Visual Effects Artists Vie for Emmys With Thrilling Action and Mind-Bending Visuals

With astonishing processing power and top-notch teams that know how to create high-end visual effects on a tight budget and timeline, vfx artists routinely turn in shots that thrill TV audiences. But visual effects must also support story and characters in invisible ways. And there’s even resistance to becoming a show known for its effects.

“They didn’t want this to be a vfx-driven show,” says Paul Graff, senior visual-effects producer for Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and a four-time Emmy winner. “They wanted vfx that were about the story, which is one that has things like monsters in it.”

Some of the most resonant effects just make things look slightly askew.

“We were told to make the sun just a little bigger than normal and I think this had an effect when people are looking at it they’ll sense something is off but not be sure exactly what it is and that helps this dystopian story,” says Sascha Fromeyer, vfx supervisor on Hulu’s “Hard Sun.”

“The biggest challenge is that every frame is designed and, whether it’s removing telephone poles or a plane, we are collaborating with all the departments to create a world for the audience,” says Jay Worth, visual effects supervisor and previous Emmy winner for HBO’s “Westworld.” “There are certain expectations the audience will have so they’re invested in how things are supposed to look.”

The audience can also have expectations based on history. When vfx supervisor and Emmy nominee Pierre Buffin worked on shots of an atomic bomb explosion for “Twin Peaks,” he relied on images of such blasts in Nevada decades ago.

“It took one week to process,” says Buffin. “But every effect was challenging because we had to meet an expectation.”

Expectations also weigh heavily on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and its vfx supervisor, five-time Emmy winner Joe Bauer. “The frozen lake sequence was challenging [because we had to blend] a Northern Ireland location with surrounding coverage shot in Iceland,” says Bauer. “And [we blew it up] with dragon fire.”

Eric Hayden, vfx supervisor on ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” who works for effects shop FuseFX, had to contend with massive amounts of water effects for a sequence that involved a ship, and despite a lot of advances in the tools for creating them, vfx with water still pushed everyone to the edge of their abilities.

“It doesn’t get any easier, because by now everyone has seen water effects, they have a sense of what they think should happen,” says Hayden.

(Pictured above: “Hard Sun”)

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