‘Banshee’ VFX Part 2: Technicolor Flame artist Paul Hill

By Randi Altman

A couple of weeks ago we checked in with Banshee associate producer Gwyn Shovelski, who talked about the show’s visual effects workflow. That workflow includes Technicolor Flame artist Paul Hill, who has intimate knowledge of what the Banshee team wants — he worked with most of them during the run of HBO’s True Blood.

Cinemax’s Banshee takes place in a small, picturesque town in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Banshee is home to a variety of people who have some pretty ugly secrets to hide. It’s also home to a stockpile of guns that would make some drug cartels drool.

A big plot point on Banshee, which ended its third season in March, is showing some of the main characters in flashbacks from when they were younger. This is where Hill comes in, de-aging the actors digitally and seamlessly.

Gwyn Shovelski and Paul Hill outside Technicolor in Hollywood.

I reached out to Technicolor‘s Hill to learn more about what he provides on the show and to get his perspective on the workflow.

How early were you brought on the show?
Very early. Gwyn and I were working together on True Blood when Banshee began. When she was moving over to Banshee she kept many of the True Blood crew, myself included. Gwyn was open to using the workflow that we had established on True Blood. That made for a very easy start up.

How many VFX shots do you handle?
We’ll do as many as 120 shots per episode, but the average is probably 80 shots an episode.

What visual effects make up most of those shots?
We do monitor comps, muzzle flashes, sign replacements and tons of clean-up work, like rig and wire removal. We even got to put pupils in the eyes of an albino character in one episode, but one of the biggest jobs we have on the show is de-aging. The show takes place in many different time frames, so when we go back in time I do the de-aging. I have to take some of the characters’ wrinkles out and smooth the skin a little bit on whole scenes when they’re going back in time… anywhere from five to 20 years. Everything is done in Autodesk Flame.

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Before and After: Paul Hill added pupils to this shot.

So you work on one frame and then you set parameters?
Yes, that is exactly how it works. I work with Gwyn on setting those looks. We set them for every time period and decide what’s too much and too little. We kind of have our “10 years ago look,” our “15 years ago look” and our “five years ago look.” I show Gwyn frames and sometimes shots where we would animate the process, so she could see it with head turns and lighting changes and so on.

We save those as our basic set-ups for those time periods, then we apply them to every shot we need to do. They will change a little bit depending on the lighting of the scene, but for the most part the basic set-up works for the time period.

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What about the short webisodes that are promoted at the end of each episode?
The other unique thing about Banshee is that it has a huge web and social media presence. So in addition to the series, which airs on Cinemax, they also produce a webisodes series called Banshee Origins, which is available at welcometobanshee.com and cinemax.com. Almost all of the Banshee Origins episodes take place in the past, so there is usually some de-aging to be done. The number of shots per episode varies greatly depending on the length of the episode. All of the other kinds of work we do on the series will show up in Origins episodes as well.

Ok, let’s dig into your workflow.
The workflow is pretty tight because we have so much experience with these clients. What we started on True Blood, and what has been very successful here at Technicolor, is that we create an edited master DPX sequence of the show that’s on our SAN. Our editor Ray Miller and our colorist Gareth Cook and I all have access to the same DPX file on the SAN. There is never an additional copy of that edited master. There’s only one copy and we are all hitting it at the same time.

second monitor

When I’m finished with a shot, I’ll drop it into the show and it will pop up on the colorist’s screen or the editor’s screen because it automatically replaces what was there before. If the editor makes an editorial change, it will show up for me and so on. It’s a very efficient way of working. At any time in the process we can make a deliverable from whatever the current state of that file is on the SAN.

For you personally, what part of working on Banshee is the most fun?
I’m a fan of the show, so that makes it very exciting for me to work on. Banshee is an over-the-top action-adventure show. It’s almost like a Transporter movie every week. I love the muzzle flashes, because I love the Banshee gunfights! The de-aging work is very rewarding as well. I also enjoy working with Gwyn and her team. I can’t wait for next season!

Banshee has been picked up for a fourth season. I strongly recommend watching the entire series on Cinemax.com


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