Post Magazine

April 2018

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Page 15 of 43 14 POST APRIL 2018 PRIMETIME n Freeform's newest series, Siren, mermaids are real. But in the series' fictional coastal town of Bristol Cove, they're not the cute and lovable sorts like Disney's Ariel who live "under the sea…" Instead, they are vicious predators, with claws and fangs, who are in a battle with man to reclaim the ocean. In the series' two-hour opener, which premiered the end of March, viewers learn of the town's folklore and mermaid tales while meeting a mysterious new visitor, Ryn. It's later on that we learn her true identity, after witnessing her dramatic, un- derwater transformation into a fierce mer- maid, and also meet Donna, her mermaid "sister," who is being held in captivity in a secret government tank. To pull off the series and make it all as believable as possible, each episode features around 100 to 110 visual effects shots. Requirements range from almost entirely CG mermaids to set extensions and CG environments. Here, producers are relying on the talents of Vancouver- based VFX studios Pixomondo (the heavy lifters who are completing the mermaid shots and transformations in water and swimming, and the char- acter Donna in the tank), Atmosphere Visual Effects (for boat scenes, water extensions and CG boats) and Artifex, all working under the leadership of VFX supervisor Mark Savela. "When I came on board, it was after the pilot had been shot — which was gorgeous by the way — and the show was picked up, and so the biggest di- rection that we got from the producers was that we just needed to sell these mermaids so that viewers would believe they were real," says Savela. No stranger to completing visual effects for television, Savela has worked on a number of series, including the original Stargate SG-1 series, as well as Stargate Atlantis. "I've never done anything like what I'm doing on Siren before," he says, "and I'm not sure of any other TV show that has… the technique of replacing an actor or actress entirely, except for their head and face, for a TV series. A lot of shows have had CG creatures or monsters, but this is taking the actor's facial expressions and using them. It's not full CG, but it's about 90 percent and I think it is really different because, you look at the shots and you can see [actress Sibongile Mlambo's] expression, you can see through her eyes and feel her emotion, but it's 90 to 95 percent CG. If you did a hundred percent CG, you'd lose a lot of the acting and that connection with the camera." According to Savela, the main bulk of the show's effects are centered around the mermaids themselves. In fact, he says that when the pilot was shot, there's a scene where Ryn jumps in the water and transforms into a mermaid. There, she's wearing a prosthetic with some added visual effects. "Small things, like trying to take out her knee bends," he explains. "When we went to series, it was kind of a group decision with (executive producer and show creator) Emily Whitesell and (executive pro- ducer) Eric Wald, and our supervising director Nick Copus to kind of move away from the prosthetics entirely. So, for instance, when Donna swims in the tank, it's our actress — Sibo — in a black suit with tracking markers. Her whole body is replaced by the CG model of the mermaid and all that's left, basically, is her hair and eyes — her face really. Every shot from the chin down is completely CG. That was done for a variety of rea- sons. The producers wanted more con- trol over how the mermaid and her skin looked. For the Donna character, there's an iridescent quality to her skin, a reflec- tive quality. Also, getting in and out of prosthetics was a bit hard on our actors. We wanted to give them as much free- dom as we could with the least amount of restrictions and I think they really felt it…especially (lead actress) Eline Powell (Ryn). It was much nicer to be able to be free and not under a ton of makeup. There were certain things in the pilot where we had to go in and reduce wrinkles in the prosthetic anyway, so we figured, rather than having to pay for shots twice, let's go the path of least resistance. "It was really all quite a challenge. You have a lot of variables, like some shots were below the water, then above water, bodies have to be replaced, there are air bubbles. We took on quite a challenge and I think the result is phenomenal. FREEFORM'S SIREN O THE VFX CHALLENGES OF CREATING 'REAL' MERMAIDS BY BY LINDA ROMANELLO Savela on the set of Siren. The fictional Bristol Cove.

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