Visual effects artists doing much more with less

Road to the Emmys 2012: Creative Arts - Vfx

In a television landscape overrun by ghouls, alien invaders and fire-breathing dragons, there’s no shortage of opportunity for visual- effects artists.

The trouble is they’re expected pull off feature-quality work on a TV production timetable and budget.

But many have found ways — from putting together crack teams to automating the more tedious parts of the work — to do just that. The results have made the smallscreen one of the best places to see cutting-edge vfx.

“What you really want is for the person who loves spaceships to be the one designing them for the show that needs them,” says Andrew Orloff, vfx supervisor for TNT’s “Falling Skies” and ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.” “You want someone who is inspired by the material or has a special connection to it.”

Rainer Gombos, vfx supervisor for HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” nommed for vfx for a series last year, followed that same rule when putting together a team that would create images of fire-breathing dragons for the show. He also staffed the group with veteran vfx artists.

“When you know you’re going to have to meet TV deadlines and the budget might not be what it would on a feature, you can’t afford to make mistakes,” Gombos says. “We put our best people on this show so we got feature-quality effects.”

It also helps if there’s a clear vision expressed in the writing so the vfx team can chart its course based on the specific details of the story. From there, these groups can also become collaborators and elevate the work they do.

“We’re sometimes right there in the writers room letting them know what’s possible so they know which techniques we can use to tell their story,” says Orloff. “It’s also good for us to get going on things right away because we don’t have months to noodle around like you would on a feature.”

And in TV vfx, there’s truly no rest for the weary. With production moving like lightning and story tweaks happening all the time, everyone must stay flexible and be willing to make adjustments until the moment it simply becomes impossible to deliver any more changes on time.

“You’re always talking about how to make it better,” says Alexis Martin Woodall, producer of FX’s “American Horror Story.” “You just keep going at it until it’s where it needs to be to tell the story.”

For David Taritero, vfx supervisor on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” which took home last year’s Emmy for vfx for a series, it’s crucial to have the workflow as set as possible so he’s not fighting against the influx of footage coming to him.

“(Having your workflow established) also gives you more time to concentrate on creating believable work that the audience may or may not notice,” Taritero says. “There’s a lot on our show that’s very subtle, that you might not even realize is an effect and you try to give yourself as much time as you can to do it.”

Despite the budget and time crunches, there are also advantages to working with vfx in TV. In a strange way, the speed of TV production aligns with the speed at which vfx tools are developed, making it possible for those manipulating these pixels to take advantage of the very latest techniques.

“That’s a big part of the fun of this. You get to be the ones on the front lines using these new ideas to take things a step further,” Orloff says.

“When you work on a feature you might have to commit to a workflow and software that could be completely out of date by the time the movie comes out.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Creative Arts
TV f/x artists doing much more with less | Freshman dramas opt for full scores | Technical direction contenders thrive on adrenaline | TV lensers use color to orient viewers | Costumes help thesps create characters | Design Emmy contenders conjure bygone eras | Emmy limits “Smash” song entries

More Digital

  • Vudu

    NBCUniversal in Talks to Buy Walmart's Vudu

    Comcast’s NBCUniversal is looking to add some Vudu into its streaming-video mix. The media conglomerate is in talks to buy Vudu, the Walmart-owned entertainment rental, download and free-streaming service, sources confirm to Variety. It’s unclear what the terms of the pact would be or the timing. News of NBCU’s interest in Vudu was first reported [...]

  • Tubi

    Fox in Talks to Acquire Free-Streaming Service Tubi for Over $500 Million (Report)

    Fox Corp. is in discussions about acquiring Tubi, the ad-supported free streaming service, in a deal worth more than $500 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources. With Tubi, Rupert Murdoch’s TV broadcasting and cable company would be adding a dedicated streaming component — offering over 20,000 older TV shows and [...]

  • Zombies 2 Disney Channel

    How Disney Channel's 'Zombies 2' Production Team Made Monsters Kid-Friendly

    Traditionally spooky creatures like zombies and werewolves get the Disney treatment in “Zombies 2,” the follow-up to the 2018 hit TV-movie musical of the same name. While the undead have now assimilated into the community of Seabrook, they’re confronted by a new set of outsiders: werewolves. Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly return as Zed and [...]

  • Baby Yoda - The Child Animatronic

    Hasbro's Adorable Baby Yoda Animatronic Toy Is Already Sold Out on Disney's Online Store

    The Force remains strong for toys based on Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian.” Less than a day after becoming available for pre-order, Hasbro’s new $59.99 Baby Yoda animatronic toy is no longer available on Disney’s official online store: As of Friday morning, Shop Disney listed it as “sold [...]

  • BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday

    BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday Playlist Rebrand

    Spotify has launched a global rebrand of its popular New Music Friday playlist, which this week features BTS, The Weeknd, Noah Cyrus, Trippie Redd, Kenny Chesney, Rei Ami and others. The revamped playlist, which has 43 versions worldwide, has more than 3.5 million followers in the US and eight million globally. New elements include a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content