What were some of the challenges in creating effects for Warehouse 13?
Some of the greatest challenges in creating effects for this show is our strong desire to develop epic style effects but still adhere to very tight deadlines. Our drive to give the studio more than they asked for is always in the forefront of our minds. But technically speaking, I would have to say that building, animating, rendering and compositing all the required set extensions, make them look real, and all in the time allotted has always kept us on our toes.
Some of the more extensive VFX scenes have actually been set extensions that include live action on green screen. Both interior and exterior extensions have to look real to life. All the extensions are meant to expand the environments to a level of almost disbelief. The warehouse for instance, in concept is vast…almost city scalehttp://cgchannel.comyou never see where the warehouse ends. The expanse of such 3D models of course poses many obstacles as the files are immense. Once the modeling was completed, we then took on the daunting task of manipulating and optimizing the objects in order to make them usable within a TV series pipeline. The files have to be manipulated, cameras animated, lighting completed, environmental effects added and rendered within a reasonable timeframe in order to meet the expected delivery dates.
Creating visual effects for television series as opposed to films creates the added element of a faster delivery time for CG elements. How much time to you get to work on shots for each episode?
Having been involved with episodes from concept, we are able to give some effects the additional attention required. So we might get a few weeks in advance of receiving footage to play around and hopefully lock down a look. B
ut generally speaking, we push for 10 days to complete each episode once we receive footage. However, realistically we get 7 or 8. Broadcast deadlines are, mostly, set in stone. Each episode usually consists of approximately 150 VFX shots.
How is time allotted for more demanding effects shots?
If we anticipate that a shot or group of shots will require significant work, we start doing development on effect ideas as soon as we receive a script. We may do rough boards or even pre-viz. Once we begin shooting those scenes, we will re
quest footage early from post, even before lock picture in some cases. Getting a start on some of the require elements early, has enabled us to meet some of those tough deliveries. Thankfully the studio has been very supportive, as all departments have been pressed to get the shows completed.
What software do you rely upon for your work on Warehouse 13?
We use 3DMax for all our 3D requirements and Combustion for all our compositing and 2D effects. However, we do have a Technical Director who will write code to assist in many of our file reduction requirements. We also use other software to support those programs, such as Boujou for 3D tracking.
How many people work on the CG aspect of Warehouse 13?
We have 10 artists working on the show at any given time. All 10 are well versed in CG or 3D tools, however we do have our experts in particular areas. We have a Technical Director who can customize our software, we have those who
are stronger in animation and others who enjoy the compositing aspect a little more. We have a full time project manager, making sure the right footage comes in and goes out of the Studio and keeps track of it all. We supply production with an on-set supervisor while filming, to assure that the elements are shot in the way to best support the execution of the VFXs. Darren Cranford covers the Visual effects Director roll and assures that all the work stands at the level we have come to expect.
Which aspect (either Rendering, compositing, or asset creation) of creating visual effects requires the most resources in term of time and money?
I would have to say that compositing takes the most time. Compositing is where you have to perform all the polish. In many cases, our compositing artists are layering 3D elements such as geometry / smoke and particles with 2D effects, rotoing and or keying. It’s to our benefit to have artists that can understand, how to create the required elements, manipulate them to work together and finally composite the pieces in such a way that they work together to become one scene.
When was your studio first approached to work on VFX for Warehouse 13?
Thankfully we were brought on in pre-production. We had the benefit of reviewing early concept scripts and voice our two cents on the requirements for some of the writer’s wishes. As for a date, we met late Oct 2008 with Producer Mark Winemaker to discuss the series demands and the studio’s expectations. However, we were not officially hired until late Nov. 2008.
When the order for a shot comes in is there a lot of back in forth feedback between your studio and the producers or directors?
Thankfully a fair amount of the back and forth has been done during concept and production period. By the time we actually receive a shot, we have already had a concept meeting, 1 or 2 VFX meetings, most likely a special effects meeting and then a production meeting with all the departments. So as you can imagine, we have ample opportunity to begin the dialog with the producers and the studio.
However, there are always those surprises that pop up during post. If there is a shot that creeps its way in late in the process, we try to make sure the line of communication with the producers stay open. Usually by the time we get to this point, we do not have access to the director, so the majority of the conversation is between our VFX Director, Darren Cranford, our Project Manager, Dennis Temprile and the Post Supervisor, Paul Leonard along with Executive Producers Jack Kenny and David Simkins.
Have you ever had to redo a scene?
I’ll answer that with a question; Is a scene ever done? We are always redoing scenes until we have to let them go. A great producer once said; “Good VFX are never finished – they’re just abandoned.” The key is making it the best scene possible, in the time we have.
Do you have any advice for those interested in working on visual effects for Sci-Fi or Syfy shows?
I think two pieces of advise would be;
1 ) Watch as much SyFy TV as you can The only way to get better is to build on your passion by figuring out how some of your favorite effects have been done. There are many trade mags and websites out there that breakdown how shots are done.
2 ) Study the world around you; take note of the way things react; whether it’s movement, it’s lighting, or how things react to it. By trying to master recreating reality, we learn how to suspend it. Some of the best effects on film, are the ones the audience doesn’t see.
How do you accomplish work under short deadlines?
Short deadlines are always the nemesis, but we try to stay on top of the latest hardware platforms, latest software tools and because we, over the years, have created an effective, streamlined pipeline the condensed deliveries don’t break us…completely. The main element to successfully fulfilling an episodic VFX order every week is that we have a VFX Director who uses the tools and can speak the artistic language. Furthermore, we insisted early, that the decision makers, the producers, were available to us during the work day. If we need an immediate turn around on questions or review of posted shots, Jack Kenny has always responded within the same day – often within minutes (we swear he never sleeps!). We often use the analogy of a running train; once the show starts to air, the train has left the station, and it is our job to make sure we lay the tracks ahead of it in time, by making sure the effects are done before it’s air date. Quality has always been our priority, but getting it done on time is definitely a close second!
Which episode was the most demanding?
Each episode has its challenges, but most of the artists concur that ‘Elements’ was the most challenging. It had a variety of effects that were ‘artistically subjective’ – meaning, it wasn’t something that was in the real world, but something that can be interpreted many ways – such as the cloak that allowed the wearer to pass through walls. On top of the effect of the cloak itself, we had to do a lot of roto work for when the person passed through walls, or when he pushed someone into it. Then, the climax of the show had wind bursts, rig removal, set extensions, arms turning to rock, fire engulfing a person, water sims, and explosions – to name a few.
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