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F/x team is housed next to writers, ensuring efficient turnarounds

Bringing in feature-film-quality visual effects on a television production timetable and budget is never easy, but “CSI: Miami” has found a fresh way to make it happen.

“What makes us unique is that our visual effects department has gone in-house,” says “CSI: Miami” visual effects supervisor Larry Detwiler. “On this show we’re right down the hall from the director and the writers and can talk to them instantly about anything that’s going on. It makes things a lot more collaborative and easier in terms of getting the look that’s wanted for the effects.”

Detwiler, who was f/x supervisor on “CSI” before coming over to “Miami,” worked differently before this.

“The typical pattern would be that you hired a vendor or post-production house and give them a particular budget to do all the visual effects for an episode,” explains Detwiler. “When I was working on the Vegas show, a typical amount was around $50,000 and they would do everything for you. Having someone off site doing everything can mean a lot of back and forth at times in terms of getting things to look how you want them to look.”

On “CSI: Miami,” the visual effects team reads scripts and consults closely with everyone from the writers and camerapeople to props on how they can create the conditions that will result in the best effects for the show.

“A lot of times it’s just a question of tweaking one little thing, like lighting or a camera angle, and it makes everything look a lot better and then we can do a better job faster, too,” says “CSI: Miami” lead compositor Robert Konuch. “You also feel more like part of a team when you’re in the same building with everyone else, and I think that makes you work harder.”

After reading the scripts and determining which scenes will need what sorts of effects, the department comes to agreement on which visual effects artist will tackle which shot. The visual effects department — Detwiler, Konuch and visual effects artists Merysa Nichols and Jeff Olney — uses the Macintosh platform and relies on Adobe After Effects for the bulk of its work.

Even though the f/x team works closely with the rest of the production crew in a collaborative environment, there are still some very serious deadlines to meet.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a show where we had less than 20 shots to do for the week and, on average, we’re looking at 30 shots, which means the compositors can be at their desks for 12 to 15 hours a day,” says Detwiler.

“You sort of ramp up to the workload, and then it becomes like a muscle that just gets stronger,” says Konuch of the deadline pressure. “But it’s a lot more fun when you’re right there with the rest of the crew everyday.”

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