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April 2014

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20 Post • April 2014 effect, achieved primarily by using Nuke, but it adds so much." Maya is the main animation tool for the show, with rendering done in Pixar's RenderMan. Once the producers of Mr. Selfridge saw how quickly DNeg TV could turn around shots, Jones found the company advising on new shots for episodes, one of which also ended up in the title sequence. "We went up five stories on the building opposite with the camera then tilted down for a super-high wide shot where Selfridge's looks almost like the prow of a ship," Jones says. "We weren't sure it could be done within the budget, but we were confident in our tracking tools and delivered the shot on-time and on-budget. It looked so great that they decided to put it in the title sequence, too." Although barely 10 months old, DNeg TV has a host of other credits: all three seasons and the for thcoming season four of the mystery series Death in Paradise for the BBC; a new Sunday-night family drama series for BBC One; a new drama series for Sony/ Starz; and a pilot for NBC/Universal. And DNeg TV will be back adding more details and texture to c. 1919 Oxford Street for Season 3 of Mr. Selfridge. Under The dome The CBS summer 2013 hit, Under The Dome, gave viewers a look at the personal and political dynamics of a small American town that's suddenly covered by an imper- meable, transparent dome, which isolates them from contact and communication with the outside world. Based on the novel by Stephen King (who is an executive producer, along with Steven Spielberg), the series returns this summer — possibly with some explanations of the dome's secrets, and defi- nitely with more mysteries. Since the dome plays such a big role in the show, developing its look was a crucial part of the VFX work. "When Episode 5 was filming, I was still creating looks for the dome on my laptop and showing them to the executives," says Stephan Fleet, executive creative director at Encore ( and VFX supervisor for Under The Dome. "We couldn't see it in every shot or the whole show would be a VFX shot. But when we got close to it we had to know what it looked like, what it felt like when people touched it." Some properties of the dome were pre- established. "We always knew it would slice through things," Fleet says. "It had to be hard, not wobbly. It was semi-magical but had to be believable — it couldn't look like ice or be too supernatural. And it couldn't be reflective because that would pose huge production issues" for an episodic show. Fleet put up pieces of plastic for the actors to interact with on set but avoided any complicated props that would require a lot of time in post to remove. "For TV, you aim for as little foot- print as possible on the set," he notes. That the dome could slice through things was evident from the start, when one of its edges came down on a farm, cleaving a cow in two. The first proposal called for a stuffed cow prop, sweetened with VFX blood and gore. When that didn't work as well as desired, it was ultimately recreated in CG. "And the half- cow became the icon of the show: It's on T-shirts and posters," Fleet exclaims. A truck and plane crash from outside into the dome were also CG. The truck crash was initially planned as a practical effect. "It almost worked, but when we blended in CG enhancements, it read too fake, so we went with 100 percent CG," he says. Monarch butterflies were a recurring motif. A flock of them first appeared inside the dome wall, fanned out in all their glory. Later in the episode, a nuclear missile failed to breach the dome (the complete destruc- tion on the other side was full CG environ- ment replacement by Encore). Then, a single monarch reappeared and landed on the dome. The butterfly also played a key role in the season finale. "We didn't know that the monarchs would be a huge theme in the show" at the outset, says Fleet. "We built about 14 quality butterflies for that opening sequence on the dome wall and a detailed butterfly for the very end of the show. An individual butterfly model is fairly easy to execute, but we needed to use particle simulations to multi- ply them. It took a lot of math and horse- power to make them realistic." Encore also created VFX for the mini dome, which formed around a mysterious egg found in the woods. The mini dome turned white before it exploded and dis- solved to dirt — all VFX shots. Encore enhanced the egg itself, which typically appeared as a prop, creating "pink stuff " that crawled up its surface and a caterpillar that transformed into the hero monarch butterfly, which appears to select a leader from the town's supernaturally gifted young residents. Fleet, and Encore's other VFX supervisor, Adam Avitabile, opted for practical solutions whenever possible. "I'm a big fan of practical effects," says Fleet. "We use a process of elimination to determine what will be VFX shots. I'm not a fan of up-selling people." For the long-awaited pink falling stars — referenced in the first episode and finally visualized at the end of Season 1 — Encore had few specifics to guide them. The team initially created pink stars that "looked more like fireworks," Fleet says. Then he and his art- ists suggested having them shoot up the sides of the dome in otherworldly straight lines — a hauntingly-cool image that everyone loved. The stars were a mix of particles compos- ited with treetops and other natural ele- ments captured by Fleet with his Canon 5D camera and used as plates. Autodesk 3DS Max was the show's main 3D software, with Nuke the primary compositing tool and Andersson Technologies' SynthEyes the tracking software. Encore handled post for the series as well. Fleet notes that creating VFX for TV "gets harder every season because the stakes are raised with every show." He approaches a series with a sense of restraint, however. "We have an Synaptic's Shant Jordan, Ken Gust and Shahen Jordan all contribute to the VFX featured in Sleepy Hollow. VFX for TV

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