Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2018

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24 cgw | e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 1 8 Siren On Freeform's newest series, Siren, mer- maids are real. But in the series' fictional coastal town of Bristol Cove, they're not the cute and lovable sorts like Disney's Ariel who live "under the sea…." Instead, they are vicious predators, with claws and fangs, who are in a battle with man to reclaim the ocean. In the series' two-hour opener, which premiered the end of March, viewers learn of the town's folklore and mermaid tales, while meeting a mysterious new visitor, Ryn. It's later on that we learn her true identity, aer witnessing her dramatic, underwater transformation into a fierce mermaid. We also meet Donna, her mermaid "sister," who is being held in captivity in a secret government tank. To pull off the series and make it all as believable as possible, each episode features approximately 100 to 110 visual effects shots. Requirements range from almost entirely CG mermaids to set exten- sions and CG environments. Here, producers are relying on the talents of Vancouver-based VFX studios Pixomondo (the heavy-liers that are completing the mermaid shots and trans- formations in water and swimming, and the character Donna in the tank), Atmo- sphere Visual Effects (for boat scenes, water extensions, and CG boats), and Artifex, all working under the leadership of VFX Supervisor Mark Savela. "When I came on board, it was after the pilot had been shot — which was gorgeous, by the way — and the show was picked up, and so the biggest direction that we got from the producers was that we just needed to sell these mermaids so that viewers would believe they were real," says Savela. No stranger to completing visual effects for television, Savela has worked on a num- ber of series, including the original Stargate SG-1 series, as well as Stargate Atlantis. "I've never done anything before like what I'm doing on Siren," Savela says, "and I'm not sure of any other TV show that has the technique of replacing an actor or actress entirely, except for their head and face, for a TV series. A lot of shows have had CG creatures or mon- sters, but this is taking the actor's facial expressions and using them. It's not full CG, but it's about 90 percent, and I think it is really different because you look at the shots and you can see [actress Sibongile Mlambo's] expression, you can see through her eyes and feel her emotion, but it's 90 to 95 percent CG. If you did 100 percent CG, you'd lose a lot of the acting and that connection with the camera." According to Savela, the main bulk of the show's effects are centered around the mermaids themselves. In fact, he says that when the pilot was shot, there's a scene where Ryn jumps in the water and transforms into a mermaid. There, she's wearing a prosthetic with some added visual effects. "Small things, like trying to take out her knee bends," Savela explains. "When we went to series, it was kind of a group deci- sion with [executive producer and show creator] Emily Whitesell and [executive producer] Eric Wald, and our supervis- ing director Nick Copus to kind of move away from the prosthetics entirely. So, for instance, when Donna swims in the tank, it's our actress — Sibo — in a black suit with tracking markers. Her whole body is replaced by the CG model of the mer- maid, and all that's left, basically, is her hair and eyes — her face, really. Every shot from the chin down is completely CG." That was done for a variety of reasons. The producers wanted more control over how the mermaid and her skin looked,

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