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August 2015

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VISUAL EFFECTS 16 POST AUGUST 2015 BLACK SAILS BY MARC LOFTUS tarz's hit series Black Sails pre- miered in early 2014 and recently completed airing its second season. Set in the 1700s, during the golden age of pira- cy, the show fictionalizes real-life pirates, including Anne Bonny, Jack Rackham and Charles Vane. While the show's setting is New Providence Island in the Bahamas, it's ac- tually shot in Cape Town, South Africa. At press time, Season 3 was in post produc- tion and the team was planning to begin shooting Season 4 in November. Here, the show's senior visual effects supervisor, Erik Henry, details the chal- lenges of recreating the time period, its ships and dramatic battles, and how they've been able to achieve some of the highest-end effects on television — visuals that last season garnered the show an Emmy win in the "Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role" category. Where are you at in terms of production and post at this point? "Believe it or not, I am posting Season 3 right now. And we'll be doing that until the early part of November. Season 1 is the season we won the Emmy. We were in post on Season 2 when we won that Emmy. The way it works is, we get the scripts around October or November, and then we are shooting in late November. We shoot right up to the Christmas hiatus and then shoot from the second week of January, basically until the middle of May." What is the episode count? "Season 1 was eight episodes. Season 2 has completely aired all 10 of its episodes. It started January, around the 24th or 25th, and 10 weeks later it is done. Season 3, we finished the shoot in May. I am deep into post and will be in post right through to December. The day I complete it I will be flying off to Cape Town for the shoot." That's for Season 4? Will it be 10 episodes too? "Season 4 [will have] 10 episodes. I don't think we will go above 10 episodes. When you look at the time spent on each episode, it is a magic number, because you have to start the next season. If you had 12 episodes, I don't know how you'd continue into the next season without having a dif- ferent team, basically." What is required for Black Sails' VFX? "It has to be something that the audi- ence is looking at it and is not realizing there are visual effects. The way we do that is, we have built full-scale ships. They don't sit in the water, they sit on a cement platform. I am responsible for putting the water around them and showing them at sea. "The greatest compliment is that people look at the show and say, 'I didn't realize you guys have visual effects?' Yeah, they see big sets and assume maybe there are extensions, but they look at the ships and say, 'They look real?' Well that's because a large part of it is real. Those ships are full scale. And we make use of them all the time. When you step back 50 to 100 yards and see the ship in the wa- ter, most of the time that's a CG ship, just because the way a ship moves up and down, and swells on the ocean, is something a ship on a cement plat- form can't do. When you are on the deck of the ship, we are using that ship all the time — the real ship." What are the specific challenges? "The challenge is to make it look real — [when] it's ships in the water. We built down in South Africa on the backlot outside of Cape Town. There are prob- ably 15 buildings and 30 huts and lean- tos that pour out of that, and that's the basis of the main street in Nassau. Then it's up to visual effects to fill out and add buildings around that. It's basically a set extension. Nassau had a fort — we didn't build the fort at Cape Town, so anytime you drop back far enough to see the fort on the hill, then that is something that has been either matte painted or a 3D model." It sounds like the VFX really help establish the setting? "That is what I'd say is the bread & butter work that we do. We are doing it all the time and are getting better and better as the seasons have gone on." Do you see the VFX needs changing as each season rolls out? "Yes, the needs have changed. For instance, in Season 2, we got a little bit more ambitious, and said we are going to go to a different location. We are going to go to Charleston, SC, circa 1705, and it looks a lot different today, so we had to create that again on our backlot. We built a main square and then I filled that out with the help of a number of companies. Crazy Horse [Effects] certainly took the lead. And then we had a big battle where we bombarded the town, with the help of Digital Domain, and Hybrid in Montreal, and Shade [VFX] in Santa Monica. We were able to use those companies to create a realistic bombardment of that period city." That's Season 2 you're referring to? "That came about in the season finale of Season 2. Then in Season 3, we are taking it up another notch. Each season, [we're] investing more time and money, which is a great vote of confidence from Starz." S STARZ'S EMMY- WINNING SERIES TO RETURN FOR SEASON 3 Ships that appear in the water are often CG.

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