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April 2013

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Page 30 of 59

Master Key used 3DS Max and the Krakatoa volumetric renderer to create this sand storm featured in an episode of Covert Affairs. Turn to page 30 for more on Master Key's work. For some shows, visual effects play an important role in the storyline itself. Take the machine that tries to predict the behavior of criminals in Person of Interest, or the helicopters that appear in Revolution — both are examples of things that don't exist, but leave the audience believing that they're real. RED WIDOW, DA VINCI'S DEMONS Pixomondo ( has nearly a dozen facilities around the world. Each is responsible for their local work, but is also available to lend muscle to projects at affiliated facilities should the need arise. The studio's Burbank facility serves as the primary house for television visual effects, and at press time was contributing to a number of shows, including Community, The Mindy Project and Go On. State-side, Pixomondo had recently wrapped up visual effects work on the final season of Fringe, and also handled effects on the first season of ABC's Red Widow. Their European offices work on HBO's hit, Game of Thrones. Red Widow centers around Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell), the widow of a Russian gangster. The show is set in Northern California's Marin County, but is actually shot in Vancouver. As such, many of the visual effects deal with convincing viewers the drama is taking place in the Bay Area. The show is executive produced and written by Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, Twilight Saga), and executive produced by Howard Klein (The Office, Parks & Recreation) and Alon Aranya. ABC Studios, in association with Endemol Studios, produces the program, which is broadcast in 720p with 5.1-channel surround sound. According to Pixomondo executive producer Steve Pugh, the studio provided visual effects services for eight hour-long episodes that make up the first season of Red Widow. This includes a two-part pilot and six additional episodes. The show began airing in early March. "On the pilot, we basically did matte paintings and clean-up work," he recalls. "There are scenes where Marta is riding her bike with her friend. She's riding in Vancouver but Melissa [Rosenberg] really wanted the Marin headlands, with a beautiful, rolling hills kind of landscape." Pugh says the studio took the flat Vancouver landscape behind the lead character and painted in the Marin headlands. On reverse angles, they added scenes across the bay to San Francisco. Similar treatments were given to Marta's home. "They have this really nice house, and its supposed to have a view of San Francisco across the Bay," says Pugh. "I think it had trees and more neighborhood, so we replaced that with a little bit of the water and San Francisco off in the distance." A later episode called for the studio to create a completely CG freighter. The scene begins high above the vessel and then flies down and crashes through one of the ship's cargo containers and into a bunch of cardboard boxes. The boxes appear to be loaded with bars of chocolate, but they are actually filled with cocaine in an effort to pass through customs. "It's quite an elaborate reveal shot," says Pugh. "When I got the script I was like, the pilot was matte paintings and light removals, but the very next episode they started with a bang, with allCG shots. We've done a couple of those for the series, and it's a nice change of pace." Unlike other series that might have signature effects, Pugh says Red Widow is more straight forward. "Like any one-hour drama, there is a grab-bag of set extensions and paint outs." Pixomondo's work includes driving composites, which are shot in front of a greenscreen. "If you are going to do a drama series, eventually they are going to be in cars, so we did some driving comps and some building replacements. Maybe covering up a person that walked into a frame and you didn't want them there." The studio added the Trans American building for a couple of shots to reinforce the look of San Francisco. "We did that in a wide tilt down to the actors," he explains. 'When you cut in closer for coverage, it's just whatever building they happen to be standing in front of. It keeps costs reasonable." Whether to shoot on-location or in front of a greenscreen can be driven by several variables, says Pugh, including budget and productivity. "It's a question of how much of that environment are you replacing," he notes, pointing to the scene of Marta on her bike. "They ride into frame in a wide establisher, and they stop. There is coverage, over each other's shoulder. There is a shot of Marta looking over the city and she rides off. If we were to do that on a greenscreen stage then every one of the shots, where they were talking in the middle, would be a greenscreen shot, and would require roto and background placement. It would all be an effects shot and would cost a lot more money." In this case, the closer shots, with their non-descript backgrounds, worked well from a continuity standpoint. Budgets, says Pugh, are always tight, but that seems to be the nature of the VFX business. "If they weren't a little bit tight then someone in production wouldn't be doing their job," he jokes. "I'm still here through all eight shows and haven't retired. The budgets are what they are, and with the climate these days, it is hard. Incentives in other countries make it really difficult to get the work done. The budgets are always going to be tight, but they are reasonable." Pixomondo is also working on DaVinci's Demons, which airs on Starz. The show is a drama set in the time of Leonardo DaVinci. Tom Riley plays the inventor and painter, who is tormented by his own genius. The show looks at his personal struggles, the church and political intrigue during Renaissance Florence. Post0413_028-30, 32-33-VFXMLV3ALMOST FINA.indd 29 Post • April 2013 29 3/27/13 4:15 PM

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