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September 2015

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VISUAL EFFECTS 11 POST SEPTEMBER 2015 out as we had hoped and we looked at all of the episodes and said, really, the most complex work was the 'Dirty Half Dozen,' with the whole destruction of the Bus — which was one of the corner- stones of the show. "Doing fire realistically on television is a tall order. You don't get the representa- tion of what a real fire element looks like using software, but the guys at FuseFX, those FX animators are amazing. It takes a long time and a lot of set up to get things right. And it wasn't just the fire, it was the smoke and the debris, and then it was the cloaking device, and May [show star Ming-Na Wen] in the cockpit and it was May on bluescreen. Between Houdini and the particles we had to create for that one shot — a big giant virtual shot where we had a QuinJet come down and all the debris is falling all around and there's fire and smoke, that sequence was what that episode was about. It was a big scene to pull off. "One of the things I always find is re- ally important for audiences to relate to the effect sequence is that you have to put the humanity into the shot whenever you can. In this case, it was Ming-Na Wen being shot and so this way, the plane comes around, with all the debris and you see her in the QuinJet in this freefall." Kolpack explains that his team re- ceives the script and they break it down, identifying where the large sequences are and how to pull them off, even sto- ryboarding all the action that's going on "so we can get a jump on it." He adds, "One of the most important things of pulling off this type of level of work is doing it early enough. When there are standalone CG sequences like this, it's really much easier to plan ahead, board it out, get those boards over to Fuse, they go into animation blocking based on the boards, then we revise that animation blocking, then it goes into lighting, then it goes into effects anima- tion, and so on. It also serves a double purpose when the director is going to shoot all the interior stuff. We kind of have an idea of the tone and scope of what's happening all around them, so in this case, there are no windows except for the cockpit, so only May would be seen out there, so at least we were able to share with people what the idea was and this way the actors can understand the scope. "We have a normal television post schedule and if you live in that normal world, you can't pull off this kind of work. I mean, we do what other shows don't do…If you have a Game of Thrones, they have 10 episodes a season in the time we do 22. You can't reward or qualify someone based on more time or money, but the fact is, they have more time and more money. But we're recognized right alongside them and that's a huge honor. We're doing a big feature in nine to 10 months with around 2,000 visual effects. That's a lot of VFX [laughs]!" The series, which is shot in Culver City on Arri Alexa cameras, relies on such key VFX tools as Houdini, 3DS Max, Nuke, After Effects and a host of plug-ins. "It's a lot of work and you can't do it without the right tools," says Kolpack. According to Arnold, she and Kolpack are sometimes tracking up to 700 shots at once, "because we have three to four episodes going at the same time." Other VFX shots within the "Dirty Half Dozen" episode include character Gordon (Jamie Harris) transporting through vari- ous locations, lead character Skye facing off in battles with telekinetic powers, and the death of Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) who disintegrates into particles. " The splinter bomb effect [used for Bakshi's death] we had done before, so we had that pretty much dialed in," says Kolpack. "There were effects and animation on that as well. He was shot against greenscreen and background plates, and we added several layers of different erosion techniques, taking his body away, and then having all the actual particles dynamically coming off of him as he moved." Speaking to the various challenges of completing the episode, Arnold says, "Getting it all done in the time we had — the particle work we did on that, the rendering factors and the fire — it was a challenging episode." Kolpack says he's happy with the episode's outcome, although he'd always "love to have had more time on things. I will say I am really happy with it. We submitted it based upon the episode we were most proud of to represent Season 2 with — and I guess we chose wisely." Arnold adds, "I agree that we're always looking to perfect it and we're never completely happy, and I think that's a part of what makes us always successful on this show. Our team is always trying to push that limit and make things better and improve that story." Kolpack says the destruction of the Bus, completed with Houdini, Nuke and 3DS Max, was one of the cornerstones of the show. FuseFX did the heavy VFX lifting on the Emmy-nominated episode.

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