CGSociety :: Production Focus
1 July 2011, by Paul Hellard
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Look FX is situated deep in the heart of Hollywood. It seems only natural for a high-rating Fox Television show to have its VFX produced out of this facility. Christian Cardona is the VFX Supervisor at LOOK FX and oversaw the VFX pipeline for the series of 'Bones' just completed.
"'Bones' creatives allow us to be really deeply involved in the process with them," explains Cardona. "This allows for new ideas and approaches to come to the table and we feel that we can really contribute to the story telling. This is important for LOOK FX to be involved."
Before any storyboards were done, the LOOK FX leads had an initial concept meeting with the creatives, to go through the screenplay ideas. This is to flush out what exactly happens in the script, action-wise and within the story.
Obviously this is where the studio isn't sure if some particular action can be done in-camera with physical effects or would have to be generated with digital VFX.
Based on those solutions and the approach, Cardona creates a simple animatic, suggesting camera movement, composition and angle of a particular shot. "A lot of times, the scenes are opened up or closed, using VFX of some description," explains Cardona. "Sometimes, the Fox team love our animatic and go with our initial ideas, which is great."
LOOK FX do a lot of set extensions, and gore enhancement in the Bones series, but as an example of some of the challenges, the script for one particular episode called for a scene at a butterfly sanctuary. "It's the kind of place that butterflies can fly freely, and people can go a watch butterflies.
The Fox crew hear the word 'butterflies' and immediately look over to us," said Cardona. "There are budget considerations of course, and they want to know how far they could push LOOK FX." So Cardona suggests the scene starts off on a butterfly, similar to the opening of Forest Gump with the white feather floating down.
In this instance, the butterfly takes the viewer to the main characters, to open the scene. "Every episode, the writers come up with new ways to challenge us. But we're able to input ways to make the story visually exciting. They encourage us to do that, which is different to some other studios. Most definitely collaborative. So the work is always interesting, fun, and fresh."
Producing the Bones show, the most difficult thing is the schedule. "It's pretty brutal, in fact," Cardona corrects. "We usually have to deliver ten days before air date, which leaves us about 5-8 days to deliver all of our VFX from start to finish.
There is no time for R&D. We need to have the answers at the script meeting."
As VFX Supervisor, Christian Cardona tries to keep a great bunch of versatile artists who enjoy the pace and the challenge of such a show as 'Bones'. Depending on what else LOOK FX has on the slate at the time, there are always enough to help out when they are 'under the pump'.
The 'exploding body' shot (at left) was voted the goriest shot on television.
"I sometimes give an artist a shot and they hang onto that shot all the way from concept, through tracking, paintwork, keying mattes, compositing, and it's always a nice bonus when an artist can generate their own elements if necessary too."
"We use After Effects a lot, so our 2D department can generate rain, smoke, snow, particles of dust if necessary," adds Cardona. "We also have Nuke here and depending on which artist we have with us at the time, we almost always have someone jump on that as well for shots. Matte painters are also highly sought as well." Bones is pretty close to being a year-round show, and LOOK FX have a stable of local artists helping the production along.
Episode 17 of season Six, called 'The Finder', was the first time LOOK FX ever did an entire CG environment for Bones. This was definitely a challenge. "We'd something very similar before but nothing like with this timeline," Cardona explained. "We had to create a four hundred year old ship wreck, and put an actor into the same scene.
Filming the actor hanging horizontally, shot at a slower frame rate, against blue or green screen would be a challenge. But where they were filming in Miami there was a nearby dolphin tank with a viewing window. Essentially what it became was a massive blue screen for us. Perfect. There's nothing better than the real thing. We could use the caustic lights beaming down from the water surface instead of trying to recreate it."
The sunken wreck was completely created in Maya and Photoshop and we colored and textured it with a view to reveal the details as the torch rolled across it, as the diver approached. Blue lighting was used to cover the details at the start. The CG shipwreck was matched with the actor approaching from behind, with a torch revealing the bright colors of the corals and fish.
"That's what we had to 'nail' for the scene to be acceptable," explains Cardona. "The camera moves had to be nailed down as well, which was all done in animatics to be double sure." For this piece LOOKFX had a little more time than usual, and they worked with a different director and producer, but this allowed them to do some different things creatively since they were telling a different story.