VFX in 'The Tick'
Christine Bunish
October 2, 2018

VFX in 'The Tick'

The Tick recently wrapped its first split season on Amazon Video. The series mixes tongue-in-cheek humor with the high--energy action of an almost invulnerable superhero clad in a blue tick costume. The always optimistic character, who debuted as a comic book hero in the 1980s, befriends the nebbishy Arthur, who becomes his sidekick in their quest to save the city from supervillain The Terror.

FuseFX offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Vancouver provided VFX for the first season’s 12 episodes, which were split into two runs in 2017 and 2018. While the company created a diverse array of 2K shots for the first six episodes — flying sequences, digital doubles, a bus crash with explosions — the second set of episodes upped the ante with the appearance of the Very Large Man (VLM), a 2,000-foot-tall naked man.  

“Every show you work on you push further. It’s a VFX arms race,” declares Chad Wanstreet, VFX supervisor at FuseFX. “The Season 1 finale, which had 45 full-CG shots, was one of the biggest episodes we’ve done for any client.”

FuseFX worked with The Tick creator Ben Edlund and show EPs David Fury and Barry Josephson on design and concept early on; the company also worked with the editorial team on previs to help shape the storytelling.  

VLM was initially envisioned as an actor whose live-action plates would be integrated into massive CG environments created by FuseFX. When the producers determined they couldn’t capture the dynamic shots needed in the allotted time, they tasked FuseFX with the challenge of creating a digital VLM. The VLM appeared in full-body mode and as five additional assets: toe, foot, foot and leg, butt and back, and head and shoulders.

After the actor hired for VLM was scanned, FuseFX went to work adding realistic details to the digital body, such as nose hairs, wrinkles, perspiration, beard follicles, and toenails, to support the tight shots. “We did a lot of hand sculpting and texturing to bring fidelity to the character,” says Wanstreet. “The base scan was 10 times less detailed than what we ended up with. We looked at the photography from the scanning session and extrapolated all the detail. We even took reference footage of our own gritty feet.” Artists used Pixologic’s ZBrush for sculpting and Foundry’s Mari for texturing.

FuseFX was required to build environments to two different scales for VLM and The Tick, although both roles were played by six-foot-tall men. “We scaled environments up and down with different render passes, a terribly complicated endeavor” that involved using Chaos Group’s V-Ray, says Wanstreet. Itoo Software’s Forest Pack scattering tool for 3ds Max proved invaluable for scaling all types of foliage.

FuseFX worked on digital doubles for The Tick and Arthur for the entire season, adding details “every chance we got,” including facial rigs that they didn’t have at the beginning of the series. By the end of Season 1, “full facial rigs allowed the digi-doubles to emote and talk,” Wanstreet says.

The CG T-Ship, hidden in the letterform of a huge sign until The Tick breaks it out and flies off in it, was matched to set pieces and enhanced with additional detail. The purple energy explosion around VLM was accomplished with “major non-sim VDBs” using Side Effects’ Houdini, an idea from one of FuseFX’s artists. “We had never done it before,” says Wanstreet. “The hand-keyed techniques and hand-animated shapes look like a simulated cloud but allowed us to get complex, multiple iterations in the time allotted.”

Wanstreet says that the last three episodes proved the value of FuseFX’s AWS cloud rendering pipeline. “One night we submitted hundreds of render passes and 1,400 nodes, and the cloud turned them around overnight,” he notes. “Instead of buying our own renderfarm infrastructure that would soon be out of date, the cloud gave us scalability, access to the best heavy-duty machines, and a huge savings in cost and speed.”