Post Magazine

September/October 2020

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VISUAL EFFECTS 12 POST SEPT/OCT 2020 any remember the television series Perry Mason from the late 1950s/mid-1960s in which Mason, a savvy criminal defense attorney, uses his extraordinary courtroom skills to cleverly uncover surprising evidence and elicit on-the-stand confessions to clear his cli- ents. Recently, HBO turned back time for this television drama in a reboot that fo- cuses on the backstory of Mason during his pre-attorney days, with Timothy Van Patten and Deniz Gamze Ergüven direct- ing five and three episodes, respectively. Here, we see how it all began, initially with Mason (Matthew Rhys) as a strug- gling private investigator in 1930s Los Angeles, with a high-stakes kidnapping case that ended in the gruesome death of a baby — one-year-old Charlie Dodson. The case unfolds amid rampant police corruption and general violence, as we meet the hapless PI who often works in the gray areas of the law. He struggles with alcohol, an ex-wife, haunting mem- ories of WWI and financial issues in LA as the movie industry begins to take root around him. Mason's life is a mess, but he is able to temper his personal demons in an effort to exonerate the baby's mom, who is being railroaded for the crime, and uncover the identity of the actual killer. The time period plays an important role, and the director and crew invested a great deal of resources immersing au- diences in the era — from the costumes, to the sets, to the language — going so far as to hire a historian to re-create a Los Angeles that no longer exists. At times this was difficult, and at times it was beyond difficult, given the scope of the production. "One of our interesting locations was Angels Flight, and we ended up creating a virtual world around the train similar to what existed back in 1931," says Jonathan Jansen, location manager. Re-creating that storied cable car sys- tem and more was Digital Domain, which used cutting-edge CGI to turn back time for the reboot. "The filmmakers were very focused on being as accurate to the period location as possible," says Digital Domain VFX supervisor Mitch Drain. In all, the studio crafted 138 VFX shots for Season 1, which spanned eight 'chap- ters'. In addition to the trolley system, the studio created a CG face replacement for a stunt sequence, oil derricks that were prominent throughout LA at the time, blood enhancements and more. Other VFX facilities contributed to the series as well, including Pixomondo, Crafty Apes, Technicolor VFX and Lola VFX. HISTORIC REBUILD At the beginning of Chapter 1, we see the Dodsons, visibly shaken, as a man on the phone instructs them to open a suitcase filled with ransom money on a table by a window. He can see the cash from his vantage point nearby. They are then told to look out the window into a descend- ing cable car, where they see someone holding their child wrapped in a blanket. They rush out of the room and into the street, then enter the now empty cable car only to find their child is dead. These opening shots, which set the stage for the crime, take place at the top of Bunker Hill on Olive Street, an area that no longer exists. Production built the ticket booth and dressed the set with period cars and extras on a green-screen set. The rest of this area of downtown LA, circa 1932, was filled in by Digital Domain. This included a complete recon- struction of the Angels Flight funicular train and its surrounding buildings, as well as a rooftop panorama of the city — both day and night versions. "The most challenging work by far for us on this project was the creation of the Angels Flight and the surrounding Bunker Hill area," says Drain. "All the wide shots of Angels Flight contain our full-CG environments." While iconic, the location had been demolished in 1969 as part of an urban renewal project, forcing the artists to rely on old photos and movie clips. Artists scoured books on Los Angeles histo- ry and the architecture of Bunker Hill. Fortunately, Angels Flight was a popu- lar location for movies from the 1920s through the 1960s; in addition, there are numerous historical photos documenting the location. However, during that de- cades span in the documentation, signif- icant changes were made to the locale, forcing the artists to lock their attention on references from the early 1930s. "[The documentation is] all that exist- ed, other than the original iconic arch- way, [now] located a few blocks from the original site," says Drain. For the Angels Flight station, produc- tion provided a Lidar scan as it exists today in Pershing Square, a few blocks from the original locale at Third and Hill streets. To augment this data, artists from Digital Domain took extensive measure- ments and photos, enabling the group to re-create the archway and match the scale to the rest of the environment, OUT OF TIME BY KAREN MOLTENBREY XXXXXX HBO TURNS BACK THE CLOCK ON PERRY MASON M Set dressing and CGI turned back the clock to 1930s LA. Perry Mason gets a period reboot.

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