Computer Graphics World

July/August 2014

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32 cgw j u ly . a u g u s t 2 0 1 4 K nce upon a time… …There lived an evil queen who cast an awful curse on the fairy-tale characters who lived in a great kingdom near the Enchanted Forest. The spell washed over the land and transported the inhabitants to a far diff erent world where they lived without their fairy-tale memories. Before the spell could take hold, though, the valiant Prince Charming and his loving wife Snow White secreted away their newborn princess, Emma, through a magical wardrobe portal, which, unbeknownst to them, also sent the infant to the real world. Baby Emma grew up and began living life on the edge. With little to off er, she gave up her baby son for adoption. Meanwhile, the king, queen, and subjects began life anew in Story brooke, Maine, as ordinary folks – that is, until a curious young boy led his birth moth- er (Emma) to the small town where he lived with a powerful woman who ruled in the real world as mayor but as the Evil Queen in the fairy-tale realm. This unlikely princess, the key to the fairy-tale characters' hap- pily ever a er, eventually learns and accepts her role as savior, and continues to battle evil both near and far while trying to provide the happy ending these characters, and her son, deserve. That is the premise for the television series Once Upon A Time, a popular fantasy/drama that appeared in 2011 on ABC and will continue this fall. Each season brings new adventure, as the core characters regain their past memories and as var- ious new characters magically arrive in Storybrooke. Nearly every episode starts out in the real world, but fl ashbacks and secondary plots unfold in the fairy-tale realm, as well. The Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin, Snow White, Prince Charming, Belle, the Seven Dwarves, Grandma, and Red Riding Hood are among the regular cast. Others have been brought on for longer-term plots, including Captain Hook, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, and the Wicked Witch of the West, while a slew of others made limited appearances. Principal photography occurs in Vancouver, British Colum- bia, where the nearby village of Steveston serves as the fi ctional "real-world" Story- brooke, Maine. That location in the Pacifi c Northwest provides a lush locale for the woods in nearby Storybrooke and in the fantastical Enchanted Forest. In addition, there are a num- ber of practical sets employed on soundstages. Both the inside and outside locations are o en supplemented with visual eff ects, created by Zoic Studios, with Andrew Orloff , co-founder and head of episodic television, serving as overall VFX supervisor on the series. Zoic and Orloff have been involved in this giant fairy-tale mishmash from the start. While episodic shows can be challenging in terms of budgets and time, neither the studio nor Orloff are strangers to this de- manding workfl ow. Typically, the VFX requirements for each epi- sode are revealed approximate- ly two and a half weeks prior to the live-action shoot. That is when Once Upon A Time's Production Designer Michael Joy and art department provide the concept art for the virtual sets, props, creatures, and most of the magical eff ects. The VFX artists, approximately 70 in all, start with these initial designs, fl esh them out, and optimize them for real-time playback on set during fi lming – the key to creating the vast kingdom, the real and fantastical worlds, and plethora of eff ects. Zoic's work on the series spans the gamut of visual eff ects, although the majority of the work, by far, are the back- drops – "everything you would see in a Hollywood fantasy movie: virtual backgrounds shot on greenscreen with everything composited into them, exterior and interior environments, fantasy environments, realistic New York City environments, and all shot on a greenscreen stage," explains Orloff . One par- ticularly complex environment was Captain Hook's ship, which appeared at night, during the day, at sea, in a storm, and even sailing across the sky. "The goal is to make the CG environments realistic, even when they are fantastical," he adds. In order to handle this large volume of landscapes and architecture, Zoic uses ZEUS (Zoic Environmental Unifi cation System). This virtual production system, developed in partner- ship with Lightcra Technology, provides real-time camera tracking and rendering of the virtual environments on set, enabling the DP, cast, and crew on a greenscreen stage to see the virtual environments during fi lming, and gives the director a rough composite of the actors on set tracked against the digi- tal background. "The highly detailed envi- ronments and imaginative characters of the series' fairy- tale world have challenged us to expand and fi ne-tune both our ZEUS and animation pipelines for television," Orloff says. ZEUS was developed to han- dle the large amount of virtual sets in the TV show V, but with all the subsequent television work Zoic does, including Once Upon A Time, the setup has proven itself vital in the produc- tion processes. ZEUS comprises various components, including the Lightcra virtual set-track- ing system with InterSense motion tracking, Shotgun's Chapter 1 O Once Upon A Time P R I M E - T I M E E F F E C T S

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