Master Key shoots VFX plates in 4K for ‘Heroes Reborn’

Remember when NBC’s Heroes took television audiences by storm back in 2006? Well, it’s back, sort of, thanks to Heroes Reborn, featuring a new cast of heroes and villains, but for those Heroes purists, we say, “Don’t fret!” Some of the main characters from the first iteration are featured as well.

Each week, as you can imagine, a huge number of visual effects shots have to be created for the show. This is where Elan and Rajeev Dassani, co-founders of Master Key Productions, come in. While Stargate Studios is the primary VFX house for the show, Master Key supports the visual effects work by shooting plates.

As well as knowing exactly what is needed from production to the visual effects process, Master Key coordinates shoots all over the world for networks such as USA Channel, NBC, ABC and FX Networks. They specialize in producing shoots with low overhead and have shot in dozens of locations, including Hong Kong, Colombia, Paris, London, Venezuela, New York, Washington DC, Rio De Janeiro, Iceland and Istanbul.

Dassani has created VFX master plates for some of television’s most popular shows, including Scandal, Covert Affairs and How to Get Away With Murder.

For Heroes Reborn, he was tasked with shooting a variety of VFX plates around the world, including Tokyo and Iceland. To handle this, he and his crew decided to use the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K.

3In Two Places at Once
Ren Shimosawa (Toru Uchikado) is one of the main characters in the Heroes world. For the first episode of Heroes Reborn, Rajeev Dassani set up production in downtown Tokyo to film a variety of angles from a busy city square where the VFX artists would later put Ren, who was actually being filmed against a greenscreen in Toronto.

“We love to go beyond just the basic angles,” Elan says. “So we need a high-quality camera to fit into unusual places and weird angles. The audience needs to truly believe that Ren is in Tokyo. The size and ergonomics of the Production Camera 4K make it perfect for setting up these shots, and we can pack it up quick, run to another angle and start shooting. For a weekly drama that is always on a tight deadline, the efficiency that the camera allows is important.”

Shooting a general background shot is not difficult, says Elan, but shooting good VFX plates and element shots for high-level visual effects work is difficult, especially on a show with the high expectations of Heroes Reborn. Each shot needs to fit into the specific scene and give a real sense of seamlessly fitting in with the storyline. Every angle has to be precisely set up, and each shot needs to have enough data in it for VFX artists to be as creative as they need to be.

“The VFX house needed a number of background plates and element shots of a busy square in Tokyo,” explains Elan. “We had to make sure that we hit every angle possible. For the Tokyo shots, because there would be so much VFX work done, we had to make sure that we captured each one with as much data as possible. The VFX artists need to be able to manipulate every part of the image, and shooting in RAW on top of the great dynamic range of the Production Camera 4K gave us what we needed.

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For scenes that took place in Iceland the brothers shot for days — for Epsiode 103 and 104—mostly with the Arri Amira. They captured snowmobiles approaching a working helicopter ad a guy jumping out of the helicopter into the snow. They also doubles for two of the characters trekking across arctic plains and cliffs.”

Masters Key gets involved early, attending the VFX meeting in Toronto, with Stargate’s supervisor, Kris Wood, describing what is needed. This is usually accompanied by storyboards from the director. “Then we basically hash out the shot list with Stargate and the director. Stargate is then looped in once we have location photos, lens questions, etc.,” explains Elan. “They give some direction, but they can’t do too much since the on the ground realities are so specific. We make a lot of choices on the ground.”

Adds Rajeev, “When it comes to planning for shooting for VFX, the most important thing is planning… and being ready to change the plan based on the reality of the location. We meticulously work out what the shots are hoping to be, but then on arrival there are always different conditions. Because we understand the technical needs, we can adjust and still get what is needed to make the shot work. It took dozens of takes in the helicopter in Tokyo, both flying over the square and zooming at just the right speed, and trying to aim for the light change so we had plenty of people crossing in the square — it was never exactly what was planned, but ended being a great shot that worked well.”

While currently on winter hiatus, Heroes Reborn will begin airing again on NBC on Thursday, January 7.


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