Television Effects Exceed Big-Screen Standards as Demand Rises

To VFX aficionados, television effects didn’t used to be considered feature film quality, but now they can exceed those old bigscreen standards, as demand and standards keep rising.

“Supervisors that aren’t working on Marvel shows are working on episodics,” says Jim Rygiel, a three-time Oscar winner for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Now exec VFX supervisor at FuseFx, the Emmy-nominated shop behind “Lost in Space,” Rygiel says TV VFX work is surpassing what once was considered feature quality. “They’re being done at 4K resolution, while the legacy of features is 2K. For ‘future proofing,’ some shows are even asking for 8K.”

High-res television ups the ante, because visual effects have to blend seamlessly with photography, notes Emmy-winning supervisor Erik Henry.

“The real magician is someone who can deliver shots where nobody knows the difference from reality,” says Henry, who supervised VFX for “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.” The trend is moving away from matte paintings and physical models and towards a blend of photographic images applied to 3D-CG shapes.

“The Man in the High Castle,” overseen by Lawson Deming of Barnstorm VFX, contains vintage New York scenes shot with moving camerawork, so traditional back-lot building facades wouldn’t work. Lawson’s approach includes mapping textures of brick or stucco onto virtual models that can be re-used.

Popular on Variety

“We have pieces we can mix-and-match together like a Lego set,” he says.

“No existing locales can fully sell the story points of our later episodes, so visual effects must play a greater role in selling the realism,” says “Game of Thrones” supervisor Joe Bauer. “The digital back-lot plays more and more often.” What still remains most daunting is integrating actors with digital elements, especially when humans ride astride CG dragons.

While VFX studios can draw from growing databases of elements like explosions, virtual sets and weather simulations, the volume of shots they need continues to skyrocket. As Bauer says: “Season 3 in ‘GoT’ required 800 VFX shots. Season 8 required over 3,000.”

To keep pace, there’s been a proliferation of VFX studios around the world that can afford industry standard software.“You can find amazing companies in Moldavia and Bulgaria,” says Rygiel.

Henry agrees. “I use companies in Sweden, Norway, Ireland and Spain. It’s made for a global post experience.” As Bauer observes: “Face-to-face interaction is becoming rare.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the short turnaround times in television effects production. “It’s a double-edged sword,” says Deming. “You have to get things right immediately. Of course, there’s less time to second-guess yourself!”

More Artisans

  • Paris Recreated for Movie Productions on

    TSF Recreates Paris on Former Air Base for Movie and TV Shoots

    As French outfits move to expand their studio offerings, industry eyes have turned to a 20-hectare stretch of land 20 miles south of Paris. There, in the commune Plessis-Pâté, sits the TSF Backlot 217, a converted air base that has become one the Gallic industry’s banner initiatives. One of France’s leading production suppliers, TSF scoped [...]

  • DSC07163.ARW

    Streamers Urge French Production Sector to Go Green

    For the French industry, the drive to open up additional studio spaces has gone hand-in-hand with the push for green production, because for the most part, they share the same root cause: The international streamers that are causing a surge in audiovisual production tend to have strict criteria when it comes to sustainable development. “Companies [...]

  • CNC Chief Outlines Plan to Update

    CNC Chief Outlines Plan to Update French Production Infrastructure

    Speaking at an industry round-table at the Paris-based Production Forum on Thursday, Dominique Boutonnat, president of France’s National Film Board (CNC), announced a new plan to update local production studios in order to make them more internationally competitive. The modest plan, which involves new funding, training sessions and additional research, follows a March 2019 report, [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    'The Irishman' Casting Director Ellen Lewis on Working With Martin Scorsese

    Casting director Ellen Lewis first worked alongside Martin Scorsese on 1989’s “New York Stories.” Since then, Lewis has worked with Scorsese on casting his films including “Goodfellas,” “The Departed,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Irishman.” When it comes to casting a film as grand as “The Irishman,” Lewis’ process is the same as [...]

  • Jojo Rabbit

    Sound Mixers, Designers Talk About the Nuances of This Season's Top Movies

    Just as the camera’s focus navigates viewers’ eyes, sound tells them where to target their attention within the frame. Sound design, editing and mixing often go under the radar in the slew of Hollywood awards ceremonies occurring throughout January and February, but they are just as important to how an audience will interpret and enjoy [...]

  • Adele Haenel attends the 2020 Film

    Production Forum to Discuss How to Prevent Sexual Harassment on Set

    When “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” star Adèle Haenel revealed that as a child actor she had been a victim of sexual harassment, the French star kicked off an industry-wide reckoning that began in November 2019 and continues to this day. As the industry continues to grapple with these necessary questions, the Paris-based Production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content