If you like your Thursday night television served up with a little Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, then you likely loved the recent crossover episodes that paired the two show’s leading ladies. VFX Legion, which has a brick and mortar office in LA but artists all over the world, was called on to create a mix of photorealistic CG environments and other effects that made it possible for the show’s actors to appear in a variety of digital surroundings, including iconic locations in Washington, DC.
VFX Legion has handled all of the visual effects for both shows for almost three years, and is slated to work on the next season of Murder (this is Scandal’s last season). Over the years, the Shondaland Productions have tasked the company with creating high shot counts for almost 100 episodes, each matching the overall look of a single show. However, the crossover episodes required visual effects that blended with two series that use different tools and each have their own look, presenting a more complex set of challenges.
For instance, Scandal is shot on an Arri Alexa camera, and How to Get Away With Murder on a Sony F55, at different color temps and under varying lighting conditions. DP preferences and available equipment required each environment to be shot twice, once with greenscreens for Scandal and then again using bluescreens for Murder.
The replication of the Supreme Court Building is central to the storyline. Building its exterior facade and interiors of the courtroom and rotunda digitally from the ground up were the most complex visual effects created for the episodes.
The process began during preproduction with VFX supervisor Matthew T. Lynn working closely with the client to get a full understanding of their vision. He collaborated with VFX Legion head of production, Nate Smalley, production manager Andrew Turner and coordinators Matt Noren and Lexi Sloan on streamlining workflow and crafting a plan that aligned with the shows’ budgets, schedules, and resources. Lynn spent several weeks on R&D, previs and mockups. Legion’s end-to-end approach was presented to the staffs of both shows during combined VFX meetings, and a plan was finalized.
A rough 3D model of the set was constructed from hundreds of reference photographs stitched together using Agisoft Photoscan and photogrammetry. HDRI panoramas and 360-degree multiple exposure photographs of the set were used to match the 3D lighting with the live-action footage. CG modeling and texturing artist Trevor Harder then added the fine details and created the finished 3D model.
CG supervisor Rommél S. Calderon headed up the team of modeling, texturing, tracking, layout and lighting artists that created Washington, DC’s Supreme Court Building from scratch.
“The computer-generated model of the exterior of the building was a beast, and scheduling was a huge job in itself,” explains Calderon. “Meticulous planning, resource management, constant communication with clients and spot-on supervision were crucial to combining the large volume of shots without causing a bottleneck in VFX Legion’s digital pipeline.”
Ken Bishop, VFX Legion’s lead modeler, ran into some interesting issues while working with footage of the lead characters Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating filmed on the concrete steps of LA’s City Hall. Since the Supreme Court’s staircase is marble, Bishop did a considerable amount of work on the texture, keeping the marble porous enough to blend with the concrete in this key shot.
Compositing supervisor Dan Short led his team through the process of merging the practical photography with renders created with Redshift and then seamlessly composited all of the shots using Foundry’s Nuke.
See their breakdown of the shots here: