Another look at vfx for TV

Q&A with Andrew Orloff and Christian Cardona

Variety’s On Production column has closely followed the visual effects business – most recently comparing how some effects houses balance their business between features and TV. Below are excerpts from separate interviews with execs at two top facilities that work in both categories: Andrew Orloff, exec creative director and vfx producer at Zoic Studios; and visual effects supervisor Christian Cardona of Look Effects. Zoic’s credits include ABC’s “V,” CBS’ “C.S.I” and Fox’s “Fringe” – as well as features like “District 9” and “Zombieland.” Look has worked on Fox’s “Bones,” ABC’s “Lost” and features “Black Swan” and “Limitless.”

Peter Caranicas: How does the workflow differ between film and TV?

Andrew Orloff: In TV we have a much tighter turnaround. Last season on “V” we consistently did north of 250 shots per episode and had a turnaround time of eight to 12 working days. On a feature we’ll typically work for a year, and maybe more. Sometimes there are 911 calls for films as well, but there’s never that consistent drumbeat to move things down the pipeline. We have different divisions. I run the television division – we have different schedules and different teams, but share the same render resources and use the same pipeline.

Christian Cardona: We have different coordinators and producers allocated to the categories, but there’s also a lot of overlap. The artists that work on the TV shows need to be very versatile and able to focus on a shot, take it from beginning to end, doing their own tracking and generating their own elements. In features it’s much more of a pipeline with defined roles: people are in charge of tracking the shot, we’ll have a dedicated compositor, etc.

PC: What about the effects themselves? How are they different in TV?

AO: The purpose of visual effects for a television show, especially for a one-hour drama, is more to build a sense of the scene, the world and the characters – and they tend to go by a bit quicker. They also tend to be more in-your-face and impactful. A lot of effects for film are about subtlety.

PC: As the season progresses, does work on a TV show get easier or harder?

CC: It’s a combination. There are certain effects we do consistently and we have these down to a science. But the directors and producers know what we’re capable of and enjoy writing things into a show and they know we’ll be able to meet the challenge. One of the biggest challenges last season on “Bones” was that the show went worldwide, which shortened our production schedule. Because of the international distribution we had a good routine going but then in the 5th season we had to deliver the show 10 days before it airs

PC: Who do you work with on the TV side?

CC: We work with the creative directors and the showrunners. And also with the studio.

AO: We work a lot with the showrunners. Our is an ILM model, if you will, where the showrunner is attached to Zoic. On most of the work we do, Zoic does the whole show, including the on-set visual-effects supervision.

PC: How do you deal with the fast pace of TV where shows can be suddenly cancelled?

CC: It can be very challenging… It’s really a week-to-week type of operation that we run. We have production and resource meetings every week. Every show is also different, and every episode can present a different amount of work. Then again, TV allows for a constant level of income to be coming in throughout the course of a year.

PC: Talk about your relationships with your clients.

AO: It’s a small community and we all know each other. It comes down more into the nuts and bolts of it. Can you do this for the money? Can you give me what you promised on time? Getting that reputation and building that reputation with the studios is a very important part of our business. A studio post executive once said, “The thing I like about you guys is I don’t hear from you, I don’t get calls. You guys just fix it and make it happen for me.”

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