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August 2015

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VISUAL EFFECTS 17 POST AUGUST 2015 How hard is it to achieve the level of quality you are aiming for based on deadlines and budgets? "The quality of the effects work — ob- viously we won an Emmy. The mandate was always to give film-quality effects. That's my background. When they brought me on they said, 'Tell us what it would take to give the kind of quality you see on Game of Thrones, that HBO seems to do all the time? That's what we are after. We are not after cutting corners. We are after giving you enough time and giving you enough money to bring a product that is film quality.' It wasn't that surprising to see that it won. We spent a lot of time and money on it. "I know shows that are near and dear to my heart that don't spend as much time. They are cranking out more epi- sodes. I know they don't have as much time as we do… We were given a great challenge but they also gave us enough time to complete the challenge." How did you get involved in Black Sails? "I am an independent freelance supervi- sor that Starz contracted for the show. It was created by Starz, so the producers in Cape Town are all working for Starz." How are the VFX broken up amongst the different contributors? "I would say that Crazy Horse is con- sidered an equal third. They always took on a large portion of the work. Digital Domain has now become such a key contributor. I can't say that Crazy Horse has more work than they do. In Season 3, Digital Domain has more work. The other third is a company out of Sweden called Important Looking Pirates. They had done, oddly enough, a show called Crossbones. We had seen some of their work and thought it looked really good. Crossbones closed their doors after one season. They are in Stockholm." You are posting Season 3 now? "We have such an ambitious Season 3 that we employed companies in Ireland, England, and as I said, Sweden. We've added another company out of Montreal, in addition to Hybrid, and some smaller [studios] too. Of course, Crazy Horse, and a number of smaller houses here in town. There's Digiscope and Revolt. The list sort of grows, and you say, 'There are 14 companies on this show?'" Tell us about your role as VFX supervisor? "As senior supervisor, it is my responsi- bility to design the effects work. I work with Jon Steinberg, the show runner, and we come up with, 'Here's what I think the script is saying?' And John says, 'Yes, that's what it is saying.' Many times it's: 'What if we do this?' Also, I'm one of the producers on the show. As a producer, I am creatively getting the most out of the sets." What kind of solutions have you come up with? "There was a scene written for the Season 2 finale — the bombardment of Charleston. The script didn't call for any scene to take place in town itself. The views we were given from the script were from the Spanish Man O' War that the pirates commandeered. And it was from a POV platform that the bombardment was seen. I said, 'We can't destroy the town for real with practical effects, but if the practical effects were willing to help me out with a few mortars and dust hits, I think it was important to go into the town and see it falling apart at the hands of the Man O' War. "I worked with the show runner and the director on that episode. The art depart- ment said, 'The sets are not meant to be blown apart!' I said, 'I'll put in buildings and we'll do a big wrap-around shot, and have the bad guy Governor sit there and see his town fall down around him.' There was an iconic tower. I said, 'You guys don't have to do anything. I'll build the tower in CG and destroy it. We'll bring it down with simulations and this will help sell and rein- force the fact that the Governor watched his town collapse and burn.' "They agreed to it and that is won- derful to have the freedom to do, rather than just be a technician, walking through a script. I come up with ideas and they expect that." Are multiple episodes undergoing post production simultaneously? "Crazy Horse is working on the first four episodes of Season 3. Digital Domain is working on a couple of them. ILP, I think, has three." How much time is allotted to post, and how many VFX might an episode contain? "Each episode, we have 12 weeks. We'll turn things over early and use 16 weeks to do a particularly-difficult sequence. I don't think it's very different than other television that is out there. Not every episode is going to have 150 to 200 shots. I will say in Season 3, we have more big episodes than smaller. By and large, I'd say 150 is the bigger episode. And the smaller can be 50." How do you review material? "I rely heavily on Skype for vocal con- ferencing. And at the same time, almost exclusively with Skype, I am using CineSync. I do it on a 30-inch monitor connected to my laptop." Without spoiling it, what can we look forward to in Season 3? "In Season 3, we have a sequence where the weather pattern on the high seas is dangerous for ships, and that sequence alone has 92 [shots], I think?" For the ocean shots, are you using CG water or plates? "We use a combination, which I think is the best way to make the audience think it must all be real. We used real Bahamas plates that we shot before Season 1 aired. We went to the Bahamas and shot for a week — plates of the harbors and out to sea — to get the look of that type of water. Sixty percent of the time, we are using real water. We are compositing with it, so it's still a visual effect. It helps because when we do need to use computer-generated water — first of all, it's at such a high level that you couldn't tell the difference — but when you mix it into a sequence where some of it is real and some of it is CG, it's impossible to point out. That nut has been cracked. It's that good." In this shot of the square, most of the buildings are real, but the harbor and its ships have been added in post.

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