largely captured on location and in-camera, Cinesite contributed some almost entirely digital shots. Meire says, “The pontoon explosion was one of these. Colt speeds into a pontoon in the middle of the Parramatta River. The massive ensuing impact was created with a full CG boat, river, detonation, debris and smoke.”

    Another sequence in a nightclub involved the creation of far more visible visual effects. “Colt’s drink has been spiked, and he is attacked by some bad guys. A magical look was added to the subsequent fight, inspired by anime, with sparkles, lens flares and color effects to show the effect of the psychedelic substances Colt has unknowingly consumed. These effects were created by shifting the RGB channels blended with time warps. The visuals were made to be as fluid and organic as possible, with the addition of chromatic aberration, lens flares and the kind of optical effects we often add in typical visual effects,” Meire comments.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (65)

    Colt (Ryan Gosling) in a Vietnam war scene in the Metalstorm movie being made in The Fall Guy. Cinesite’s contribution included the addition of multiple bullet hits, explosions, impact sparks and various composites. (Image courtesy of Cinesite and Universal Pictures)

    “If it had been possible for the film to have been completed entirely using SFX rather than digital, I think that would have been David Leitch’s preference. But there were many instances where SFX could take you most of the way there, but they needed help with the final 10%-20%. There were also instances where safety was a factor; for example the shot where we added flames to Ryan Gosling. They could not have achieved that shot seamlessly with the actual actor, close up, any other way.”

    —Jennifer Meire, Visual Effects Supervisor, Cinesite

    Meire notes, “Other work that Cinesite contributed included the addition of multiple bullet hits, explosions, impact sparks and various composites. With regards to the action and stunt scenes, it’s important to emphasize that most of what the audience sees was generally captured in-camera, the result of fantastic stunts and SFX.”

    Meire observes, “If it had been possible for the film to have been completed entirely using SFX rather than digital, I think that would have been David Leitch’s preference. But there were many instances where SFX could take you most of the way there, but they needed help with the final 10%-20%. There were also instances where safety was a factor; for example the shot where we added flames to Ryan Gosling. They could not have achieved that shot seamlessly with the actual actor, close up, any other way. Wherever possible, SFX were used, but digital effects are [now] an essential part of every film, action or otherwise.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (66)

    The Fall Guy is a spectacular ode to stunt work inspired by the ’80s TV series of the same name. On set from left: Ryan Gosling, stuntmen Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ben Jenkin, Logan Holladay and Justin Eaton, and director David Leitch.

    Sloan points out the hard work that so often goes into invisible effects. “There is one shot I’d like to call out for special mention. It was, on paper, a super simple VFX shot – a stitch between two plates. Due to circ*mstances beyond our control, we could not get the camera on the B-side to match the angle of the A-side. Not even close. To the point, we added a cut initially because we had almost zero confidence that we could make it work. It had huge parallax issues, and the lighting was noticeably different. It took months of brute force, meticulous roto, warping, relighting and CG replacements of parts of the set and props, but it worked. It’s the definition of invisible VFX. But if you’re reading this and worked on that shot, know that the work was appreciated. VFX is a form of magic. Expensive magic, sure, but still magic.”

  • EMMY VFX HOPEFULS RISE TO THE CHALLENGE TO SERVE THE STORYTELLERS June 6,2024

    By CHRIS McGOWAN

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (67)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (68)

    One of the biggest VFX achievements on Masters of the Air was the focus on historical detail, which carried over to the depth of the effects highlighted by a complex choreography of hundreds of planes in battle, diving, zooming past and breaking contrails.
    (Images courtesy of DNEG © 2024 Apple Inc.)

    Big-screen VFX continues to stretch the small screen, and the effects keep getting more essential and cinematic, as evidenced by the shows eligible in the Outstanding Special Visual Effects categories (in a Season or a Movie or in a Single Episode) of the 76th Primetime Emmy Awards on September 15. The contenders represent a rich segment of the VFX work that has become the backbone of high-end episodic television, including world-building, digi-doubles, face replacements, de-aging, simulations, environmental and invisible VFX. Following is a look at some impressive VFX-infused TV/streaming shows poised for an Emmy nomination, with VFX supervisors revisiting their VFX highlights.

    When it comes to world-building, no canvas is broader or more complex than sci-fi. “The largest VFX challenge on Season 2 of Foundation was executing all of the different types of visual effects required on the show while maintaining the quality we had established on Season 1,” states Visual Effects Supervisor Chris MacLean. “The variety of visual effects was daunting given we had to complete complex CG environments, CG creatures, giant CG mechas, CG destruction, water simulation, CG vehicles, and holograms, just to name a few. If we are talking about a challenging sequence, I would have to say that the escape from Synnax in Episode 202 was one of the most difficult. There were a lot of practical sets and stunt work that had to seamlessly integrate with CG water simulation and stunt work. Beki, our domesticated Bishop’s Claw, was a huge win for us. Knowing how difficult it is to make a ridable CG animal feel grounded in reality, the team planned and executed this flawlessly.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (69)

    Jason Zimmerman, VFX Supervisor on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds for Paramount+, embraces the opportunity to add to the Star Trek legacy. “A big challenge with any Star Trek show is always working with canon on some of the fans’ most beloved characters, ships and effects,” he says. “In the case of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, we saw more of the Gorn than had been seen in many years. In addition to the stellar work from Legacy Effects in creating the practical Gorn, we worked to augment it with additional facial animation, drool, breath, etc. We also did entirely CG shots of the Gorn or CG Gorn with practical actor interaction to help tell the story in the final episode of the season. It was crucial to our showrunners that we seamlessly integrate the CG moments with the practical to aid in the storytelling.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (70)

    Season 4 of For All Mankind saw a huge expansion of the Happy Valley Mars Base, which included designing and creating dozens of new modules, landing pads, roads, terra-forming, vehicles and connecting infrastructure to show the huge growth over roughly a decade. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

    Zimmerman points to the Gorn fight and the conclusion of the last episode of the season as peak experiences. “In addition to the full-CG Gorn, facial performance enhancements and fight sequence, we had the scene take place on a backdrop of a partially destroyed ship hull destined to crash. Combining the practical and CG fight action and set extensions inside, with the exterior full CG beats as the ship begins to enter the nearby planet’s atmosphere, was both challenging and fun to play with as a team and with our vendors. The full CG exterior shots and destroyed ship assets were massive, requiring quite a bit of simulation in the debris field, re-entry fire and smoke, etc. Cut together with the interior fight scene with CG Gorn, along with the eventual escape of our heroes to the exterior in what became a full-CG shot with digi doubles, was quite challenging but ended up as one of our favorite shots during our tenure on the show.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (71)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (72)

    Complex CG environments, CG creatures, giant CG mechas, CG destruction, water simulation, CG vehicles and holograms were just a few of the many VFX tasks required on Season 2 of Foundation. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (73)

    Beki, the domesticated Bishop’s Claw, was a big success for VFX on Season 2 of Foundation, knowing how difficult it was to make a ridable CG animal grounded in reality.
    (Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

    Orchestrating the wide variety and different types of VFX work necessary to bring the story to life was a daunting task for Jay Worth, Visual Effects Supervisor on Fallout for Amazon Prime Video show. “I have worked on shows in the past where they were primarily a set extension show or genre or world-building,” Worth says. “However, in this one we had everything. We needed to help create the overall look and feel of the world we were inhabiting. We needed to develop multiple real-time environments for use in Unreal for shooting on a volume. We had multiple creatures with various skins and textures. We had human characters that needed photorealistic replacements to portions of their face. We had characters we were de-aging using new and cutting-edge methods. And unique hard-surface vehicles that needed to match 1:1 to practical production vehicles – as well as a lead character that needed to have a CG nose replacement throughout the entire series.”

    Worth and his team “fell in love” with the Cyclops. “I remember [Executive Producer] Graham [Wagner] calling me to say they wanted to do a cyclops,” Worth recalls. “When we started to talk about it, I realized how crucial this character was and how nuanced his performance would be. So, we tested a few methodologies – a pure compositing approach and an AI-generated approach. However, both of those had limitations in terms of the variety of environments we were shooting in along with performance flexibility we knew we would need. Chris Parnell’s performance was the primary thing we knew we needed to nail if we were going to pull this off, so we partnered with our long-time collaborators at Important Looking Pirates in Sweden and were ecstatic with the results. We were able to capture Chris’s performance, the humor, heart and nuance, while creating a full CG effect. I feel like we were able to push past the uncanny valley.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (74)

    Visual Effects Supervisor Douglas Purver adhered to an extraordinary level of detail for Season 2 of HBO’s The Gilded Age. “With a show this opulent in its set design, costumes and more, there’s been a fine line to walk with the effects work. We don’t ever want to call attention to ourselves while maintaining the level of detail that seamlessly blends in with what’s captured on camera. Most of the time we can use elements from what’s practically there. I’m constantly taking stills of textures and architectural details, or we bring in a team to get high-resolution scans. But often we are creating things from scratch and finding a real-world reference is challenging, involving a deep dive into historical texts and postcards or a significant collaboration with our production designer and locations department to find elements that can fit into our world.”

    The season’s climax found Purver and his team at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House, “which was filmed in three different locations, weeks apart from one another, at a stage in Albany, New York, the main Opera House in Philadelphia and a set of five opera boxes built on our film stages,” Purver details. “Getting them all to sit together, especially when the camera wraps around Bertha as she enters her box for the first time, was extremely satisfying. Building the CG crowd to blend with our tiled plates filled the entire venue and gave it the grand opening it deserved. Being able to collaborate with the production designer on how much to build and where, with the cinematographer on light placements – how and when to move the camera – the director on which story pieces to shoot where, along with the amazing VFX team who contributed countless hours to allow the viewer to stay in the moment and marvel at this climactic, cinematic moment in our story – was just a fantastic experience.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (75)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (76)

    Adding to the legacy was an opportunity and a challenge for the VFX team on Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, as they explored new worlds and new ways to combine the CG moments with the practical to aid in the storytelling. (Image courtesy of Paramount+)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (77)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (78)

    Orchestrating the wide variety and different types of VFX work necessary to bring the story to life was a daunting task for the VFX team on Fallout, including the development of multiple real-time environments for use in Unreal Engine for shooting on a volume. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

    Tim Crosbie, Visual Effects Supervisor on Season 3 of The Witcher for Netflix, called out Episode 6 where “almost every shot required some form of VFX, from the spells cast during the battle to the many set extensions throughout all of the exterior fights, then the destruction of Tor Lara and Aretuza towards the end. Our on-set teams had their work cut out. We knew we needed to provide very accurate lighting and LiDAR data to ensure that post-production ran as smoothly as possible because the schedule was going to be tight to get all the shots through. All of our vendors came to the party and produced really beautiful work to help tell the story. This show was one of the more collaborative ones I’ve worked on, with everyone pulling in the same direction. I think the most satisfying accomplishment for us in VFX was how much value we were able to bring to the story.”

    Charlie Lehmer, Visual Effects Supervisor on All the Light We Cannot See for Netflix, cited the “rampart run sequence” in Episode 4 as the most challenging. “Early on in pre-production, director Shawn Levy emphasized the need for its immense scale, leading us to explore numerous shooting solutions. However, as ambition grew, on-location filming became unfeasible. Constructing a fully-CG, period-accurate St. Malo [an historic port city in France] environment demanded rigorous research and planning. The core difficulty lay in marrying historical fidelity with our artistic narrative vision.” Lehmer says. “We dedicated a week to thoroughly scanning and photographing St. Malo. Archival footage, both pre-and post-bombing, was further analyzed to ensure as much accuracy as possible. ILM did an amazing job digitally transforming the modern town into its 1944 counterpart. The result was a full CG city of St. Malo, procedurally built to allow for extensive bombing and collapse of various buildings.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (79)

    Crafting the detailed destruction of St. Malo was a great source of pride for the VFX team. “Much of our ground-based filming was set in the charming Villefranche-de-Rouergue,” Lehmer reveals. “Digitally transforming it into a ravaged postwar St. Malo presented a considerable yet rewarding challenge. We aimed to surpass conventional depictions of bombed-out cities which focus solely on brick and mortar, instead prioritizing granular detail for profound visual impact. Our rubble wasn’t mere debris; it was imbued with poignant elements: teddy bears, pianos and intricate paintings lending an unsettlingly personal dimension.”

    John Haley, Visual Effects Supervisor on Marvel Studios’ Echo for Disney+, was heavily focused on the main action sequences in Episode 2. “Bushto and the train heist presented challenges due to their scope and complexity. Recreating the Choctaw Bushto environment for the stickball sequence, which takes place in the year 1200 AD in what is now Alabama, required careful research. The production and VFX teams worked with historians and cultural consultants to ensure that the sensitive historical details were correct. All the shots in the sequence were augmented with visual effects to make the game and scene as realistic as possible. The team at ILM thoughtfully created the environment and CG background characters to portray life in 1200 AD before the arrival of Europeans.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (80)

    An extraordinary level of detail was required for Season 2 of The Gilded Age. Working in close collaboration with the production designer, the VFX team referenced historical texts and postcards to produce effects that seamlessly blended in with what was captured on camera. (Images courtesy of HBO)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (81)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (82)

    Almost every shot required some form of VFX on Episode 6, Season 3 of The Witcher, from the spells cast during battle to the many set extensions throughout the exterior fights, to the destruction of Tor Lara and Aretuza. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

    Continues Haley, “[For the train heist], combining live-action acting, stunt performances, digital doubles, face replacements, practical train cars, CG train cars and effects in photographed and digital environments seamlessly into the action-packed ‘Train Heist’ sequence was no easy feat. When Maya Lopez plunges off the highway overpass onto the speeding train below, the VFX team used all of those resources to achieve the shot – transitioning from the plate photography of Alaqua Cox to stunt photography on blue screen to a full Maya digital double, back to Alaqua on a bluescreen, all in a photorealistic all-CG environment. Whew! We wanted the train heist sequence to feel grounded and gritty, choosing camera positions as if we were shooting the scene on a fast-moving train or from a pursuit vehicle. Day-for-night train array plates were shot and color-graded, then used as a basis for the environment. Then, the nighttime environments were modeled and designed to give a sense of speed, danger and depth. Each shot was balanced and composited so it appeared as though it was photographed using only available moonlight and artificial practical light sources.”

    Haley adds, “Orchestrating the collaboration between ILM and Digital Domain to create and bring the photoreal Biskinik bird to life [was also an accomplishment]. We were very pleased with the look, animation and attention to detail of the final shots. With the Biskinik bird being such a big part of Choctaw tradition, and Maya’s story, it was important that the bird be completely believable.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (83)

    The audience’s emotional reaction, particularly from fans of the book, to a couple of moments in Episode 8, the season finale, stood out to Andy Scrase, Visual Effects Supervisor on Season 2 of The Wheel of Time for Amazon Prime Video. “One was the death of Hopper. The performance of our Czech Wolfdog, Ka Lupinka, was fantastic! We supplemented that performance with an animated color flash to the eyes and added a pool of blood from Hopper’s fatal neck wound forming around the head. I think that little addition emotionally pushed everyone over the edge! It was straight-forward VFX work, but it gave such a payoff because it complemented the performance and initiated sadness and horror among those watching.”

    Not long after Hopper’s death in the episode is Mat Cauthon blowing the Horn of Valere. “Again,” Scrase notes, “this seemed to get a big reaction with the book fans, but at the other end [of ] the emotional scale. Seeing the ‘Heroes of the Horn’ form and emerge from a localized mystical fog brought a certain degree of euphoria. The fog moment features in the second book [The Great Hunt], and so it felt important to keep that component. We then used influences from the Hindi festival of Holi, fireworks exploding in thick smoke, and some beautiful photography I found of dancers holding poses in clouds of powdered paint to inspire the heroes appearing in our CG fog. The low of Hopper’s death almost immediately followed by the excitement of Mat blowing the Horn heightened the emotional reaction from those in the audience. For me, it showed how our work in the industry is not just about flashy effects or seamless additions; it can emotionally contribute to a scene and an audience’s reaction.”

    Christopher Townsend, VFX Supervisor on Season 2 of Marvel Studios’ Loki for Disney+, had many loose “threads and strands” to tie up for the finale of the limited series. “Creating some of the CG environments so they still fit in with the lo-fi, analog visual style of the whole show was challenging, particularly when outside the TVA, with swirling prismatic flares, a disintegrating spaceman-like suit and a massive floating loom weaving threads of time. The unique and original spaghettification and time-slipping effects were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart, felt like a beautiful and epic moment to end the show.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (84)

    Constructing a fully-CG, period-accurate city of St. Malo in France for All the Light We Cannot See, ILM digitally transformed the modern town into its 1944 counterpart. The fully CG St. Malo was procedurally built to allow for extensive bombing and collapse
    of buildings. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (85)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (86)

    The production and VFX teams on Echo worked with historians and cultural consultants to ensure the accuracy of sensitive historical details. The Creation Pools sequence was rooted in Choctaw lore. Digi-doubles were made for the main Choctaw characters. VFX enhanced the realism. (Images courtesy of Marvel Studios)

    For Jay Redd, VFX Supervisor on Season 4 For All Mankind for Apple TV+, the biggest challenge was the sheer variety of VFX work for Season 4 – and for every season of the show, “and keeping our feet firmly planted in real physics and science while bending the rules here and there to serve the storytelling,” he says. “While we are an alternate timeline show, our approach is hard science. We put a major effort into making sure things feel real in space, on Mars and on Earth. A lot of this work comes early in the previs stages, me working with The Third Floor in designing shots and sequences, working on physics, pacing, and scale. We work hand-in-hand with our astronaut and technical consultants to keep things as realistic and scientifically accurate as we can, knowing there are times when drama and story call for changing the pace and timings of certain events, like ships docking, landings, etc.”

    Redd continues, “This year, we had two big challenges: the huge expansion of the Happy Valley Mars Base and the Asteroid Captures. Happy Valley was a 50-fold expansion from Season 3, so there was a massive amount of work in designing and creating the dozens of new modules, landing pads, roads, terra-forming, vehicles, and connecting infrastructure to show the huge growth over roughly a decade. We worked very closely with production design to make sure we integrated our look from Season 3 while also showing the epic scale of growth in Season 4. The DNEG Montreal team, led by VFX Supervisor Mo Sobhy, did an amazing job in hitting a massive amount of detail across the base and multiple landscapes under varying lighting and atmospheric conditions.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (87)

    The Asteroid captures in the beginning and the end posed major challenges for Redd and his team. “Once again, we needed to make things as plausible and scientifically accurate as we could while serving a dramatic and emotional story,” he states. “Working with very limited set pieces on small stages, we had dozens of shots that are fully CG, partial live-action and hybrid/mid-shot blends – utilizing extensions, digi-doubles, face replacements and big simulations for asteroid pebbles, rock and dust. The designs of the asteroids are based on real existing asteroids, and capture ships and mechanisms come from real-world examples and future-looking potential endeavors. We had conceptual challenges in showing ships firing engines but appearing to be moving backwards, and slowing asteroids to enter Mars orbit. The Ghost VFX team in Copenhagen, Denmark, led by VFX Supervisor Martin Gårdeler did an incredible job in working with me on a ton of scope and detail in the models and simulations, and very specific lighting cues to show the scale and reality of these scenes.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (88)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (89)

    The uniquely original spaghettification and time-slipping effects for Loki were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart, dramatically closed out the show. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

    Daniel Rauchwerger, Visual Effects Supervisor on Silo for Apple TV+, found that his biggest VFX challenge was the open-space, curved mega structure of the silo, “where in every shot we see, continuous to the plate, a crowd that behaves naturally and actively reacts to the actions of our characters and tensions in the silo,” he says. “We had to make the natural feel of a living, breathing underground city where 10,000 people live, and make sure that we get the organic texture of movement and life combined with the mechanics and inner workings of the silo seamlessly. We are very proud that we managed to bring the character of the silo to life in an invisible way and become something the audience does not think about – and instead accepts the silo and its residents as real, hopefully not thinking about VFX.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (90)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (91)

    Most challenging for the VFX team on Silo was the open-spaced, curved mega structure and creating the natural feel of a living, breathing underground city where 10,000 people dwell. (Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

    For Ben Turner, Visual Effects Supervisor for Season 6 of The Crown for Netflix, fidelity to character and story was paramount – and going unnoticed was an achievement. “The story of Princess Diana’s death brought with it perhaps the most expectations, and the greatest burden of responsibility, of any subject we tackled in the preceding 52 episodes. It was clear from the beginning that the subject would have to be handled sensitively and our VFX team was at the heart of achieving this.

    Explains Turner, “One of our biggest VFX challenges of the final series came in Episode 3 [‘Dis-Moi Oui’]. A central location to the scenes in this episode was the famous Ritz Hotel, located in Place Vendome in Paris. The art department built a partial set [for the doorway of The Ritz] on the backlot at Elstree Studios in London. Our team created the rest of the enormous square in 3D, using extensive LiDAR scanning and photography of the real location in Paris. We then tweaked the CG to better match the art department build in order to create a seamless environment. The scenes required a building sense of frantic claustrophobia; we helped to heighten this by adding crowds and additional photographers to the square surrounding the characters and their cars.”

    The low of Hopper’s death almost immediately followed by the excitement of Mat blowing the Horn [of Valere] just heightened the emotional reaction from those in the audience. For me, it showed how our work in the industry is not just about flashy effects or seamless additions, but it can emotionally contribute to a scene and an audience’s reaction.”

    —Andy Scrase, Visual Effects Supervisor, The Wheel of Time

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (92)

    The VFX for Season 2 of The Wheel of Time demonstrated that the work isn’t about flashy effects and seamless additions, but contributing to the story to evoke an emotional response from the audience. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (93)

    The VFX for Episode 8, the season finale of The Wheel of Time, was designed to complement performance. (Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

    A VFX highlight for Turner occurred in the same episode. “It sees a teenage Prince William shoot his first stag in the Highlands of Scotland. We were tasked with creating the animal fully in CG, together with tweaks to the environment, for a scene in which our work was literally in the crosshairs. We also had to make the CG creature match a real stag used on location for close-up shots of the animal. This required sculpting and grooming the model, to have an exact match for the antlers and fur coloring. It was a short sequence but very satisfying, as I don’t think people will question it for a moment. These invisible effects sequences typify the VFX work on The Crown. We help bring the writer’s and director’s visions to life but aim to maintain a quality, which means that the viewer would have no idea of the enormous amount of work that’s gone into our shots.”

    Working on a high-flying, high-profile project like Masters of the Air for Apple TV+ was technically and creatively challenging for DNEG VFX Supervisor Xavier Bernasconi. “There were months spent on virtual production, featuring air battles with hundreds of planes in a war theatre on a scale never done before. DNEG’s VFX work covered thousands of shots taking place over thousands of kilometers, including accurate 1940s 3D landscapes and cloudscapes from Greenland and Algeria to Norway and the South of France, all with hundreds of plane models, liveries and damaged variations performing in extremely complex choreography while being truthful to every historical detail,” he explains.

    Masters of the Air was the biggest launch ever for Apple TV+. Viewership climbed after the premiere. Bernasconi notes, “This meant that with DNEG’s work we were able to engage the viewers and tell a believable and compelling story, while wrangling thousands of people across the globe to deliver incredibly complex work. Historians, air pilots and veterans alike have praised the attention to historical details in the VFX work.”

    One of the show’s biggest achievements was keeping that laser focus on historical detail, which carries over to the depth of the effects. “The show has so many incredibly stunning shots,” Bernasconi says. “Everyone was crafted with the highest level of detail. If I had to pick [one outstanding shot] I’d say the wide shots with hundreds of planes raging in battle – each crewed with digi-doubles, fighters zooming past at 600mph breaking the stillness of contrails, and with realistic choreography of the events – are a visual testament to the incredible work that our DNEG team produced.”

    Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, One Piece and Avatar: The Last Airbender, Amazon Prime’s Gen V, FX’s Shōgun, AMC’s The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live and Disney’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians are among the other series eligible to be nominated.

  • IMAGINATION REIGNS SUPREME FOR KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES June 6,2024

    By TREVOR HOGG

    Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (94)

    Capturing Owen Teague’s distinct facial expressions allowed the actor’s face to come through in the character Noa.

    Where the original Planet of the Apes pushed the boundaries of prosthetic makeup and the prequel trilogy introduced photorealistic CG apes, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes provided an opportunity to expand upon the digital cast members and their ability to speak without relying heavily on sign language.

    The story takes place approximately 300 years after War for the Planet of the Apes as Proximus Caesar attempts to harness long-lost human technology to create his own primate kingdom. “This is about apes all the way through. The world is upside down and the humans are now these feral little creatures running around in the background,” states director Wes Ball, who was responsible for The Maze Runner franchise and is laying the groundwork for another Planet of the Apes trilogy. “We’re going to have more talking, and the apes are going to be acting more human-like because this is marching towards to the 1968 version where they are full-on walking on two legs.”

    Continues Ball, “In terms of the visual effects of it all, you’ve got all of these amazing new developments that Wētā FX has done from Avatar: The Way of Water. Rise of the Planet of the Apes came on the heels of the performance capture leap forward. [We looked at] all the tech on Avatar Wētā FX had provided, and then we took it outside,” Visual Effects Supervisor Erik Winquist recalls. “From a hardware and technology standpoint, one of the improvements is now we’re using a stacked pair of stereo facial cameras instead of single cameras, which allows us to reconstruct an actual 3D depth mesh of the actor’s face. It allows us to get a much better sense of the nuance of what their face was doing.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (95)

    The beach sequence was inspired in part by the original 1968 movie.

    Avatar: The Way of Water used old Machine Vision cameras that straddled the matte box on the main hero camera. “We did the same thing here in every instance, and it has allowed us to get a wider field of view and also a stereo mesh of whatever was standing in front of the camera,” Winquist explains. “If we need to harness that to help reconstruct the body performance of what the actors are doing, we can use that as an aid in terms of reconstructing what their limbs were doing that we couldn’t see off-screen from the main camera. Unlike the previous three films, this was shot with Panavision anamorphic lenses, so we no longer had that extra real estate above and below the frame lines like we did when we were shooting spherical, so that came in handy there. The other obvious thing that we took from Avatar: The Way of Water was the water itself. There were literally two shots in War for the Planet of the Apes where Caesar goes over the waterfall and winds up in the river down below. Those shots were definitely a struggle back in 2017 when that was done. Since then, with all of the additional tech that had to be done for Avatar: The Way of Water to deal with the interaction of hair and fluids, we could leverage that in this movie to great affect.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (96)

    Kevin Durand had a great time portraying Proximus Caesar, as demonstrated by his vocal performance.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (97)

    The Eagle Clan was modeled on Mongolian cultures that are deeply tied to eagles.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (98)

    The most difficult character design to get right was Noa (Owen Teague), who is shown here with Dar (Sara Wiseman).

    Clean plates had to be shot without the motion capture performers, which meant that camera operator Ryan Weisen and actress Freya Allan, who plays the human character Mae, had to recreate the camera movement and performance from memory. “Ryan has gotten really good in repeating the moves,” states Cinematographer Gyula Pados. “In the last couple of weeks, Erik came up with the Simulcam system where they can live playback what we shot overlayed on the camera so you could see the actors as simple 3D apes and play it back.” It was equally difficult for the cast. “Having to act against air is not an ideal situation,” Freya Allan admits. “That was probably the hardest part of it, of not being able to stare, like have a proper conversation with somebody when you’re looking at them at least. I also had to do some bizarre things, like I had to hug the air. The suits and cameras didn’t bother me too much. They embody the apes so well that I was more focused on that than what they were wearing or the camera on their head. Though sometimes they had to take the camera off because if they were too close to me, it would start bashing me in the face. I spent more time making fun of them, especially when they had to wear blue suits to interact with me.”

    “From a hardware and technology standpoint, one of the improvements is now we’re using a stacked pair of stereo facial cameras instead of single cameras, which allows us to reconstruct an actual 3D depth mesh of the actor’s face. It allows us to get a much better sense of the nuance of what their face was doing.”

    —Erik Winquist, Visual Effects Supervisor

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (99)

    The amount of dialogue has been increased, with one of the more talkative being the orangutan named Raka, portrayed by Peter Macon.

    Different cultures were represented by various ape clans. “Originally, we were talking about they having their own coins but that never came necessary in our narrative,” Production Designer Daniel T. Dorrance explains. “The Eagle Clan is primitive and lives off of the land. Nothing from the human environment. Everything is organic, made from the earth. They never went beyond the Forbidden Zone because they knew once you’re in the human world, there’s danger. For when we’re traveling, for the most part, we did all of these different things along the way. Noa meets Raka, and we’re starting to see human elements creep in a little bit. Raka is a picker and has little stashes of things around his place. As we get to the end of the movie with Proximus Caesar, we see that they’re living off the human environment. Everything is made of metal that they’ve taken from the ship, and they have turned it into things that help them to survive.” Village scenes were not straight forward. “You can only capture five people at a time,” Dorrance reveals. “Normally, in Maze Runner we have a street full of people, and they’re crossing the street doing the things that extras usually do. None of that happened. You’re sitting in front of a whole village set with everything that we dressed in that would normally be people chopping wood or whatever it might be. Those things were there, but no one was doing them on the day. All of that was done in post.”

    Outside of a last-minute production change that saw principal photography take place in Australia rather than New Zealand, the trickiest part of shooting outdoors was the amount of greens required. “Part of the fun of this movie is [observing up close how] so much time has passed that our world is slowly erasing,” Ball states. “There is this great story about these guys when they found all of these ruins in South America that at first looked like a mountain. They didn’t realize that it was a giant pyramid until they cleared away thousands of years of overgrowth and trees. I loved that concept for our world, and that’s how we get to the 1968 version where there are Forbidden Zones and whole areas of worlds that have been lost to time. That’s what we’re building in this world. This sense of the Lost World living underneath Noa’s nose, and one that he has to uncover and learn about and ultimately be affected and changed by it.”

    Decommissioned coal factories and power plants were photographed and painted over digitally to create ruined buildings overtaken by centuries of vegetation. “One of the things that I was looking at early on was the book The World Without Us that hypothesizes what would happen in the weeks, years, decades and centuries after mankind stopped maintaining our infrastructure,” Winquist explains. “You start pulling from your imagination what that might look like, and we had concept art to fallback on. We started from the bones of some the skyscrapers that Wētā FX did for Wes’ The Maze Runner films, stripping away all of the glass, turning all of the girders into rust and then going crazy with our plant dressing toolset to essentially cover it up. The great thing is we still had that live-action basis that we could always refer back to. What was the wind doing? How much flutter in the leaves? You have a solid baseline for moving forward.”

    A daunting task was getting the look of the protagonist right. “When we first saw some of the concept art for what Wes had in mind for Noa, I was like, ‘He looks a lot like Caesar in terms of the skin pigmentation and the specific way the groom sat,’”Winquist acknowledges. “Some of that is deliberate, but Noa is his own ape in every way. We learned back on Gollum to incorporate the features of the actor into the character. Everybody has some amount of asymmetry to their face. but Owen Teague has this distinct slight difference in where his eyes sit in his face. What we ended up doing was mimicking a lot of those asymmetries. Often, when Owen would play frustrated or apprehensive, he does something distinct with his lips. There were some key expressions that we wanted to make sure that we nailed. When it’s working, it’s beautiful because you suddenly see the actor’s face coming through the character.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (100)

    Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes benefited from the stereo facial cameras that allowed for 3D mesh to be constructed of what the actor’s face was doing.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (101)

    The actor provides the soul of the character, but it is the animator who needs to figure out what that means in the context of an ape’s face.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (102)

    Concept art was assembled into a book by Wes Ball that was provided to the entire team and updated weekly.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (103)

    The culture and architecture of the Eagle Clan reflects their mantra of living off the land.

    Fortunately for Editor Dan Zimmerman, he had an established shorthand with Ball after cutting The Maze Runner trilogy and considering the mammoth task ahead of him, which saw him recruit his former first assistant editor Dirk Westervelt as a co-editor on the project. “First of all, it was daunting because I have never done any version of this movie or production before in my life,” Zimmerman reveals. “I was like, ‘They shoot a scene. I get the scene. I cut the scene.’ The cores of what you have are what they are. But sometimes you truly have limitless options. You can do what you want – and not only with shot selection and performance. You can choose a word from one performance and put it into a different performance because someone didn’t say that word right or flubbed it, or you can stitch performances together to create a performance that then goes into a shot. I had to wrap my mind around that whole aspect of cutting. I would turn the monitors off because what I would try to do is listen to the takes and try to figure out if I were to watch this scene what are the best performances of the scene that I want to make work, and the flow of it. I would basically do like an audio assembly of all of the different performances and go, ‘That looks good.’ And then turn the picture back on and ask, ‘What mess am I into now?’ And figure out from there how to manipulate it and then after that choose the shot that those performances go into. It was a whole process for me. There was a definitely a learning curve.”

    Scenes and environments were mapped out in Unreal Engine. “In terms of set work and set extension work, we used a lot of Unreal Engine in this movie,” Dorrance explains. “Every set that we designed and drew, and location, we would actually plug it into Unreal Engine and have it in real-time lighting. Wes likes to work in Unreal Engine so he can play with his camera moves. In doing that I have to extend it anyway in that environment, otherwise I’m only dealing with the foreground. We continued to design the world beyond for every set possible.” Cinematographer Pados also took advantage of Unreal Engine. “There’s a big action sequence, which I thought maybe we can do in one shot, and I could build it and show it to everyone. It was like, ‘This is what I thought. What do you think?’ That part is useful for me because before that you would start to talk and people were nodding, but you see that they can’t see it. Sometimes I feel that using Unreal Engine has changed my life over the last couple of years. I can show them scenes, and it’s much easier for me to translate,” Pados says. Improvements were made by Wētā FX in profiling cameras. “For the first time, we have actually built a device to measure the light transmission through the lenses in terms of what the lens are doing spectrally to work into our whole spectral rendering pipeline, Manuka,” Winquist remarks. “That has been one of those elusive pieces of information that we have never had before. It’s not a huge thing visually, but it has been an interesting additional to our spectral rendering pipeline.”

    All of the media in the cutting room was made available online for Wētā FX. “We were able to quickly hand over bins of cuts that would then relink to our media, which was the same on the Wētā FX side in New Zealand,” Zimmerman states. “We call it ‘Wētātorial,’ and James Meikle [Senior Visual Effects Editor, Wētā FX] was amazing over there. Basically, he and my visual effects editors, Logan Breit and Danny Walker, would communicate and say, ‘He changed this. We’re going to send you a bin, but then we’re going to send the paperwork with it.’ James could then open up that bin, and we could tag it in a way that he could see what the change was, or if it was a performance swap or something like that. James could then easily relay to Animation Supervisor Paul Story what the change was and when to expect the change and all of the data to make the change happen.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (104)

    Freya Allan is one of two human characters, with the rest of the principal cast being CG primates.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (105)

    Nature reclaiming areas once inhabited by ancient civilizations was a major visual motif.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (106)

    Proximus Caesar believes that ancient human technology is the key in being able to establish a kingdom.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (107)

    Some shots had to be done entirely in CG.

    The hardest part for Ball has been the sheer process of making Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Ball notes. “To shoot something that isn’t really the image, from the clean plates all the way to the end of making choices about shots, and looking at storyboards and not seeing that for six months until the last two weeks when you can’t change it [is frustrating and difficult]. And it all has to come back together. I talk about this idea of the cliché movie scene of the waiter with a whole bunch of stuff on a tray. He falls and it all goes up in the air and somehow it all comes back down and lands. That’s what we’re doing. How do you make something that feels organic, real, spontaneous and alive, but it’s so slowly pieced together by choices made over years? That has been a hell of a learning experience for me and a fun one. I enjoy a good challenge.”

  • JOYCE COX, VES: CELEBRATING A PRODUCTION PUZZLE MASTER June 6,2024

    By NAOMI GOLDMAN

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (108)

    Lifetime Achievement Awards recipient Joyce Cox, VES with her award.

    Acclaimed Producer and VFX Producer Joyce Cox, VES describes her job as a ‘wire walker’ between creative goals and financial restrictions, one who helps realize a filmmaker’s vision to create the best project possible – on time and on budget. A self-described lover of puzzles, Cox built a brilliant career out of her innate talent for organizing people and moving parts, a skillset that has branded her a luminary in the world of visual effects producing and one of the most respected producers in our industry.

    With credits that include Titanic, The Dark Knight, The Great Gatsby, Men in Black 3, Avatar and The Jungle Book, Cox has been instrumental in shaping popular culture for decades, and her work has put VFX squarely at the center of big box office filmed entertainment. She has produced 13,000 visual effects shots with budgets totaling in excess of $750 million and won three VES Awards for her work on Avatar and The Dark Knight. In 2018, Cox was honored with the title of VES Fellow.

    In recognition of her exceptional career as an educator, changemaker and exceptional contributor to the visual effects craft and global industry, the Society honored Cox with the VES Lifetime Achievement Award at the 22nd Annual VES Awards.

    After receiving a standing ovation from her peers, Cox shared her appreciation: “I’m truly honored to be given this prestigious award from the VES celebrating my career, one of the opportunities to facilitate the work of the thousands of artists, technicians and visionaries it took to create these movies. It’s been a privilege to work with and learn from so many brilliant, dedicated people who gave life to words on a page, transforming pixels and dreams into worlds that captivate and inspire, and that is nothing short of magic. This award celebrates not just my achievements, but the collective triumphs of a creative community, and shines a light on the value of Visual Effects Producers.”

    Cox continued, “Because being a VFX Producer is still a fairly new position in the film industry, we tend to disappear, with most of the emphasis on how VFX is made falling to the VFX Supervisor. But to produce and succeed in this job, you have to understand every department’s role and absorb their demands and restrictions and precisely how VFX can support and achieve the end goal of producing the best movie. So having this role recognized by the VES, and me as a woman in this role, means so much.”

    Harkening back to her early life, Cox recounted, “Unlike many of in this industry who set their sights early in life for a career in film, I arrived along a circuitous path of happy accidents. I grew up in a small Kansas community in the ’50s and ’60s. A time and place where most girls, including me, were not mentored toward careers. Certainly not a career in film.” Cox highlighted her parents as her first role models. “My mother had a brilliant math mind, and my friends referred to my dad as a metaphysical cowboy… a poet trapped in a laborer’s body. They married young and neither had a high school degree. Looking at my mom’s trajectory, she riveted nose cones on fighters, taught herself how to do the books in the aircraft industry and went on to become one of the first women executives at Boeing Military. That focus and drive to grow and achieve was a great source of inspiration.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (109)

    VES honoree Joyce Cox, VES backstage with VES Chair Kim Davidson, VFX Producer Richard Hollander and VES Executive Director Nancy Ward.

    “I get to explore the diversity of highly creative and exceptionally smart people and be a part of how those minds take words off the page and realize them through an intense process into a beautiful film experience.”

    —Joyce Cox, Producer and VFX Producer

    Cox pursued her education in Kansas, taking classes at Wichita Business School and Kansas City Community College, and got an early exposure to business working in a series of office positions in everything from manufacturing aircraft parts to real estate. Then she was enticed to start her creative career. “My brother worked in advertising as an art director in Chicago at hot boutique agencies and his life was really appealing, so I moved to Chicago and started representing artists. It was the mid-’70s when I started my first company, Joyce Cox Has Talent, which was really the window into the creative process and the gateway to my future. I was smitten with the way concepts were realized into images and stories for the funniest person I have ever met. In addition to the value of humor, Jim taught me the value of the film professionals and what it takes to execute a production.”

    “VFX producing is difficult on both the vendor and client side. It is just amazing how Joyce was able to carve out the ‘Joyce side’ by asking both the client and the vendor equally hard questions, sometimes in front of each other. I called it the Joyce quasi-state, a place between the two sides. She was able to walk that thin razor’s edge revealing, with her characteristic humor and wit, the underlying issues and keep the production on track.”

    —Richard Hollander, VES

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (110)

    VES honoree Joyce Cox, VES shows off her VES Lifetime Achievement Awards.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (111)

    VES honoree Joyce Cox, VES hits the VES Awards red carpet with friends and family.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (112)

    VES Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Joyce Cox, VES shares a warm moment with VFX Producer Richard Hollander before the gala.

    Cox moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and over the next 15 years produced hundreds of commercials, eventually taking a position as the executive producer for Bruce Dorn Films where she had her first opportunity to work with digital visual effects. In the mid ’90s, a time when digital technology was rapidly evolving into its present role as a creative and technical cornerstone for filmmaking, Cox transitioned from the role of commercial producer to producing visual effects for feature films.

    “Several years producing commercials, many involving visual effects, from storyboard concepts to final delivery, proved to be the perfect primer for producing visual effects for movies. One day, a dear friend, Lee Berger, asked me to fill in for him on a project at VIFX, a digital facility that had recently been purchased by 20th Century Fox. Always looking for a new challenge, I said ‘sure.’ That was the beginning of the career VES honored with this award. The timing was perfect. I stepped into this world at the beginning of its rapid growth into the massive industry we have today.”

    For the next five years, Cox worked as a facility VFX producer on numerous film projects, including Titanic, Pushing Tin, Fantasia 2000, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

    “One of the first projects I worked on at VIFX was Out to Sea with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, then I moved on to Titanic. I was there to help organize the facility to be more effective at a time when that was really needed. Richard Hollander, VES was the President and Senior Visual Effects Supervisor for VIFX under Fox’s ownership and for my collaborator on Titanic. I just started asking Richard questions about digital art and how to organize a production workflow. He was a huge influence in providing knowledge and mentorship.”

    Cox continued about her work on Titanic. “It was like jumping into the pit of fire and learning under pressure, all at once. Jim [Cameron] was popular, but not like now, and we were looking at a runaway budget while he had the power to hold onto the reins. Plans constantly evolve. Movies are all theory until you shoot and cut and try to actually make them. This experience was intense and challenging, and coincided with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, which actually helped me keep perspective on what matters most in life as I went about my job.

    “Jim is one of those uncompromising directors who wants to push things to the edge with the use of technology. The drowning scenes were shot in a tank in Mexico, and since it was very hot, you could not get any visible cold breath coming from the actors. At the time, the capacity to render cloud particles to that degree was unreliable, so we built a black cold room and my husband shot it. We had an actor in black read the lines. We captured his breath and had compositors working on Flame roto-ing hands and placing breath. It was one of many shots that called for our best problem-solving to bring the director’s vision to life. And it looked cool.”

    In presenting the VES Lifetime Achievement Award to Cox, Richard Hollander, VES extolled her keen abilities. “I began working directly with Joyce as my VFX Producer on several projects including Titanic and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was able to experience her skillsets first hand. She was able to glide through discussions with our clients, portray the situation and tell them the truth, which was not something they always wanted to hear. Even with this frankness, our clients trusted her. There it was. A natural in our VFX workplace. I knew then that her career was only beginning.”

    Hollander continued, “VFX producing is difficult on both the vendor and client side. It is just amazing how Joyce was able to carve out the ‘Joyce side’ by asking both the client and the vendor equally hard questions, sometimes in front of each other. I called it the Joyce quasi-state, a place between the two sides. She was able to walk that thin razor’s edge revealing, with her characteristic humor and wit, the underlying issues and keep the production on track.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (113)

    VES honoree Joyce Cox, VES celebrates with friends at the VES Awards.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (114)

    Cox was honored with the title of VES Fellow in 2018, presented to her by former VES Board Chair Mike Chambers.

    In 2000, Cox moved to the production side. Over the next 20+ years, she worked with some of the world’s most talented directors and crews, creating beautiful, powerful and groundbreaking films, including: Superman Returns and X2: X-Men United with Bryan Singer; Avatar with James Cameron; The Dark Knight with Chris Nolan; The Great Gatsby with Baz Luhrmann; Men in Black 3 with Barry Sonnenfeld; and The Jungle Book with Jon Favreau.

    “My time in digital facilities was instrumental because I now had the ability to understand and be compassionate and demanding of facilities. On the production side, I liked being one of the first hired and one of the last out, so I could participate and observe the entire creative process.”

    Looking back at her decades in the film industry, Cox points to her takeaways and what she considers markers of success. “I have learned something on every single movie I’ve ever done because the technology is moving so fast and is antiquated by the time I’ve jumped to the next project. I get to explore the diversity of highly creative and exceptionally smart people and be a part of how those minds take words off the page and realize them through an intense process into a beautiful film experience.

    “During the making of the films, I see all the pieces thousands of times, but when all is done and we’re in the theater and the audience knows none of the pain it took to birth this project – it feels good. It means we’re giving people something that inspires or enriches their lives.

    “My job is not necessarily the most fun as the one with fiduciary responsibility, but it has also been my love of challenges, of puzzles that has made this such a rewarding career. Motivating people to the common goal of making the best movie on time and on budget is where I have had the opportunity to excel. When asked how I do it? I maintain altitude. I get my ego out of the way to help the team achieve. And together, we navigate the often-rocky journey and create something that is greater than what we could have achieved without this harmonic convergence.”

  • WILLIAM SHATNER: HONORING AN ICON June 6,2024

    By NAOMI GOLDMAN

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (115)

    Captain James Tiberius Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series.
    (Image courtesy of CBS Studios/Paramount)

    William Shatner has boldly taken audiences to the final frontier throughout his remarkable seven-decades-long career. As an Emmy-and Golden Globe-winning actor, director, producer, writer and recording artist, Shatner remains one of Hollywood’s most recognizable figures. With his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk in the legendary science fiction television series Star Trek: The Original Series and in seven Star Trek movies, Shatner is the originator of one of the most iconic science fiction characters in history.

    “William Shatner has been at the center point of compelling stories that use visual effects to enhance unforgettable storytelling for decades, and his work continues to leave an indelible mark on the cultural landscape,” said Nancy Ward, VES Executive Director.

    For his exceptional work in the epic Star Trek franchise and in recognition of his cinematic legacy that continues to touch new generations of filmmakers, creatives and audiences, the Society recently honored Shatner with the VES Award for Creative Excellence at the 22nd Annual VES Awards.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (116)

    The Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time.” (Image courtesy of CBS Photo Archive)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (117)

    With James Spader in Boston Legal.
    (Photo: Carin Baer. Courtesy of ABC)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (118)

    Shatner became the oldest person to fly into space at age 90 after completing his mission on Blue Origin NS-18 on October 13, 2021. (Image courtesy of Blue Origin/Reuters)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (119)

    The Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet.” (Image courtesy of CBS Photo Archive)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (120)

    T.J. Hooker. (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (121)

    With friend Seth MacFarlane backstage at the 22nd Annual VES Awards after receiving the Society’s Creative Excellence Award.
    (Image courtesy of the VES)

    Seth MacFarlane, award-winning actor, creator of Family Guy, The Orville and Ted, gave an epic tribute in presenting the Creative Excellence Award to his longtime friend: “Star Trek laid out a vision as relevant then as it is today, of a future where we all aspire to be nobly forward-looking and to improve the human condition. It continues to live large in our collective consciousness and remains relevant for generations of viewers. But Star Trek’s center of gravity has always been William Shatner. Bill has done something we all can only hope to do. He has made a permanent mark on this industry that is all his own. His work will endure for as long as there is an entertainment industry. He is a colossal talent, a great performer who has never lost his sense of curiosity or adventure.”

    In accepting his award, Shatner remarked, “This industry is filled with the most creative people; every one of them is an artist who is always thinking ahead. The work is progressing at such a great speed, and it’s amazing what visual effects can bring to life. In the beginning [of Star Trek], it was just a flashlight and a cardboard Enterprise! Visual effects have become a truly visual organic and immersive experience, and I accept this award for those great artists – men and women – who work beyond the imagination. Thank you to the Visual Effects Society for bestowing me with this honor.”

  • AN URGENT DISPATCH FROM THE FUTURE FRONT LINES IN CIVIL WAR June 6,2024

    By CHRIS McGOWAN

    Images courtesy of A24.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (122)

    Kirsten Dunst is a war-zone photojournalist trying to reach D.C. in Civil War. (Photo: Murray Close)

    In the near future, a fractured America is at war with itself. The President has called citizens to arms against the breakaway Florida Alliance and the Western Forces of California and Texas, which are attempting secession from the U.S.A. Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later and wrote and directed Ex Machina, Annihilation, Men and the FX series Devs, scripted and directed the A24 film. Kirsten Dunst stars as a photojournalist and war-zone veteran who is traveling across a dystopian, perilous landscape as the Second American Civil War escalates. The cast includes Wagner Moura (Narcos), Jesse Plemons (Killers of the Flower Moon), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Dune), Cailee Spaeny (Priscilla), Sonoya Mizuno (Devs) and Nick Offerman (The Last of Us). The film is “set at an indeterminate point in the future” and “serves as a sci-fi allegory for our currently polarized predicament,” Garland said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

    Framestore was the main VFX creative studio, with a small in-house comp team provided by TPO, according to VFX Supervisor David Simpson. Some 1,000 VFX shots, split between Framestore and TPO, bring the shocking urban warfare to life, including the obliteration of the Lincoln Memorial. “Our VFX team was pretty small, but I love working that way,” Simpson comments. “With a small team, the collaboration is the best part. Everyone’s in the loop, sharing ideas, helping to make the film the best it can be.”

    Civil War is a road movie, which required a certain approach. Simpson says, “When it came to world-building it needed to feel grounded – almost like a documentary – so real locations played a huge part in the film. Plus, the world needed to feel populated. It was important that the audience believed people still lived here, which meant a lot of cast members and supporting artists. Almost every scene takes place in a new location with new people, which meant we were constantly on the move.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (123)

    Framestore was the main VFX creative studio, with a small in-house compositing team provided by TPO. Approximately 1,000 VFX shots were split between Framestore and TPO to bring the shocking warfare to life.

    The number one VFX challenge was creating a replica of Washington D.C. Simpson explains, “Plan A was to find locations in Atlanta that could play for Washington D.C., but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to work – aesthetically or logistically. So, the production pivoted to building a number of sets and extending them in VFX. We built three sets in a parking lot in Atlanta. We called them Pennsylvania Avenue, the Lincoln Memorial and 17th Street. On-Set Supervisor Chris Zeh and I marked out the roads with tape to 80% scale, as the space wasn’t large enough to fit 1:1. Each set was a single story tall and maybe one or two buildings deep. Then, our VFX Producer Michelle Rose and Lead Wrangler Corey Burkes flew to D.C. to capture the real locations for Framestore to recreate them digitally.”

    Simpson adds, “As we saw the city come together, it looked so good we decided to use it for a handful of big establishing aerial shots. Whenever we’re in a helicopter over Washington D.C – that’s always full CG. The detail is wild. The environments team under the supervision of Freddy Salazar, our CG Supervisor, didn’t just build a city, they built a full war zone. There are individual skirmishes happening with gunfire and explosions. We have tanks, Humvees and police cars driving around.

    “Every CG building has a CG interior – offices with individual desks, chairs, whiteboards, potted plants. There’s even CG clutter on CG desks,” Simpson. “That CG clutter sometimes contained an inside joke. “On some desks, you might even spot little rubber ducks. This is a nod to the Framestore team because many years ago, on a previous project, the team received rubber ducks as a wrap gift. They’ve peppered our offices ever since! It’s a very specific tip of the hat to Framestore’s inner working life.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (124)

    Seamlessly blending the real and invisible VFX sometimes created moments where it was hard to tell whether the shot was real or not, adding drama to the storytelling.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (125)

    Photojournalist Kirsten Dunst risks her life navigating a dangerous dystopian landscape as the Second American Civil War erupts. (Photo: Murray Close)

    Down below in the simulated city, “There are shops with displays inside, some streets are barricaded off, and even the traffic lights work! You could put the camera anywhere and it looked fantastic,” Simpson remarks. Chris Zeh adds, “Building the entirety of Washington for a flyover and individual streets as higher-resolution backdrops, hero explosions and digital people, shelled office blocks, tanks and planes and helicopters and a lot of shots fired – all of these had their sets of challenges.”

    Zeh continues, “Specifically for comp, a lot of our set extensions needed integrating in footage with trees and people, flaring lenses at night and often quite dynamic camera moves. Most of the plates were shot on location with all the natural variability of the outdoors. All of this needed recreating and bedding in, and sometimes even seemingly similar shots needed quite different approaches. It is worth mentioning the paintwork, too. Some shots needed removal of buildings or pedestrians or traffic to arrive at the eerie emptiness you would find in places in the midst of a civil war.” Zeh notes, “From a personal perspective, I might also add that we went through a lot of reference material to get the look right. And due to the nature of the images, I would say that counted as challenging.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (126)

    Civil War is a road movie with a grounded, almost documentary approach. Real locations played a big part in the film.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (127)

    Beyond the core group of journalists and soldiers, a wider war was being fought involving many other people and their stories. Almost every scene takes place in a new location with new people, which kept the crew on the move.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (128)

    One sign of activity in a war zone was a crashed helicopter shot down by ground fire.

    No LED stages were used. “Everything was shot in the real world with occasional set extensions,” Simpson says. There were also lots of digital crowds, such as in the scene in Brooklyn at the beginning. He adds, “We had a lot of performers on set, but filled gaps with a combination of digital and greenscreen crowds to make it look even more crowded. The helicopter shot in that sequence was actually filmed about nine months later from a drone, so that crowd’s 100% digital.”

    “For the Washington D.C. sequence – that’s maybe 30% digital soldiers,” Simpson explains. “Everyone in the foreground is a stunt performer, then the further away we get the more we introduce digis. Again, this was to make the world feel populated. As an audience, we were up close with the journalists and a small group of soldiers, but beyond was an entire war with countless other people and stories. Our animation team, supervised by Max Solomon, used a combination of mocap and hand animation to try and create that sense of wider activity.”

    Regarding blowing up the Lincoln Memorial, Simpson jokes, “Look, we tried to do as much for real as possible, but even that has its limits! Shockingly, it’s not the real Lincoln Memorial.” Instead, he notes, “We went to Washington D.C. and scouted all the locations to get a feel for how it was lit, the scale, etc., but the scene itself was shot in a parking lot in Atlanta. The foreground performers, the vehicles and the trees behind them are all real, but they’re firing at a bluescreen with a giant hole in the middle. Inside the giant hole was an enormous glowing rectangle that represented the Lincoln Memorial. This gave us realistic lighting with the added benefit of helping the soldiers know where to shoot.

    “The explosion itself,” Simpson continues, “is pure FX. Authenticity and realism were really important on this project. We wanted to avoid anything that felt ‘Hollywood.’ so we spent weeks ‘casting’ our explosions. We put together a library of news footage, ammunition tests, anything real we could find. Then Alex chose a hero clip for each scene and that served as a reference to keep things honest. Our FX team, led by Effects Supervisor Ed Ferrysienanda, diligently recreated the nuances and details seen in real footage. Every explosion is based on something real.”

    Perhaps the most unusual challenge for Simpson was working on the VFX for Civil War while still delivering the visual effects for Alex Garland’s previous movie, Men. “Based in Atlanta, we’d spend the day prepping for Civil War, then in the evening we’d meet up to review Men, where the team was based in London. We graded the last shot on Men about 24 hours before shooting started on Civil War.”

    Zeh felt a sense of accomplishment when the real and unreal blended together seamlessly in Civil War. “While working on a project, I find the increments are often quite small. Although you see the shots take shape and improve steadily, there is rarely a moment of ‘Eureka!’ while we’re still working on them. But there are moments where I needed to remind myself whether a certain part of a shot was real or not. I really enjoy the type of work that mostly falls into the category of ‘invisible VFX,’ and those moments are fantastic. Then seeing the trailer which features a lot of our work, and how it plays in context with other shots was great. Can’t wait to see it on the big screen. That’s usually the moment for me.”

    Says Simpson, “On this show, I’m proud of the work as a whole. It feels like one complete body of work. I haven’t seen it in IMAX yet. There’s a lot of scale to the movie and some absolutely epic shots. I can’t wait to see them on a massive screen.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (129)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (130)

    Blowing up the Lincoln Memorial was shot in a parking lot in Atlanta. The single-story-tall set was extended in VFX.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (131)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (132)

    Every explosion was based on something real, such as news footage and ammunition tests. The VFX team recreated the nuances and details seen in the real footage.

  • PABLO HELMAN BRINGS TO LIFE THE RHYTHM OF THE RIGHT STORY BEAT June 6,2024

    By TREVOR HOGG

    Images courtesy of Pablo Helman except where noted.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (133)

    Pablo Helman had ambitions of becoming a composer and instead changed his tune to become an Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor for The Irishman, War of the Worlds and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.

    Despite the infamous Dirty War (1976 to 1983) where the military dictatorship in Argentina caused 10,000 to 30,000 citizens to “disappear” for being suspected life-wing political opponents, the artistic community in Buenos Aires was still able to give birth to global talent, even if gatherings had been driven underground. Rising from this crucible was a composer who would find himself collaborating with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Clint Eastwood, but in an entirely different capacity.

    “You couldn’t wear your hair long,” recalls Pablo Helman, Visual Effects Supervisor at ILM. “It was difficult to walk on the streets and not be stopped and asked for your documents. You never knew if your friend was involved in terrorism or not. I went to a party when I was 16 and didn’t know that the owner of the house was somebody involved with terrorism, so at 2 a.m. police came and took 50 of us kids in. They let me go at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. I was living with my mother at that time, and she screamed at me, ‘What the hell are you doing? I don’t know where you are.’ I didn’t tell her. Four years later when I left Argentina, I told her and she started crying. It also pushed me out of Argentina in 1980, which was right in the middle of a civil war. I had friends who disappeared. Also, when I was 15, I went to a concert and was chased by a policeman on a horse in the middle of the street. That was not fun. It does change the way you see things.”

    Bueno Aires was established in 1536 and is a cross between Paris, New York and Rome. “The buildings are old, from the 1700s and 1800s,” Helman remarks. “It’s a beautiful city that never stops. You can go out and have something to eat at 3 a.m., like a piece of pizza. Everything is open. At 16, I was a drummer for a band that got signed by RCA Records. While finishing high school, I was recording and touring, so I never had to get a job per se. I was touring five days a week, and three months of the year I was recording.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (134)

    As a 16-year-old Pablo Helman signed a recording contract and was a drummer for a band that toured South America, including Chile..

    “A lot of it has to do with being able to open up yourself to learn, especially at ILM. Dennis Muren has always been an incredible mentor for me, and he was the one who introduced me to Steven Spielberg on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Working with Spielberg for five years straight and Marty for eight years was like going to film school every day.”

    —Pablo Helman, Visual Effects Supervisor, ILM

    Compromises had to be made because of the repressive environment. “You need to make decisions to do [things] whether your safety is compromised or not, or just shut up or leave the country like me.” The love for playing music remains for Helman, with the main instruments being the guitar, drums and bass. “It’s funny. One of my first 45s was ‘Eight Days a Week,’ and because I’m working on the musical Wicked and [the Beatles] were recording at Abbey Road, the head of the studio gave me an incredible tour. Studio One was where Dark Side of the Moon was recorded by Pink Floyd. There were all kinds of pictures there. Then we went to Studio Two where the Beatles recorded the majority of their stuff. We were going down the stairs and the studio head goes, ‘This is where Paul recorded ‘Blackbird’ and the Beatles had their first tryout in 1962. Then we went to Studio Three where ‘All You Need is Love’ was filmed and all of the original music for Indiana Jones and Star Wars was recorded. It was an incredible experience going there and coming full circle living with those ghosts.”

    Movies also played an important role growing up in Bueno Aires, courtesy of a famous street called Corrientes that is lined with different theaters showcasing cinema from around the world. “I would go and watch Amarcord or all of the Fellini works,” Helman remarks. “About 15 years ago, I was in Frankfurt doing a talk of some kind and had lunch with Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno who filmed Amarcord, and we talked about that movie. It was incredible how I went from music to having lunch with Giuseppe Rotunno or working with Spielberg or Scorsese.” Movies and films share numerous rules and fundamentals, Helman says. “It’s the same thing. In music you have sequencing, rhythm; you’re telling a story and have a beginning and an end. I would say that probably anybody who does music could do film and the other way around. They’re both difficult.” The timing of the music was the reason why the opening shot of The Irishman, where the camera tracks through a nursing home and settles on an elderly Robert De Niro who starts talking, had to be extended digitally for 13 seconds. “It’s also the same thing with cinema. Working with Marty, you could go to his trailer or office, and he always has a TV set in the back with a movie that is playing with no sound. He loves taking a look at stuff and learning from the framing and storytelling.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (135)

    A personal thrill for Helman was getting a tour of Abbey Road Studios where his musical idols The Beatles and Pink Floyd recorded.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (136)

    Helman, third from left, and The Irishman visual effects team attend the 92nd Academy Awards.

    After earning a degree for music composition at UCLA and obtaining his teaching certification, Helman was composing music for television. “I connected with a PBS station and started writing music for them,” Helman recalls. “They said, ‘We don’t have a job for a musician, but we do have one for an editor. We can teach you how to edit, and you can still write the music for the promos.’ For about seven years I was an editor and directed live television there while I was getting my Masters in Education. Because I was in charge of buying equipment for this station, I bought a Quantel box for editing and compositing that had the same program as Henry or HAL. They were putting the Domino in a place called Digital Magic, which was the first completely digital facility. This was 1985, and at that time in Los Angeles everything was going from optical to digital. Because I was one of the only people who could work the Domino, I started working for Digital Magic doing a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation. From that, I went to Digital Domain to work on Apollo 13, and that’s where I learned Flame. Then I became a compositing supervisor at Pacific Ocean Post and worked on Independence Day. From there, I went to ILM which was 28 years ago. ILM had bought Flame but connected them in way where everyone could see their own discs. I was hired to supervise the department. Because I had done a lot of supervision on set, I subbed for other supervisors who couldn’t be there for a few days, and in about three years I became a visual effects supervisor.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (137)

    Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones established the digital effects infrastructure for ILM. (Image courtesy of ILM, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (138)

    Martin Scorsese and Helman have worked together on Silence, Rolling Thunder Revue, The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (139)

    Helman on set with George Lucas making Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which pioneered digital cinematography and visual effects.

    VFX is an area of filmmaking where the technical and artistic come together. “A lot of it has to do with being able to open up yourself to learn, especially at ILM,” Helman notes. “Dennis Muren has always been an incredible mentor for me, and he was the one who introduced me to Steven Spielberg on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Working with Spielberg for five years straight and Marty for eight years was like going to film school every day. Every time you work with a different director it’s a completely different process. As a visual effects supervisor you have to be inside their head, learn pre-emptively how they think and offer things that fit into their vision. You need to know what the shot is about, and why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s about communication and how you say things. You’re working with people who are very busy, so you have to hone your communication. You have only five seconds to tell the story.”

    Helman has been responsible for projects that have spectacular and invisible digital augmentation. “It’s about storytelling, listening, reading the script and understanding what the filmmaker wants. Then, also being completely part of the cinematography, production design, special effects and wardrobe. Everything that has to do with the picture, and you have to do your job without being known. That’s actually the kind of visual effects I like to do. In a sense, it depends on how you define visual effects. For me, visual effects are always important. I appreciate the fact that the VES Awards separated into ‘this is just visual effects and this is supporting visual effects.’ I don’t think that there is a difference there because every visual effects shot should be supporting the story or else it shouldn’t exist. The Irishman had 1,750 shots and without visual effects, you could not tell that story. War of the Worlds had 247 shots that were supporting the story. But in a typical Steven thing. he is very economical when shooting. Steven shoots in different ways so that he can always do it without visual effects but tell the same story. Steven is smart and knows visual effects well.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (140)

    By utilizing the Sony HDW-F900 camera, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones became the first movie shot digitally. (Image courtesy of ILM, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox))

    Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones pioneered digital effects and cinematography. “Attack of the Clones was the first movie shot on digital,” Helman notes. “It was a Sony HDW-F900 camera. A lot of the infrastructure that came out of working in digital came from that movie at ILM. We used to have dailies on ¾ inch machines and video. There was somebody in the booth who would play the dailies. That was the first movie where they had a server with everything digitally stored and we could click on something. It’s an incredible thing see technology going by you quickly. When I was doing The Irishman, we were right there at the beginning of deriving geometry from lighting. When those ideas came together, they came together in a specific way and creatively. That’s why I love working at ILM. We are encouraged to sit at the table and talk about, ‘What would happen if we had to build this and rebuild? Don’t worry about what we’ve done before. We have the resources and time to do it in a specific way.’ You sit down with a bunch of people who are a lot more creative than I am and put it out there. This what we need to do and we do it. But technology changes quickly. All of this AI stuff that is happening.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (141)

    Helman and his wife Donna walk the red carpet at the BAFTA Awards.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (142)

    Helman takes a look through the camera viewfinder while making Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (143)

    One of the most efficient filmmakers that Helman has worked with is Steven Spielberg.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (144)

    Helman got the chance to witness firsthand the cinematic teaming of acting legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for The Irishman.

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (145)

    Visual effects made The Irishman possible by de-aging principal actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. (Image courtesy of Netflix)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (146)

    Helman got an opportunity to collaborate with director David Fincher on the Netflix production of Mank. (Image courtesy of Netflix)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (147)

    A lot of the visual effects in Killers of the Flower Moon were about getting the desired scope for the environments. (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (148)

    Al Pacino portrays Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman.
    (Image courtesy of Netflix)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (149)

    Yoda went from being a puppet in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to entirely CG in Attack of the Clones. (Image courtesy of ILM and Lucasfilm Ltd.)

    AI and digital doubles were contentious issues that contributed to the SAG-AFTRA strike. “The main problem there has to do with a misinterpretation of ‘we don’t want anybody to be using this likeness on other projects,’” Helman states. “It’s okay for one project but not for another. We never reuse assets because technology moves so fast. When we have a scan of an actor, you can’t use it for the next movie, so I’m not worried about that. The only reason we do digital doubles sometimes is because whatever is in the script cannot be accomplished any other way. I’d rather use the actor or stunt performer, for that matter. I can understand why everybody is scared of that.”

    The “No CGI” storyline is not realistic. “People who say, ‘There are no visual effects here.’ They don’t say, ‘There’s no production design here.’ Because you can’t tell me that production design does not make the movie for you! You’re changing a bunch of stuff and you’re making choices on the production design because of storytelling, and production design is being used as a tool. The same thing with lighting and performance. You can’t tell me that the performances are real. They’re performances, and you’re telling a story with them. If you are smart, you’re going to be able to use every tool that you have available to you to tell that story. Be smart and use visual effects the right way.”

    Being incredibly focused is a central character trait for Helman. “I am creative in the sense that I’m always thinking about music and stories. I write and draw. I do all of those kinds of things, and I have been so lucky in my life that the majority of my jobs have been creative.”

  • WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO CGI? June 6,2024

    By: Trevor Hogg

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (150)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (151)

    Top Gun: Maverick had 2,400 visual effects shots, including re-skinning jet planes, something the filmmakers and studio did not want to highlight. (Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (152)

    ILM was responsible for over 1,100 visual effects shots in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which supported the extraordinary stunt work of Tom Cruise. (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures))

    As long as there has been CGI in films and television, debates have raged about its artificial nature; however, what is different now is that the photorealism of the technology has evolved so much that it is no longer distinguishable from reality.

    Central to the public awareness of a movie is that the cast and the studios do not want to risk dimming the star wattage – especially when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. “If you pay a lot of money for the talent that is also supposed to market your movie, you don’t want to cannibalize the actors’ marketing power by suggesting their performance wasn’t entirely real,” remarks Florian Gellinger, Owner and Executive VFX Producer at RISE. “That aspect is being pushed to the extreme when an actor actually does something crazy in the making of a movie – like jumping with a motorcycle off a cliff, and everybody is afraid that doubt might start to materialize if there is visual effects-related behind-the-scenes material available. All that, plus visual effects being a black box that is hard to understand for most audiences, make the studios’ choice to market films this way abundantly clear.”

    “It’s become a status thing to make movies with minimal or no CGI,” notes Peter Howell, Movie Critic at The Toronto Star who agrees with the idea that media coverage favors a negative point of view towards CGI. “Yes, because I think critics want to be seen as champions of old-school cinema: big screens, practical effects, celluloid film. Just as rock critics are champions of live shows, genuine musicianship and vinyl LPs.” Audiences are not as biased. Howell adds, “Moviegoers admire CGI if it’s done well and hate it if it’s done poorly. There’s no in-between.” A particular cinematic universe is not helping matters. “CGI is overused and is increasingly messy and boring. Most ‘multi-verse’ movies – I’m looking at you, Marvel – look like a cake with too much icing.”

    What is the definition for successful CGI? “It depends on the movie,” Gellinger notes. “CGI can be heavily stylized and artificial if that’s the concept of a film. But having something artificial-looking in a naturalistic picture would need to be justified by the story. Successful CGI has to have a reason why it looks a certain way, and that reason can be many things. In the end, when something doesn’t look right, it’s everyone’s fault to a certain extent – at least most of the time.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (153)

    “We’re in a weird time right now where CG is getting a lot of bashing in the press, and it’s not a fair criticism of what is being pulled apart because the reality is if you don’t like the CG in the shot, what you’re really saying is you don’t like the production design, set design and framing,” remarks Jay Cooper, VFX Supervisor at ILM. “There are a million different places where the CG is one component of what is being created, and what we’re seeing now is a knee-jerk reaction to artifice, and the thing that is the easiest to hang that criticism on is CG when it’s really a number of things. I debate whether those criticisms are appropriate. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.”

    Studios and directors need to be held accountable when CGI does not work out. “First and foremost, the studios and the directors have to make the right projects with the right teams,” states Allen Maris, Head of Visual Effects at Regency Productions. “The story needs to be there. Adding more visual effects will definitely not fix a third-act problem. Having more finals and less temps will not double your audience scores. Cutting the visual effects budget in half will also not help. Lack of planning will also hurt the process, as will not having enough time after turnover. The most problematic shots I’ve been involved with are ones that changed at the last minute, the production didn’t follow advice or the vendor wasn’t given enough time to work through the shot properly because of late turnovers.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (154)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (155)

    Photographic elements were combined through digital compositing to create the visual effects in Oppenheimer, which stirred a debate as to whether there was actually CGI in the movie. (Images courtesy of Universal Pictures)

    Christopher Nolan often finds himself in the center of the ‘No CGI” controversy, something he acknowledged back in 2011 when receiving the inaugural VES Visionary Award by stating, “It’s a great honor to be getting an award from the VES Society. I feel a little guilty receiving it from you guys as somebody who often appears in the press talking about my use of CG like an actress talking about her use of Botox. And I’m as dependent on visual effects, probably more so, than any other filmmaker out there.” In truth, his Oscar Best Picture-winning Oppenheimer represents a gray area of visual effects work. “Chris wants to have shots that he can cut into the film,” notes Andrew Jackson, VFX Supervisor for Oppenheimer. “I always keep that in mind when I’m shooting stuff, to frame it in a way that it can work without any [VFX] work at all. It’s great when that happens. A whole lot of shots got cut straight into film. Chris came out early on and said there is ‘No CG.’ To clarify, that means there were no computer-generated elements going into the compositing work. There were visual effects, in that a lot of those shots were a complex layering of multiple elements, but all of the input was photographic.”

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (156)

    Ender’s Game was an example of visual effects company Digital Domain taking on the role of a production company. (Image courtesy of Lionsgate)
    Director James Mangold is a strong believer in capturing

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (157)

    Director James Mangold is a strong believer in capturing as much in-camera and utilizing visual effects to expand the cinematic scope, as he did with Ford v Ferrari. (Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox/Disney)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (158)

    James Cameron views visual effects as part of the fabric that makes him a filmmaker. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

    Combating all of the misinformation and confusion in an educative and sharp-witted manner is the four-part video series “No CGI Is Really Just Invisible CGI,” which can be found on the YouTube channel The Movie Rabbit Hole. “I’ve dedicated this movie series to tell how much of this is actually CG, but do audience members even need to know? That’s a tricky question because they don’t [need to know],” remarks Jonas Ussing, VFX Supervisor at Space Office VFX. Ussing co-hosted a VES panel discussion with VES Executive Director Nancy Ward and VES Board Chair Kim Davidson at the 2024 FMX Conference named after his series where he debuted the final fourth video. Continues Ussing, “I didn’t work on Top Gun: Maverick, but it’s my understanding that the people who made those CG jets would be perfectly fine if the audience assumed that it was all practical. The same way a stuntman’s finest achievement is that the audience does not even notice or think about when the director cuts between an actor and him. It’s just James Bond. The problem comes when the studio shoves one kind of film artist under the bus [in response to harsh criticism of the VFX in some films]. And what do the studios gain from it? There is an enormous publicity value in saying how practical the films are. Just read any Reddit, Twitter and YouTube comment section. People go crazy when they realize that this is real filmmaking and [believe] no CGI was used on Barbie [which Ussing points out in his series actually had 1,300 visual effects shots and 20 of them were fully CG].”

    “Some filmmakers are coveting what they see as a ‘badge of honor’ in downplaying or disregarding the vital role of visual effects in bringing their stories to life, and the VES is steadfast in proclaiming that VFX must be brought into the light,’’ says VES Board Chair Davidson. “VFX is an instrumental part of the creative process that works in service to story, and VFX bring stories to life that were once impossible. VFX artists and innovators deserve to be respected and recognized as agents of cinematic storytelling, in the same breath as other creative collaborators, and not cast aside as if they are detractors dispelling an illusion of ‘pure’ filmmaking. Speaking in one voice for our more than 5,000 members in 45+ countries worldwide, visual effects artists are proud partners in the creative process, and they need to be uplifted and given proper credit for their enormous contributions.”

    For better or worse, the computer has become the central tool in creating visual effects. “It’s a double-edged sword,” admits John Dykstra, a visual effects pioneer who had to come up with optical rather than digital solutions because the latter did not exist. “The really good aspect of it is you can build an image a pixel at a time and include enough accuracy in the construction to make it indistinguishable from the real one. The negative part of that is you also have to be selective about what you create. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you should. The idea that everything is done on one tool to a certain extent has also taken some of the fun out of it. We used to put together some crazy rigs to mount cameras on airplanes, hot air balloons, motorcycles and cars, and a lot of that invention has been replaced because you can create anything within a box.”

    “I’m consistently amazed that the response to telling someone I work in visual effects” is ‘Oh! You work on computers!’ as if the editors are still hand-splicing film or the art department avoids using Photoshop because it’s impure,” notes Jake Morrison, VFX Supervisor at Marvel Studios. “As a vinyl lover, I appreciate the analog process, but I won’t bash an album that was mastered using ProTools if the music is good.”

    Not only does the quality of CGI need to be taken in consideration, but how the scenes are photographed. “There is a look and feel to modern visual effects films that audiences have gotten quite used to,” director James Mangold observes. “Some of it is the way the effects are rendered and some is the way that they’re shot. There is a certain kind of style of shooting that erupts from the shooting on stages and in large greenscreen areas which is often swinging an [crane] arm around the lot; there are less cuts and more ridiculous oners that are only possible because there are so many elements that you can bring all of these pieces together in one shot or one take because it’s a cheat. We tried to avoid that on [Ford v Ferrari]. We tried to shoot the movie even when visual effects were involved so that the film felt physically like we were shooting real cars. On top of that, our goal was always to shoot real cars whenever possible.”

    Holding back information on how a movie or television show is actually made hinders aspiring filmmakers who, in turn, become the leaders in their professions. “I was big fan of the movies, especially when you were looking at something that they couldn’t have gone out and shot somewhere, like a spaceship flying or an alien planet,” recalls John Knoll, CCO at ILM. “This was all being crafted by artisans. I was fascinated by how that was done. This was before the Internet, so there weren’t loads of sources of information about this stuff. For me, one of them was American Cinematographer. There were some behind-the-scenes articles that covered visual effects, and at the University of Michigan where my dad taught, the Art and Architecture library had a subscription. I had access to the library. I would go there and read some of the old back issues and look things up. Learning how the stuff was done and starting to experiment with trying to do it myself was one of those things that I played with as a kid.”

    “Some filmmakers are coveting what they see as a ‘badge of honor’ in downplaying or disregarding the vital role of visual effects in bringing their stories to life, and the VES is steadfast in proclaiming that VFX must be brought into the light. VFX artists and innovators deserve to be respected and recognized as agents of cinematic storytelling, in the same breath as other creative collaborators, and not cast aside as if they are detractors dispelling an illusion of ‘pure’ filmmaking.”

    —Kim Davidson, VES Board Chair

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (159)

    Warner Bros. attracted attention by removing bluescreens from behind-the-scenes imagery of groundbreaking Barbie. (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

    VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (160)

    Comments by Ridley Scott were taken out of context in the media, which had him declaring that there were no visual effects in Napoleon when there were 1,046 shots that required digital augmentation for soldiers, architecture and natural elements. (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures/Sony)

    Visual effects are woven into the fabric of what makes James Cameron a filmmaker. “Avatar: The Way of Water is three hours long,” Cameron remarks. “There is not one second of that three hours that is not a visual effect. Not one second. It more plays by the rules of an animated film, like Pixar, except the end result doesn’t look like the same. It looks like photography and has its own unique process. We used to call it special effects because they were special. When they’re not special anymore, what do you call them? To me, they’re not visual effects anymore, but the image-making process.”

  • VES-LA: Summer Picnic for Members and Family (2024)

    References

    Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Corie Satterfield

    Last Updated:

    Views: 5749

    Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

    Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Corie Satterfield

    Birthday: 1992-08-19

    Address: 850 Benjamin Bridge, Dickinsonchester, CO 68572-0542

    Phone: +26813599986666

    Job: Sales Manager

    Hobby: Table tennis, Soapmaking, Flower arranging, amateur radio, Rock climbing, scrapbook, Horseback riding

    Introduction: My name is Corie Satterfield, I am a fancy, perfect, spotless, quaint, fantastic, funny, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.