Dexter’s World Turned Upside Down
Karen Moltenbrey
September 20, 2010

Dexter’s World Turned Upside Down

On Sunday, September 26, the acclaimed drama Dexter returns to Showtime, as the blood-splatter analyst/serial killer lead continues to thrill audiences with his gory antics.

Season 4 of the show drew 4.7 million viewers weekly, up more than 40 percent from Season 3. Now Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall is entering Season 5 full-force, picking up in dramatic fashion immediately where the story left off: With the Trinity Killer dead, but not before (ironically) he leaves behind the body of Dexter’s wife.

To get audiences ready for this episode, director Norry Niven worked with the team at SWAY to create the promotional trailer for this much-anticipated season, in which Dexter’s world is turned upside down. And that is exactly what SWAY illustrated in the promo.

“Dexter has been living a secret life and trying to balance that with his life at work and at home,” says Mark Glaser, creative director/VFX supervisor at SWAY. “The promo speaks to that balance unraveling and the feeling that his whole world has turned upside down. Things have become a mess, leaving him to try and pick up all the pieces and regain control.”

In order to accomplish this, the crew at SWAY did a completely CG re-creation of Dexter’s apartment, including furniture and many props. Yet, there is also a good deal of live-action props that were filmed in slow motion as elements. Generally, the objects that hit the ground and shatter in the promo are the elements that were filmed.

The artists used photo references before create the computer-generated room, furnishings, and props—which was done within Autodesk’s 3ds Max. Texturing was achieved using Adobe’s Photoshop, while animation and lighting was done in 3ds Max. The group chose The Chaos Group’s V-Ray for rendering and The Foundry’s Nuke and Autodesk’s Flame for compositing all the elements.

According to Glaser, the hardest part of the work was re-creating a room from scratch within the computer. “The biggest hurdle for our team was to create this space for viewers who are already familiar with it,” he adds. “The talented artists at SWAY have honed their skills to specialize in creating photoreal imagery using computer graphics, so this team applied their techniques and experience to overcome that challenge.”   Using similar greenscreen techniques used on features to immerse an actor in a CG world that, in the end, creates a dramatic story is something that is not entirely unique. But in this instance, the team was tasked with crafting a 100 percent believable world combined with the added challenge of creating a 100 percent CG room that spins, as if it were on a gimbal. “Dexter had to be fully integrated into both the action and environment to build the suspense of the spot,” Glaser points out.

All told, SWAY spent approximately four weeks, from receipt of the locked edit to final delivery, on the promo. For the fans of the show, though, returning to the story couldn’t come soon enough.

Click the image above to go watch the season 5 promo.