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April 15
2024

ISSUE

Spring 2024

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN ACCURACY AND AUTHENTICITY FOR SHOGUN

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of FX.

Actor Hiroyuki Sanada had a key role in making sure that period-accurate Japanese was spoken by the characters.

Actor Hiroyuki Sanada had a key role in making sure that period-accurate Japanese was spoken by the characters.

Inspired by the power struggle in feudal Japan that led to the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu to Shōgun and his relationship with English sailor William Adams, who became a key advisor, James Clavell authored the seminal historical fiction novel Shōgun, adapted into a classic NBC miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune. Forty-four years later, the story has been revisited by FX and Hulu as a limited 10-episode production under the creative guidance of Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo.

“What we felt made Shōgun interesting today would be to tell more of an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial story of an outsider who has shown up in the world that we let the audience inhabit,” states Justin Marks, Creator, Executive Producer and Showrunner. “We worked with our producers and star, Hiroyuki Sanada, as well as Eriko Miyagawa [Producer], to use their expertise to craft the dialogue in the right kind of Japanese.”

Regarding depicting the Sengoku Period, compromises had to be made. “There will always be a gap between accuracy and authenticity, which means negotiating which spaces are necessary to keep distance and which ones you need to close the gap,” states Creator and Executive Producer Rachel Kondo. “We were constantly defining and redefining what we’re trying to be authentic to. Are we trying to be authentic to a time or people or specific place?” Originally, the plan was to shoot in Japan, but the [COVID-19] pandemic caused British Columbia to become the stand-in for the island nation. “Very little cleanup was required relative to what it would be in Japan where you would be removing power lines all day just to get something to look natural, and then you want to plus it to the premise of the story,” Marks says. “With Michael Cliett [Visual Effects Supervisor and Visual Effects Producer], we worked out a system that would keep us flexible in post-production with what we would call a high and low appetite version of a shot; that element of protection was for storytelling reasons but largely for budget reasons. Then, what it allowed us to do was to say, ‘This is a show about landscapes,’ and on some level, we have broad landscapes and what we called ‘landscapes of detail,’ such as close-ups of tatami mats because they were shot with macro lenses.”

Anna Sawai felt completely in the role of Toda Mariko when the Christian cross was hung around her neck.

Anna Sawai felt completely in the role of Toda Mariko when the Christian cross was hung around her neck.

Osaka was the most straightforward of the three cities to develop because extensive reference material exists from 1600 and the general topography has not changed. “Ajiro was a gorgeous little cove on the waterfront, but the area itself wasn’t quite large enough to create a whole village. So, we had to make a mental jump to say that the upper village is where the samurai class live and the lower village was where the much poorer fishing folk live,” Production Designer Helen Jarvis explains. “We ended up using two different locations and then knit them together in a few establishing shots. Edo [modern-day Tokyo] was the city that Yoshii Toranaga [cinematic persona of Tokugawa] was actually in the process of developing and building at the time. We saved a portion of the waterfront Osaka set and didn’t fully develop it until much later in the series knowing that we had to create two city blocks that were in the process of being built. One of our set designers did a preliminary model of the shape of the city and how the castle might relate to the city; that ended up being much more in Michael Cliett’s hands. He had people scanning the buildings that we had and we had various other 3D files of buildings that we would like to see represented, like temples.”

Kashigi Yabushige attempting to rescue Vasco Rodrigues from drowning was a challenge to assemble for Editor Maria Gonzales.

Kashigi Yabushige attempting to rescue Vasco Rodrigues from drowning was a challenge to assemble for Editor Maria Gonzales.

Exterior garden shots of Osaka Palace were captured inside of Mammoth Studios, requiring soundstage ceilings to be turned into CG skies. “There was a lot of fake bounce light as if the set was lit by the sky rather than sunshine,” reveals Christopher Ross, Cinematographer, Episodes 101 and 102. “We would light the garden as if it was an exterior and then each of the sets would not only have direct light from whatever lighting rig, but they also had borrowed light from the gardens themselves. The way to create chaos in the imagery was to allow the sun to splash across the garden at times then let that borrowed light from the splash of sun push itself into the environment. Thanks to the art department, all of the ceilings were painted wood paneling, and we could raise and open each of them. Each ceiling had a soft box, so for the interiors there was a soft-colored bounce fill light that we could utilize should we need to.” A complicated cinematic moment was executed onboard the galleon, which gets hit by a huge wave. “You start on deck, end up below deck then return to the top deck, all within the space of a two-and-half-minute sequence. It required a lot of pre-planning and collaboration between the departments and in total unison with the performers on the day, getting the camera to track with one character, change allegiance and track with a different character, and track with yet another. It forced everybody to be very collaborative. It was great that we could pull that sequence off, and it looks epic.”

Originally, the plan was to shoot in Japan, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused principal photography to take place throughout British Columbia.

Originally, the plan was to shoot in Japan, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused principal photography to take place throughout British Columbia.

Originally, the plan was to shoot in Japan, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused principal photography to take place throughout British Columbia.

Contributing to the collaborative spirit was Special Effects Supervisor Cameron Waldbauer. “You take the boat sequence, for example. We’re dumping water on a ship that is on a gimbal, and Lauro David Chartrand-DelValle [Stunt Coordinator] has guys going off the side of the boat, and we’re rehearsing that and putting that together. Then, Michael Cliett takes that, puts it out into an open ocean, and it looks seamless in the end,” Waldbauer says. Storyboards were provided early on. “We would do tests of things and make things that we wanted to do. We would almost go backward so they would get the information from those tests and put that into the storyboards that were presented to everybody else,” Waldbauer adds. Shōgun offered an opportunity to return to old-school special effects. “I’ve done several superhero movies with lots of greenscreen and stage work, and that wasn’t what this was. This was interesting for me and the crew to work outside for the next seven months. Now you’re dealing with all of the weather and elements, and you’re working on a show that doesn’t have the time to come back to do it later. You deal with what’s happening on the day. We did get the weather that we wanted for the most part. The desire to get everything in-camera meant incorporating effects rigs into sets and hiding them on location. We have tried to match what would actually happen on the day and what would happen at the time. A sword hits a person in 2024 the same way as it did in 1600. However, you need to make sure to get the look that the director wants out of it dramatically, instead of having to adhere to what it used to look like,” Waldbauer explains.

Hiroyuki Sanada portrays Yoshii Toranaga, who author James Cavell based on Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the last shogunate in Japan.

Hiroyuki Sanada portrays Yoshii Toranaga, who author James Cavell based on Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the last shogunate in Japan.

Serving as a translator between Yoshii Toranaga and John Blackthorne is Toda Mariko (based on Akechi Tama), portrayed by Anna Sawai. “For Shōgun, there wasn’t that much acting with visual effects,” Sawai notes. “It was more, we have an amazing set, and on top of that when they go in on a wider shot, they’ll be able to see through visual effects what Japan looks like. There is an ambush scene, which was supposed to be arrows flying and, obviously, they weren’t going to do that, so we had to pretend they were coming at us. For the ship scenes, I would have to look out into blackness because we were shooting that at night and visualize it being a beautiful ocean. It’s difficult when they zoom into my face, and you’re thinking about, ‘I’m visualizing this, but I’m actually seeing a camera thrown right in my face!’ Those things are hard, but it’s part of our job that we use our imagination.” Two years were spent training at Takase Dojo prior to production. “Then on Shōgun,” Sawai continues, “I found out that I had to do the naginata fighting, which is a completely different thing because now you’re working with something that is super long and hard to control because it’s heavy, which it should be because if it’s light it’s not going to show that you’re actually fighting.” Performing stunts is not a problem for Sawai. “I love it! I love it so much! I feel lucky that when Lash [Lauro David Chartrand-DelValle] saw me fighting, he was like, ‘Let’s try to use as much of you as we can, and other times we will go with Darlene Pineda [who did an amazing job as my stunt double].’”

The opening of the series was altered to have theErasmus appear like a ghost ship during a vicious storm.

The opening of the series was altered to have the Erasmus appear like a ghost ship during a vicious storm.

Osaka was the most straightforward city to construct because extensive reference material exists from 1600.

Osaka was the most straightforward city to construct because extensive reference material exists from 1600.

Osaka was the most straightforward city to construct because extensive reference material exists from 1600.

“We didn’t have a lot of previs for this show, which is unusual considering the scope of it,” observes Maria Gonzales, Editor, Episodes 101, 104, 107, 110. “We did have some storyboards and used those when we could. I stayed in touch with Michael Cliett as much as possible because he was my go-to in terms of understanding the potential for some of these shots. You try to put the thing together in the way that makes the most sense, and some of it we had to pick up later on once we met with the directors and talked with Michael. Sometimes, he was able to send me artwork that helped guide us in a certain direction.” Temp visual effects were created within the Avid Media Composer by the editorial team. Gonzales adds, “I did the pilot episode where there was a huge storm and some of those big reveals of Osaka. Our guys decided to pull in as many shots as they could to give an idea what the real scope of the scene was going to be.” The cliffside rescue of a drowning Vasco Rodrigues was a mindbender to assemble. Gonzales explains. “I had some of the close-ups and wider shots. I had no idea of what this was going to look like and what the height of the cliff really was. My first assembly was very different from what you saw in the final. Once Michael and Justin came to the cutting room, we were able to finesse it and get it to what you see today. But it was with Michael’s help that I was able to finally see what this was supposed to be. It’s like, ‘No. No. No. These guys are supposed to be way up and Kashigi Yabushige is supposed to be falling way down.’”

Three different locations were involved in creating the scene mentioned above. “We were on a six-foot-high set piece in a field of grass in Coquitlam, B.C.,” reveals Michael Cliett, Visual Effects Supervisor and Visual Effects Producer. “Everything on the top of the cliff was shot on that set piece. Every time you looked over the top, that was all CG water, coastline and Rodrigues. We did another set piece that was on the side of the cliff when Yabushige was repelling down. We shot all of the profile shots and him hanging from the top down on a vertical cliff piece in our backlot over where we had the Osaka set ready as well. Then we had the gulch where the water was out on a 60-foot tank special effects setup with the rocks. We were praying for the right weather and light at all three locations because each of them was outside.” Another dramatic water moment is when the Portuguese carrack known as the Black Ship attempts to prevent Toranaga from leaving the harbor of Osaka. “The galley was stationary, but we did put the Black Ship on 150 feet of track. We got the Black Ship from Peter Pan & Wendy that had just finished shooting here, chopped it up and made our own design. It’s roughly one-eighth of the ship. We did have some motion where it appeared that the ships were jostling for position. We shot a bunch of footage, but at the end of the day we weren’t quite sure how we were going to fill in the gaps, what the ships would be doing, what shots we needed of the ships that were going to be all visual effects and how that story was going to come together. ILP and I cut things together differently and tried to fill in those gaps. Over two months in the summer of 2022, we finally had it working with a bunch of greyshade postvis.”

Three different locations were assembled together for when Kashigi Yabushige descends a cliff to rescue a shipwrecked Vasco Rodrigues.

Three different locations were assembled together for when Kashigi Yabushige descends a cliff to rescue a shipwrecked Vasco Rodrigues.

Over the 10 episodes, 2,900 shots were created by SSVFX, Important Looking Pirates, Goodbye Kansas Studios, Refuge VFX, Barnstorm VFX, Pixelloid Studios and Render Imagination, while Melody Mead joined the project as a Visual Effects Associate Producer, allowing Cliett to focus more on supervision side of the visual effects work. “At the beginning of Episode 105, Toranaga is arriving with his 100,000-person army, which was 99% digital, as we rise up and move past him,” Cliett remarks. “The Japanese have a way of moving and walking, so we did do a number of motion capture shoots with Japanese soldiers and instilled a lot of that into the digital versions of them.” Toranaga’s army establishes a base camp on an encampment that subsequently gets destroyed by a massive earthquake. “This is why we had to put mountains surrounding the training fields, because there are huge landslides that come down which bury the army, and we had to make it on the magnitude where we could sell that 75,000 people died,” Cliett notes. FX Networks Chairman John Landgraf raised a narrative question when trying to lock the pilot episode about how the Erasmus, the Dutch ship piloted by Blackthorne, gets to Ajiro. Cliett explains, “I said to Justin, ‘Why don’t we look into having the ship being towed in? The samurai are running about 50 skiffs, but the villagers are doing all of the work. Then, we can fly past the ship into Ajiro, which you get to see for the first time.’ Justin loved it. Then, John Landgraf loved it. I ended up taking a second unit out, directing that plate and doing that whole shot. It’s one of my favorite shots of the series.”



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