A day in the life of a VFX supervisor: Controlling monster truck mayhem for <i>The Righteous Gemstones</i>
May 3, 2024

A day in the life of a VFX supervisor: Controlling monster truck mayhem for The Righteous Gemstones

VFX supervisor Bruce Branit shares a day on set of the hit HBO comedy The Righteous Gemstones. Starring John Goodman, Danny McBride, Edi Patterson, and Adam Devine, the series follows an outrageous and righteous televangelist family. 
Bruce Branit:  The Righteous Gemstones includes a bonkers amount of VFX for a half-hour comedy. And it's not just simple greenscreen windows or muzzle flashes. VFX is needed throughout the series to sell the scale and lavish lifestyle of the Gemstones. 

For the third season, we had a little bit of everything: de-aging, explosions, nudity clean-up and enhancement, car chases, holograms, prosthetic legs, mega-church crowds, a fire dance...oh, and a five-minute sequence featuring a Biblical plague of locusts on the set of a game show.

We also had a monster truck named The Redeemer. The truck was shot practically, but there were a couple sequences that required a little VFX work for safety when putting such a powerful machine in close proximity to actors and animals. 

For one scene, we needed the truck to jump over two key actors, Steve Zahn and Lukas Haas, blocking their escape and chasing them down. 

To do this safely, we shot two setups without the use of motion control. First The Redeemer jumped over a camera on a remote head, landing and then charging right at the camera position. We placed two Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro witness cams with wide angle lenses at the base of the main camera to collect additional angles and elements of the undercarriage of the truck.

The second setup filmed the actors running on a predetermined path and reacting to timing cues of where The Redeemer landed and then charged at them. We also shot a pano of the entire scene to create a 360 bubble environment to track the two takes onto and fill in everything the camera may have missed. 

The sun was setting quickly, and I needed to know that there was some combination of takes from each setup that would work, so I grabbed the dailies and did a quick and dirty composite of the elements on set in Fusion Studio, which confirmed that we had what we needed, and I wouldn't need to put in a CGI Redeemer.

Once approved and locked, I turned the temp comp and all the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro footage over to Sean Joseph at Blackburrow Creative who pulled off a miracle and made the shot seamless also using Fusion.

We used our two Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pros a lot for this season’s VFX, whether capturing elements or as crash cams. For example, we also used the cameras on a Gator utility vehicle to shoot high angle driving plates, since The Redeemer’s cab is about 15 feet high, to comp our cast driving in the greenscreen Redeemer. 

On the same day, we also shot elements of cows in a field and on greenscreen for a scene where the monster truck is crushing things in a field where some unfortunate cows happen to be grazing. These scenes were also ultimately completed in Fusion, and no cows were harmed.

In post, I often use Fusion to generate quick comps for approval for proof of concepts for editorial and as temps for vendors. Sometimes those temp comps become finals without any additional work needed other than a full-res render.

I also use DaVinci Resolve Studio to keep a running review timeline of all nine episodes on my own computer, as it is my primary method of doing VFX reviews and notes. It is fast and efficient, and I've set up a lot of custom keys for quick and efficient selections, looping, reviewing, and trimming handles of shots.

This workflow is great for The Righteous Gemstones since our primary vendor for crowd scenes, Realm, also uses Fusion to composite all the crowd scenes that take place in the Gemstones’ mega-church. 
The Righteous Gemstones is now streaming on MAX: max.com/shows/righteous-gemstones