Focus On Emmy - Part 2
August 17, 2012

Focus On Emmy - Part 2

A look at the nominees for Outstanding Special Visual Effects.
Recently, nominees for the 2012 Emmy Awards were revealed. Soon judging will take place, culminating September 15 with the Creative Arts Awards and ball and the September 23 telecast and Governors Ball.  

Here we look at the projects vying for the Emmy in the Outstanding Visual Effects category. 

“Falling Skies” Season 1, Episode 1
June 19, 2011
“Live and Learn”
DreamWorks Television, TNT Originals
Director: Carl Franklin Visual Effects: Zoic Studios

Andrew Orloff, Visual Effects Supervisor; Curt Miller, Visual Effects Supervisor; Sean Tompkins, Lead Visual Effects Producer; Barbara Genicoff, Lead Visual Effects Producer; Jake Bergman, Lead Mech Animator; Scott Fritts, Lead Skitter Animator; Renaud Talon, Lead Visual Effects Compositor; Mike Kirylo, CGI Lead; James Hattin, Lead Compositor

The crew at Zoic Studios in Vancouver, Canada, and Culver City, California, digitally augmented prosthetics and created a digital double of a prosthetic creature, modeled and animated a fully CG creature, and built alien architecture and ships for this episode of the series produced by Steven Spielberg. The creepy-crawly, six-legged “skidder” is a combination of an actor in prosthetic makeup for close-up shots, an animatronic, and a CG duplicate in action shots. “We see the CG version in close-ups,” says Orloff. “It had to be absolutely photoreal.” The always-CG mech creature, which the skidders control, is a tank on legs with lights that shine on the live-action footage. Both characters act and interact with the live-action cast. Artists at Zoic worked with award-winning designers to craft the alien world. “This show was a tight collaboration with a lot of talented people,” Orloff says.

“Game Of Thrones” Season 2, Episode 10
June 3, 2012
“Valar Morghulis”
HBO, Television 360, Grok! Studio, Bighead Littlehead
Director: Alan Taylor
Visual Effects: Pixomondo

Rainer Gombos, Lead Visual Effects Supervisor; Juri Stanossek, Visual Effects Supervisor;  Sven Martin, Animation Lead; Steve Kullback, Lead Visual Effects Producer; Jan Fiedler, Visual Effects Producer; Chris Stenner, Lead Animator; Tobias Mannewitz, Visual Effects Concept Artist; Thilo Ewers, Environment Lead; Adam Chazen, Visual Effects Coordinator

"Valar Morghulis," the "Game of Thrones" episode that earned Pixomondo artists an Emmy nomination, is the Season Two finale. The VFX-heavy episode features dragons, the House of the Undying and the reveal of the white walkers, in addition to invisible VFX such as set extensions, all created by Pixomondo. The three dragons, which are fully CG and have slowly grown over the season, breathe fire to vanquish the enemy of their “mother,” Daenerys, and free her from chains. In the House of the Undying, Daenerys walks through a massive castle now in ruins that features a gaping roof with snow falling through. Most of that castle and the falling snow were digital.  Pixomondo also enhanced the appearance of the actors playing the white walkers and added effects to make them seem more otherworldly, while digitally extending the frosty environment beyond “The Wall.”

“Inside The Human Body” Season 1, Episode 1
May 5, 2011
Director: Nat Sharman
Visual Effects: Jellyfish Pictures
Phil Dobree, Visual Effects Creative Director; Sophie Orde, Visual Effects Producer; Dan Upton, CG Lead; Matt Chandler, CG Lead; Chris Roswwarne, Concept Artist; Grant White, Animation; Jonas Ussing, Animation; Paul Herbert, Lighting; Nick Ward, Compositing

“Creation” follows the story of conception inside the female body. The camera travels with the sperm on its epic journey through all the hurdles and challenges presented to it by the female defense systems until it is stops, rests, and waits until the egg is ready to receive it. Another camera watches the egg as it forms in the ovaries and journeys down the fallopian tubes to meet that one successful sperm. Jellyfish Pictures artists, inspired by concept art, photography by Lennart Nilsson, and scientific research, used computer graphics tools to create the rich textural detail and complex simulations that showed the organic life inside the body. The team wanted to have a strong photographic feel while presenting magical and “unreal” worlds of complex, immersive, cathedral type spaces. “The combination of highly detailed models and a sense of space worked very well,” Dobree writes. “The detailed models helped to add to the veracity and believability of the shots while the sense of space created beautiful imagery.”

“Once Upon A Time” Season 1, Episode 20
April 29, 2012
“The Stranger” 
ABC, ABC Studios.  
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton Visual Effects: Zoic Studios
Andrew Orloff, Visual Effects Supervisor; Laura Jones, Visual Effects Producer; Phil Jones, Special Effects Coordinator; Jake Bergman, Animation Lead; Nathan Matsuda, Compositing Supervisor; Dale Fay, On Set Supervisor; Dayna Mauer, Compositor; Kevin Struckman, On Set Zeus Supervisor; Sallyanne Massimini, CG Lead.

For Zoic’s second Emmy nomination, crews in Vancouver and Culver City moved from sci-fi to fantasy, creating a digital fairytale land surrounding greenscreen sets. Using Zoic’s proprietary virtual production dubbed ZEUS (Zoic environmental unification system), the director and other crew members could, using an iPad app, scout locations, plan shots, try camera movies, even print backgrounds to use in storyboards. Then, during production, the crew could see a real-time composite of the live action actors in the digital environments. Data gathered on set moved into post, accelerating the compositing process. Also for this episode, Zoic artists created digital characters, including Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, and integrated them into the live-action sequences with the actor playing Geppetto. “One of the great things about this show was that we had the opportunity to work with Disney to re-imagine these classic characters,” Orloff says. 

“Pan Am” Season 1, Episode 1
September 25, 2011
ABC, Shoe Money Productions, Jack Orman Productions, Out of the Blue Entertainment  Director: Thomas Schlamme
Visual Effects: Stargate Digital Matt Robken, Visual Effects Producer; Christopher D. Martin, Visual Effects Supervisor; Sam Nicholson, Visual Effects Supervisor; Diego Galtieri, Senior 2D Artist; Daniel Kumiega, Senior 3D Artist; Michael Cook, Lead 3D Artist; William L. Arance, Senior Model Builder; Martin Hilke, Senior 2D Artist; Anthony Ocampo, Senior 3D Artist

For this series about the lives of Pan Am’s stewardesses and pilots in the 1960s, Stargate Studios created an enormous virtual set, one the studio maintains is the largest ever designed for a television series. Sam Nicholson, ASC, and Chris Martin, Stargate’s Visual Effects Supervisor, worked with Producer Sid Ganis and Director Thomas Schlamme to create a digital version of the historical Pan Am World Terminal at JFK airport. The set featured six Boeing 707 airplanes, hundreds of virtual tourists, passengers, and ground crews from the “golden age” of flying. Stargate claims that Pan Am was the first time in television history that a dramatic series relied almost entirely on a virtual main set.  

“The Walking Dead” Season 2, Episode 13
March 18, 2012
“Beside The Dying Fire”
AMC, AMC Studios
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Visual Effects: Stargate Studios
Victor Scalise, VFX Supervisor;  Jason Sperling, VFX Supervisor;  Darrell Pritchett, Special FX Supervisor; Eddie Bonin, VFX Producer; Valeri Pfahning, Lead 2D Artist; Spence Fuller, 2D Artist; Martin Hilke, 2D Artist; Michael Cook, Lead 3D Artist; Jon Rosenthal, 3D Artist.

For the season finale, Stargate created visual effects ranging from CG zombie hordes, multiple zombie kills, and armless zombies, to a completely CG environment. The artists added hundreds of CG zombies to a horde of practical zombies in the background, and also in close-ups interacting with the actors. Gore and blood splatters added realism to zombie kills in more than 40 shots, some with multiple kills. A particular challenge in this episode was lighting zombies on fire. For shots inside a barn, the crew composited footage of stunt men on fire into a plate with fire inside the structure. They also removed the arms from two filmed characters and replaced them with CG nubs. Lastly, the artists built a completely digital environment that included trees, a lake, sky and after a long crane move, a 3D prison. A perfect ending to an amazing season. And, Stargate’s second Emmy nomination.