On June 14 Variety’s On Production column interviewed three TV vfx houses about how they balance the demands of their business and stay above water in a challenging environment. One of them was Entity FX, which worked on nine seasons of CW’s “Smallville” until that series ended in May. Here are excerpts from the conversation with Entity FX senior producer Trent Smith:
Peter Caranicas: How many episodes of “Smallville” did Entity work on?
Trent Smith: It was a long run. This season (which just ended) was the 10th and final season. We were brought on board for season 2.
PC: Tell us how the show evolved over the course of a single season.
TS: At the beginning of each season we had conversations with the writers, things they plan on doing and that they would like to do. Then they would go off and write, figure out the structure of how everything will work, and then they would come back to us throughout the season with upcoming vfx events as well as work for current episodes. Once the writers released the first draft for everyone to look at, that’s when everything started happening. Sometimes the events were very well thought out and the writers knew exactly what they wanted to see, other times they would turn it over to us and say, “OK, we want this big event to happen.” Then we’d collaborate and come up with something visually stimulating.
PC: How fast did you work? Did you do a show a week in real time?
TS: You always work at a fast-paced rhythm with vfx for TV. On the first episode you usually get a little more time, maybe 2 ½ or 3 weeks. That’s not a lot of time; it’s tight. And then on the average show, as the season gets tighter, we had roughly a week and a half from the point that they locked the cut to us finishing our work and the show’s airing.
PC: Did you do any vfx in-camera?
TS: Definitely. That’ another one of the nice features of being with a group of people for so long. We definitely all learned new tricks, new ways to do things, and some of that is by doing things in-camera. About 20% to 50% of the “superspeeds” that happened on later episodes were done with camera tricks.
PC: So that was one less thing for you to worry about.
TS: Exactly. When we first started off with the series it was baby steps. Everyone was learning the style of the show and how to do these events. For the superspeed sequences we would shoot all the frames and edit in post, where we would figure out how fast the speed needed to be. But over nine years we figured out quick ways to do that, and other ways to do it in-camera.
PC: “Smallville” was shot in Vancouver and the office you opened up there served that show. What does the end of “Smallville” mean for that office?
TS: We’ll keep it open. That facility wasn’t dedicated just to “Smallville” and there are always large projects going on up there.