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September/October 2022

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effects sim department, good tools and a strong VFX supervisor in Nigel Sumner. Weta also was a valuable contributor, having worked on the original The Lord of the Rings films and the demonic monster Balrog. "There's some spiritual continuity in having them pick up some of that, and we really respected that opportunity," says Smith of Weta's work. "A lot of the crew from Weta and other vendors got their start on The Fellowship of the Ring, so this was their return to Middle-earth. It wasn't their first time, so it was fun hearing a lot of the stories from people about working on the original Balrog." And Cantina Creative immediately came to mind when Smith says they were considering vendors for the map sequences, which serve as transitions, taking viewers across the fictional world. The studio has expertise in creating heads- up displays, having worked on Free Guy, The Avengers: Endgame, Aquaman, Bumblebee, Loki and WandaVision. "We had areas where we would start in one geographic location, the camera flies up and we see that we're traveling across the landscape," says Smith of the map sequences. "We tell the audi- ence, we're going over this point…We immediately thought of Cantina Creative. It's a visual storytell- ing. It's kind of a symbolic storytelling and a little bit like a heads-up display. It's telling the audience, we're going from here to here. It needs to look realistic, but not in-story." The different kingdoms also presented their own unique challenges. The dwarves live in an underground mountain kingdom of Khazad-dûm, while the elves reside in the kingdom of Valinor. Númenor is an island kingdom of men, with stun- ning stone architecture and waterfalls. "It's a whole civilization that we haven't seen yet on the screen," says Smith of Númenor. "And it's got a rich history…with a whole new culture, art and architecture. And we had to build it in a way that it really felt like a real place. That was maybe the one that really became a challenge to me." Smith says it was hard to wrap his head around the scale of the island, likening it to New York City — a massive metropolis, but in a medieval time period. "The first designs we were trying, and some initial sketches, I remember thinking to myself, 'This looks like a theme park map!' It's nothing that the artists were doing wrong. It's just that it's so hard to think about the actual scale...You have to keep reminding yourself: It's miles, not feet! It's blocks, not buildings." Smith has been involved in VFX-heavy projects that have incorporated LED volumes and virtual production techniques, including assisting on the first season of The Mandalorian at ILM. Surprisingly, The Rings of Power went a different route. "Obviously, that's an amazing technology," he says of LED volumes. "While I was on that show, I really was able to get up to speed on how it was built and then see the volume and operation…so I [had] a very good idea of how it works, when it works and how it's used, coming into this project." When the team looked at the work they'd be shooting, it became clear that they wouldn't be able to amortize the cost of building an LED stage. "The fact that you have to source the panels, and build it, and get the crew and all that stuff...Nothing was off the table at the beginning, but we did realize, to make it worth it, there's a certain critical mass you have to reach. I do feel confident it was the right choice for the show, for the content that we had in Season 1, for sure. An LED wall can be an advantage, but it can also be a little bit of a dis- advantage in terms of developing the all of those different assets in time for filming. A lot of these environments came together in the weeks after." COLORIST SKIP KIMBALL Senior colorist Skip Kimball, who is based at Company 3 Hollywood (formerly Efilm), worked remotely on The Rings of Power. "We were all working from different locations, across three continents, but with the same media, which was stored in the cloud," Kimball explains. "I was coloring in (DaVinci) Resolve 17 from my home studio in Eagle, ID, and Ron Ames, Jake Rice and Jason Smith were in New Zealand. When I would make a correction on my Resolve, it would drive a Resolve where they were, and they could see the changes almost with no latency at all. That was very important to everyone. This was a massive project and nobody wanted to wait, even a few seconds, to see the changes." Kimball would log in through a VPN to AWS and be able to work. While the media was all in the cloud, he says the experience was as if it was just on a nearby SAN or hard drive. "We were all plugged into AWS using Blackmagic's remote grading function that our engineering team worked with Blackmagic to develop. It is now part of (Resolve) Version 18 and everybody can use that feature, but we were the first to use it." The color treatment of the show dates back almost two years to the pre-production process, when a LUT was built. "That was early in the process, and there were still decisions being made about the look of the show, so I made a LUT that didn't constrain or accentuate any particular colors," says Kimball. "We knew I could do that very quickly during the color grading." During the spotting sessions, Ames, Rice, Smith and Kimball would look at raw dailies and discuss where they wanted the look to go in terms of story. "They would talk about how they wanted certain scenes to feel," the colorist recalls. "Once I had their notes, I would work alone for a while. I'd start playing through it and make corrections by feel. I go very much by instinct." The show takes place in a number of different kingdoms, and that played a big part in the grad- ing decision process. "When we're with the elves, they wanted it to feel more 'earthy,'" notes Kimball. "They're small and close to the grass. So that was part of the look. When we see a castle where the king lives, we want- ed that to be very lush and vibrant and romantic." In other scenes, such as the dwarves' caves, con- trast was enhanced for color separation purposes, pushing complementary colors within the frame. "There's a part with a flame, and everything is cold blue and stormy," says Kimball of one se- quence. "I was able to isolate the flame in Resolve and turn it from orange to a more golden yellow. I use the HDR parameters within Resolve. They are very fine-tuned and you can really grab a very specific part of the image to manipulate. We did things like that through the whole season." 13 POST SEPT/OCT 2022 ILM took the lead on water effects. Metadata helped the production track assets. AWS enabled the remote workflow.

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