Tag Archives: Deluxe Toronto

VFX supervisor Jay Worth talks Season 2 of Netflix’s Altered Carbon

By Barry Goch

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is now streaming Season 2, with a new lead in Anthony Mackie as Takeshi Kovacs in a new skin. He’s the only surviving soldier of a group of elite interstellar warriors, continuing his centuries-old quest to find his lost love, Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry). After decades of planet-hopping and searching the galaxy, Kovacs finds himself recruited back to his home planet of Harlan’s World with the promise of finding Quell. In this world of Altered Carbon, lives can be continued after death by taking on a new skin and using the person’s stack — or brain.

Jay Worth — Credit: Rob Flate

As you can imagine, there are a ton of visual effects used to tell Takeshi’s story. To find out more, we reached out to Jay Worth, an Emmy Award-winning VFX supervisor with 15 years of experience working in visual effects. His credits include Fringe, Person of Interest and Westworld, for which he won the Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2017.

How did you get involved in Altered Carbon?
I have a relationship with showrunner Alison Schapker. We go way back to the good old days of Fringe and a few other things. I had worked with the head of visual effects and post for Skydance, Dieter Ismagil, and then I had just come off of working on a Netflix show. It worked out for all three of those parties to come together and have me join the team. It was a fun bit of a reunion for us to get back together.

At what point did you come on board for Season 2?
I came in after it was shot in order to usher things through post and the final creative push through the final delivery. VFX producer Tony Meagher and I were able to keep the ball rolling and push it through to the final. The VFX team at Double Negative and the other vendors that we had were really able to carry it through from the beginning to the end as well.

Tell us about your review process. Where were you based?
We were in Los Angeles — the showrunners, Tony Meagher and I — but the rest of the team was in Toronto: our VFX coordinator, VFX editor, post team and DI facility (Deluxe Toronto). The VFX vendors were spread across Canada. The interesting thing for us was how to set up the review process while being in Los Angeles. We relied really completely on ClearView and that amazing technology. We were able to do editorial reviews and full-range color UHD review sessions for final VFX shots. It was a beautiful process. Being able to review many things in the edit and make a checklist was useful. Then we needed to look at this one in color, so being able to go downstairs and just flip a switch in our bay and have our beautifully calibrated setup was amazing. That afforded us the ability to work seamlessly even though we weren’t all in the same place.

This was the first time I had done a show that was so remote. I’ve done many shows where editorial is in one place and the VFX team is in another, but this was the first time I’d done something this ambitious. We did everything remotely, from editorial reviews to effects reviews to color and even the sound, and it was really an amazing, far more seamless process than I thought it would be when we started. The team at Skydance, the production team and the post team really had all the variables dialed in, and it was really painless considering we were spread out. The editorial team and the VFX team on the show side were just phenomenal in terms of how they were able to coordinate with everybody.

       
Before and After

This production predates the COVID-19 restrictions. Do you think that would have impacted your production?
It would have been a challenge, but not impossible. We would have probably ended up having more ClearView boxes for the team in order to work remotely. I’ve worked recently on other shows that have the colorists working from home, and they’re all tapping into the same box; it just happens to be a pipeline issue. It was doable before, but now there’s just a little bit more back and forth to set up the pipeline.

What was the hardest sequence on “Broken Angels,” the last episode of the season, and why?
One of the larger challenges in visual effects is how to convey something visually from a story perspective and still have it feel real and organic. A lot of times, it ends up being a more challenging hurdle to get over from a visual standpoint when the storytellers are trusting you to help convey these different story points. That’s really where visual effects shine: When you are willing to take on that risk and that narrative responsibility, that’s really where the fun lies.

For the finale, it was telling the story of Angelfire. People kind of understand the overarching idea of satellites and weapons from space, but we had to help people understand the communication between them. We also needed them to understand how it connects to the older technology and what that’s going to mean for our characters. That was by far the biggest challenge for that episode and for the season.

Tell us about the look development of the Angelfire.
It was definitely a journey, but it started with the page and trying to visualize it. Alison Schapker and EP James Middleton had written up what these moments were going to be: a communication tower and a force field around a planet they didn’t quite understand. That was part of the mystery for the viewers and the characters as they were going through the season.

Our goal, from a visual effects standpoint, was to show this ancient-yet-modern communication and to figure out how to visually tell the story of how these things are communicating … that they’re all kind of like-minded and they’re protective. We key that up when Danica fires off the rocket with the rebels attached to them so we can see firsthand what these orbitals can do. Then we see Angelfire come down on the soldiers in the forest.

We’re starting to understand more and more what this thing does so that we can understand what the sacrifice really means … to figure out what the orbitals are and how they could look and feel organic and threatening as well as benign and ultimately destructive. I feel like we ended at a point where it makes sense and it all works together, but at the beginning, when you have a blank canvas, it’s a rather daunting task to figure out what it all should look like.

We had so many conversations about how to depict Angelfire. Should it be more like glass breaking? Should it be like lightning? Should it be like a wave? Should it just crackle? Should it splash in? We had so many iterations of things that just didn’t feel or look quite right. It didn’t convey what we wanted it to convey. “It looks too digital; it looks fake.” To end up with something that felt integrated into the environment and the sky was a testament not only to the team’s perseverance but to Alison’s and James’ patience, leadership and ability to explain creatively what they were going for. I’m really happy with where we finally landed.

How did you lock in the final look?
We wanted it to feel organic and real for the audience. We had a lot of different meetings to talk about what perspective we were going to take — how high up we need to be, how close we need to be to understand that they were communicating with each other and still firing — and whether those different perspectives should be down on the ground or up in the sky. We figured it out with editorial while we were locking episodes, which is a fairly normal process when you’re dealing with full CG shots mixed with pieces that we shot on the day.

We obviously had numerous versions of animatics, and we had to figure out how it was going to work in the edit before we could lock down animation and timing. Honestly, for the final moments when Kovacs sacrificed himself and Angelfire was going off, we were tweaking those with editorial, and our editorial team did a phenomenal job of helping us realize the moment.

Any people or companies that you want to give a shout-out to?
Bob Munroe (a production-side VFX supervisor) and Tony Meagher. All the work they did was groundwork for everything that ended up on the screen. And all the vendors, like Double Negative, Mavericks, Spin, Switch and Krow. Also our VFX coordinating team and everybody up in Toronto. They were the backbone of everything we did this season. And it was just so much fun to work with Alison and James and the team.

Any advice for people wanting to work in visual effects?
From my standpoint, there are not enough people on the show side of things, and if they have a passion for it, there’s a lot of opportunity to get into that.

I would say try to find your lane. Is it on the artist side? Is it on the coordinating and producing side? There are so many resources out there now. And now that the technology is available for everybody, it’s an amazing opportunity for creatives to get together and collaborate and to make things that that are compelling.

When I’m on a show or in the office, I can tell which PA or assistant has a fascination with VFX, and I always encourage them to come along. I have hired from within many times. It’s about trying to educate yourself and figure out what your passion is, and realizing there’s space for almost any role when it comes to visual effects. That’s the exciting thing about it.


Barry Goch is senior finishing artist at The Foundation and an instructor in post production at UCLA Extension.

Colorist Joanne Rourke grades Netflix horror film In the Tall Grass

Colorists are often called on to help enhance a particular mood or item for a film, show or spot. For Netflix’s In the Tall Grass — based on a story from horror writers Stephen King and Joe Hill — director Vincenzo Natali and DP Craig Wrobleski called on Deluxe Toronto’s Joanne Rourke to finesse the film’s final look using color to give the grass, which plays such a large part in the film, personality.

In fact, most of the film takes place in a dense Kansas field. It all begins when a brother and his pregnant sister hear a boy’s cries coming from a field of tall grass and go to find him. Soon they realize they can’t escape.

Joanne Rourke

“I worked with Vincenzo more than 20 years ago when I did the video mastering for his film Cube, so it was wonderful to reconnect with him and a privilege to work with Craig. The color process on this project was highly collaborative and we experimented a lot. It was decided to keep the day exteriors natural and sunny with subtle chromatic variations between. While this approach is atypical for horror flicks, it really lends itself to a more unsettling and ominous feeling when things begin to go awry,” explains Rourke.

In the Tall Grass was principally shot using the ARRI Alexa LF camera system, which helped give the footage a more immersive feeling when the characters are trapped in the grass. The grass itself comprised a mix of practical and CG grass that Rourke adjusted the color of depending on the time of day and where the story was taking place in the field. For the night scenes, she focused on giving the footage a silvery look while keeping the overall look as dark as possible with enough details visible. She was also mindful to keep the mysterious rock dark and shadowed.

Rourke completed the film’s first color pass in HDR, then used that version to create an SDR trim pass. She found the biggest challenge of working in HDR on this film to be reining in unwanted specular highlights in night scenes. To adjust for this, she would often window specific areas of the shot, an approach that leveraged the benefits of HDR without pushing the look to the extreme. She used Blackmagic Resolve 15 along with the occasional Boris FX Sapphire plugins.

“Everyone involved on this project had a keen attention to detail and was so invested in the final look of the project, which made for such great experience,” says Rourke. “I have many favorite shots, but I love how the visual of the dead crow on the ground perfectly captures the silver feel. Craig and Vincenzo created such stunning imagery, and I was just happy to be along for the ride. Also, I had no idea that head squishing could be so gleeful and fun.”

In the Tall Grass is now streaming on Netflix.

Quick Chat: Bill Ferwerda on coloring Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

The premiere season of the dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale earned eight Primetime Emmys, two Golden Globes, a Peabody Award and a BAFTA Award. Season 2, which is now streaming on Hulu, expands on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name.

For the latest season Deluxe Toronto senior colorist Bill Ferwerda reteamed with series DP Colin Watkinson, who won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography on The Handmaid’s Tale pilot, and also worked with DP Zoe White.

Ferwerda once again delivered HDR and SDR grades for Season 2, following the same palette established for Season One and helping develop looks for new environments, including the polluted Colonies.

“The look of The Handmaid’s Tale is so established and familiar to audiences, there wasn’t a need to reinvent the look for season two, but rather we pick up where season one left off and keep that tension building. I often pulled up season one footage to make sure I was staying true to that original aesthetic and feel,” explains Ferwerda.

Similar to how Ferwerda keyed in the signature “handmaid red” for Season 1 — a creative decision established by Watkinson and director of Season 1, episodes 1-3 Reed Morano — he accentuated a few primary colors in one key element within a scene, maintaining a simple palette and adding contrast to help the wardrobe and set design pop. He used the SDR grade as the guide for the HDR Dolby Vision grade, careful to carry through the intentionally subdued look.

Season 2 introduces The Colonies, a horrific compound where disobedient handmaids are sent to work in incredibly harsh conditions. To underscore the unpleasant environment, Ferwerda played up smoke and atmosphere with harsh contrast, following an aesthetic he helped develop with Watkinson and DIT Ben Whaley. He also accommodated for changing daylight in exterior scenes and footage shot with both Arri Alexa and drone cameras.

Bill Ferwerda

“The Colonies environment is toxic, so I was more aggressive in pushing the contrast; blacks are harder and I balanced a lot of opposite colors, such as adding a pink sky to counter green and different color tones,” explains Ferwerda. “As a fan myself, this was a very exciting project to be part of, and I can attest that season two lives up to its very high expectations.”

Let’s find out more from Ferwerda:

How does your process differ when delivering HDR and SDR?
HDR delivers more detail and clarity in the highlights as opposed to SDR, where the detail can be almost nonexistent. When working on a deliverable that is both HDR and SDR, you have to be aware of the image on both formats at the same time. The reason we do this is that both versions are delivered on one file. That is to say, the SDR is derived from the HDR source.

Using the HDR source, we do a “trim pass” to match the two images minus the highlight detail. Interestingly, in the case of The Handmaids Tale, the creative decision was made that the HDR version would look exactly the same as the SDR version because everyone liked the lack of detail in the highlights. When coloring an episode, we still do the HDR pass first and then trim past to SDR, but we keep it in the SDR parameters.

I know most of the palette from Season 1 remains, but other than The Colonies, what how did you approach environments new to Season 2?
We approach new environments by reviewing the looks that have been applied on set. After this review session, we go through a series of presentations, discussions and tweaks to get exactly what the DP wants.

When the shooting was going on in Toronto, the DPs would come in and sit down with me. Now that the shooting is finished, Deluxe sends the DPs to one of our sister companies in LA or New York (where we know the monitors will match) and does sessions with them there while we have the content and Resolve panels in Toronto.

What about this season stands out to you?
Season 2 was awesome, and I loved all the episodes, but what stands out to me the most is working with the new DP, Zoë White. Colin Watkinson and Zoe would flip-flop between episodes. It was such a pleasure working with her and watching her sink her teeth into the Handmaids’ world!

Deluxe Toronto adds Dolby Atmos theater, Steve Foster joins sound team

Steve Foster, a 25-year veteran of the sound industry, has joined Deluxe Toronto as a senior re-recording mixer. Foster’s first project at Deluxe Toronto will be the second season of the SyFy series The Expanse.

Foster comes to Deluxe Toronto from Technicolor Toronto, formerly Toronto’s Sounds Interchange, where he helped establish the long form audio and ADR departments. He also wrote the score for ‘90s thriller Killer Image. Other credits include Narcos, Rolling Stones: At the Max and the TV series Hannibal. He earned a Gemini Award for Best Sound in a Dramatic Program on Everest, a Genie Award for Overall Sound on Passchendaele and four Motion Picture Sound Editor Golden Reels for sound editing and ADR for various episodics.

In other news, Deluxe Toronto has also extended its capabilities, adding a new Dolby Atmos mixing theater geared toward episodic production to its facility. It features equipment and layout identical to the studio’s existing three episodic sound theaters, allowing for consistent and flexible review sessions for all of the 10 to 12 projects simultaneously flowing through Deluxe Toronto. The facility also houses a large theatrical mix theater with 36-channel Dolby Atmos sound, and a soundstage for ADR recording.

Our Main Image: (L-R) Steve Foster, Mike Baskerville, Christian T. Cooke.