We’ve seen many renditions of Batman in film and TV, but none like FOX television series Gotham. Here we follow a young Bruce Wayne immediately following the murder of his parents, but long before he chooses to embrace his fateful role as hero and protector.
And yet while this young Bruce Wayne is the nucleus of the story, it’s less an origin story of Batman – more an origin of the characters that will ultimately guide his life: characters like detective Jim Gordon and the villainous Penguin.
Compared to the intense action of the big-screen Batman flicks, Gotham is much more grounded, focused on crafting a believable world rooted in emotional drama. And that’s where CoSA VFX has taken charge: although eye-popping visual effects are needed at times, the studio’s core task has been creating a truly convincing vision of Gotham City.
Sometimes that means building upon real-life shots, but other times, it’s meant generating entire CG locations. In either case, the visual effects needed to blend in perfectly with the Gotham’s gritty look. CoSA VFX certainly achieved tremendous results, earning an Emmy nomination for its work on the first season.
But despite the final quality of the output, TV deadlines can be incredibly challenging, with about 10 days typically provided to complete all of an episode’s shots, and multiple episodes requiring attention at once.
Thankfully, CoSA VFX uses ftrack to manage its VFX work, and it’s that which has allowed the team – which is split between Los Angeles and Vancouver – to stay on top of the hectic schedule while producing stunning, high-profile work.
CoSA VFX has expanded rapidly since starting out in 2009 in a Burbank, California garage, growing from just four people to a two-studio team of 100. Although the team had other noteworthy projects prior to Gotham, including Emmy-nominated contributions to Revolution in 2013 and Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Almost Human in 2014, Gotham was the first episodic TV series where it ran all of the VFX supervision, creative development, production management, and shot production.
That’s no small task: the first season of the show, which spanned 22 episodes, required more than 1,500 VFX shots from CoSA – that’s approximately 65 per episode. And season two hasn’t been any less intense, given the increased focus on developing the classic Batman villains we know and love to loathe.
Nevertheless, as executive producer Joseph Bell tells us, nailing the look of Gotham remains its primary focus.
“CoSA’s shots run the gamut from subtly ‘Gothamizing’ real-life New York City locations to creating 100% computer generated buildings and environments,” he explains. “The exterior of Arkham Asylum, for example, was filmed outside a real hospital in Staten Island, and then extensively modified by adding CG roofs, sculptures, and weathering. As the series progressed, CoSA built CG assets for more and more of the location, until we had the ability to create entirely computer generated-shots of Arkham featuring dynamic camera moves, without any practical photography.”
But there were shots that also need a little more ‘pop’, such as hallucinations featuring the character Scarecrow, as well as people floating away into the sky attached to balloons. CoSA’s challenge therefore came in balancing the need for a realistic, human world with the fantastical abilities you’d expect from the classic rogues’ gallery of villains.
“The show has a gritty, naturalistic feel that requires seamless and convincing visual effects,” says Bell. “We’ve tried to set and sustain a very high bar in terms of the quality of the imagery, sequence after sequence, week after week. If we’ve done it well, the audience won’t notice some of our best work, because it looks so real.
“One of the challenges of episodic television is that a show can have heavy VFX needs one week and very few the next – it depends on the story of each episode, which often isn’t known very far in advance,” he admits. “Rather than having a team dedicated to Gotham who have too much to do one week and too little the next, our artists are frequently assigned shots on multiple shows, or find themselves pivoting from one project to another. Almost everybody at our Los Angeles and Vancouver studios works on Gotham, but only two to three key team members work exclusively on the show.”
With such a fluid workforce applying their talents to multiple projects at any given time, a management solution like ftrack proves all the more essential.