Tag Archives: Fox Television

The Orville VFX supervisor on mixing practical and visual effects

By Barry Goch

What do you get when you mix Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane with science fiction? The most dysfunctional spaceship in the galaxy, that’s what. What is the Fox series The Orville? Well, it’s more Galaxy Quest/Space Balls than it is Star Trek/Star Wars.

Set 400 years in the future, The Orville is a spaceship captained by MacFarlane’s Ed Mercer, who has to work alongside his ex-wife as they wing their way through space on a science mission. As you might imagine with a show that is set in space, The Orville features a large amount of visual and practical effects shots, including real and CG models of The Orville.

Luke McDonald

We reached out to the show’s VFX supervisor Luke McDonald to find out more.

How did the practical model of The Orville come about?
Jon Favreau was directing the pilot, and he and Seth MacFarlane had been kidding around about doing a practical model of The Orville. I jumped at the chance. In this day and age, visual effects supervisors shooting models is an unheard of thing to do, but something I was absolutely thrilled about.

Favreau’s visual effects supervisor is Rob Legato. I have worked with Rob on many projects, including Martin Scorsese’s Aviator, Shine a Light and Shutter Island, so I was very familiar with how Rob works. The only other chance that I had had to shoot models was with Rob during Shutter Island and Aviator, so in a sense, whenever Rob Legato shows up it’s model time (he laughs). It’s so amazing because it’s just something that the industry shies away from, but given the opportunity it was absolutely fantastic.

Who built the practical model of The Orville?
Glenn Derry made it. He’s worked with Rob Legato on a few things, including Aviator. Glen is kind of a fantastic. He basically does motion controls, models and motion capture. Glen would also look at all the camera moves and all the previz that we did to make sure the camera moves were not doing something that the motion control rig could not do.

How were you able to seamlessly blend the practical model and the CG version of The Orville?
Once we had the design for The Orville, we would then previz out the ships flying by camera, doing whatever, and work out these specific moves. Any move that was too technical for the motion control rig, we would do a CG link-up instead— meaning that it would go from model to a CG ship or vice versa — to get the exact camera move that we wanted. We basically shot all of the miniatures of The Orville at three frames a second. It was kind of like shooting in slow-mo with the motion control rig, and we did about 16 passes per shot — lights on, lights off, key lights, field light, back light, ambient, etc. So, when we got all the passes back, we composited them just like we would any kind of full CG shot.

From the model shoot, we ended up with about 25 individual shots of The Orville. It’s a very time-consuming process, but it’s very rewarding because of how many times you’re going to have to reuse these elements to achieve completely new shots, even though it’s from the same original motion control shoot.

How did the shots of The Orville evolve over the length of the season?
We started to get into more dynamic things, such as big space battles and specific action patenting, where it really wasn’t feasible to continue shooting the model itself. But now we have a complete match for our CG version of The Orville that we can use for our big space battles, where the ship’s flying and whipping around. I need to emphasize that previz on this project was very crucial.

The Orville is a science vessel, but when it needs to throw down and fight, it has the capabilities to be quite maneuverable — it can barrel roll, flip and power slide around to get itself in position to get the best shot off. Seth was responding to these hybrid-type ship-to-ship shots and The Orville moving through space in a unique way when it’s in battle.
There was never a playbook. It was always, “Let’s explore, let’s figure out, and let’s see where we fit in this universe. Do we fit into the traditional Star Trek-y stuff, or do we fit into the Star Wars-type stuff. I’m so pleased that we fit into this really unique world.

How was working with Seth MacFarlane?
Working with Seth has been absolutely amazing. He’s such a dedicated storyteller, even down to the most minute things. He’s such an encyclopedia of sci-fi knowledge, be it Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica or the old-school Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. All of them are part of his creative repertoire. It’s very rare that he makes a reference that I don’t get, because I’m exactly the same way about sci-fi.

How different is creating VFX for TV versus film?
TV is not that new to me, but for the last 10 years I’ve been doing film work for Bad Robot and JJ Abrams. It was a strange awakening coming to TV, but it wasn’t horrifying. I had to approach things in a different way, especially from a budget standpoint.

SuperSphere and Fox team on ‘Scream Queens’ VR videos

Fox Television decided to help fans of its Scream Queens horror/comedy series visit the show’s set in a way that wasn’t previously possible, thanks to eight new virtual reality short videos. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Scream Queens focuses on a series of murders tied to a sorority and is set at a fictional college in New Orleans. The VR videos have been produced for the Samsung Milk VR, YouTube 360° and Facebook platforms and are rolling out in the coming weeks.

Fox called on SuperSphere Productions — a consultancy that helps with virtual reality project execution and delivery — to bring their VR concepts to life. SuperSphere founder Lucas Wilson worked closely with Fox creative and marketing executives to develop the production, post and delivery process using the talent, tools and equipment already in place for Scream Queens.

“It was the first VR shoot for a major episodic that proved the ability to replicate a realistic production formula, because so much of VR is very ‘science project-y’ right now,” explains industry vet Wilson, who many of you might know from his work with Assimilate and his own company Revelens.

Lucas Wilson

Lucas Wilson

Wilson reports that this project had a reasonable budget and a small crew. “This allowed us to work together to produce and deliver a wide series of experiences for the show that — judging by reaction on Facebook — are pretty successful. As of late November, the Closet Set Tour (extended) has over 660,000 views, over 31,000 likes and over 10,500 shares. In product terms, that price/performance ratio is pretty damn impressive.”

The VR content, captured over a two-day shoot on the show’s set in New Orleans, was directed by Jessica Sanders and shot by the 360Heros team. “The fact that a woman directed these videos is relevant, and it’s intentional. For virtual reality to take root and grow in every corner of the globe, it must become clear very quickly that VR is for everyone,” says Wilson. “So in addition to creating compelling content, it is critical for that content to be produced and influenced by talented people who bring a wide range of perspectives and experiences. Hiring smart, ambitious women like Jessica as directors and DPs is a no-brainer. SuperSphere’s mission is to open up a whole new kind of immersive, enriching experience to everyone on the planet. To reach everyone, you have to include everyone… from the beginning.

In terms of post, editorial and the 5.1 sound mix was done by Fox’s internal team. SuperSphere did the conform and finish on Assimilate Scratch VR. Local Hero did the VR grading, also on Scratch VR. “The way we worked with Local Hero was actually kinda cool,” explains Wilson. “Most of the pieces are very single-location with highly controlled lighting. We sent them representative still frames, and they graded the stills and sent back a Scratch preset, which we used to then render and conform/output. SuperSphere then output the three different VR deliverables — Facebook, MilkV Rand YouTube.

Two videos have already launched — the first includes a behind-the-scenes tour, mentioned earlier, of the set and closet of Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), created by Scream Queens production designer Andrew Murdock. The second shows a screaming match between the Scream Queens‘ Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) and Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels).

Following the Emmy-winning Comic-Con VR experience for its drama Sleepy Hollow last year, these Scream Queens videos mark the first of an ongoing Fox VR and augmented reality initiative for its shows.

“The intelligent way that Fox went about it, and how SuperSphere and Fox worked together to very specifically create a formula for replication and success, is in my opinion a model for how episodic television can leverage VR into an overall experience,” concludes Wilson.

Quick chat: ‘Sleepy Hollow’ VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman

BURBANK — The first season of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, which recently had its season finale, averaged anywhere from 30 to 300 visual effects shots.

The show’s VFX supervisor, Jason Zimmerman, had three go-to houses — Synaptic VFX, Pixomondo (www.pixomondo.com) and Fuse (www.fusefx.com) — to create what the Continue reading