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October 06
2021

ISSUE

Fall 2021

EFFECTS TEAM ADDS THE BIZARRE AND SURREAL TO SUPER-CRAZY DOOM PATROL

By TREVOR HOGG

Robotman (Brendan Fraser), Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), Cyborg (Joivan Wade) and Elasti-Girl (April Bowlby) spend some quality time with one another. (Photo: Bob Mahoney/HBO Max)

No strangers to the DC Universe on the small screen are Encore Hollywood Creative Director & Visual Effects Supervisor Armen Kevorkian and Encore Hollywood Visual Effects Coordinator Gregory Pierce, who have worked together on Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Titans and now the third season of Doom Patrol. A group of misfits who have acquired superpowers through tragic circumstances are brought together by Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) to form a dysfunctional family that battles the forces of evil with unconventional methods. Each of the 10 episodes has approximately 100 to 200 visual effects shots created by Encore VFX and were divided among facilities in Burbank, Vancouver and Atlanta, based on scenes and expertise. The second season was shortened to nine episodes because of the coronavirus pandemic, which had a ripple impact as the narrative carried over to Season 3 as well as the need to work remotely. Kevorkian notes, “It’s a different world for how we shoot things, but it was nice to get back out there.” 

Outrageous storylines and characters are a trademark of the action-adventure-comedy. “One of the things that make Doom Patrol different is that it’s creative in terms of how it’s written, how the characters are developed and the situations that they find themselves in,” remarks Pierce. “All of the effects work that we have to do has to be photoreal because this is a photoreal show, but at the same time there is a lot of surrealness to it. A lot of times with our visual effects work, we don’t know exactly what this will look like because it never happened in real life. But we still have to ground it within the scene. Some of the scenes are clearly written with an idea in mind as to how they should look, and those are related to us during the prep meetings before shooting.

Elasti-Girl (April Bowlby) extends her fingers to dramatically increase her reach. (Image courtesy of HBO Max)

“All of the effects work that we have to do has to be photoreal because this is a photoreal show, but at the same time there is a lot of surrealness to it. A lot of times with our visual effects work, we don’t know exactly what this will look like because it never happened in real life. But we still have to ground it within the scene. Some of the scenes are clearly written with an idea in mind as to how they should look, and those are related to us during the prep meetings before shooting. Other things we have more freedom to experiment with and try new things.” 

—Gregory Pierce, Visual Effects Coordinator, Encore Hollywood 

Other things we have more freedom to experiment with and try new things.” 

Ideas from the comic books are reimagined to fit into the real world. “The writers come up with kookiest ideas where you go, ‘Holy shit, we’re going to do that!’” laughs Kevorkian. “Jeremy Carver [Showrunner] and Chris Dingess [Executive Producer] are great to collaborate with to bring those things to life.” 

Over the three seasons, there are not many reoccurring visual effects, reveals Kevorkian. “One of the things that has remained the same since Season 1 is the negative spirit, the entity that lives inside of Larry Trainor [Matt Bomer] and comes out, because it tells the story that it needs to, and looks good visually,” states Kevorkian. “We do have the shield that Cyborg [Joivan Wade] brings up, and the arm cannon when it reveals itself and goes away. Once you do something like that it’s the same methodology but shot in a different way. There are digital doubles for all of the characters. When we can’t do something practically for Robotman [Riley Shanahan] then we’ll do a CG version.” 

Encore VFX is currently using a pipeline that utilizes Houdini and RenderMan. “We’ve landed on different and new technologies, especially for our CG characters,” notes Pierce. “We’re doing a lot more simulations on them. We’re trying to push the boundaries for what we can to do to add some dynamics to these characters. During the end of last season and into this season we’ve been doing more motion capture, in particular for [new character] Monsieur Mallah as it helped to give him more of a presence and grounded in a scene.”

April Bowlby portrays actress Rita Farr, otherwise known as Elasti-Girl. “We still do face drooping when she feels nervous and is not in control of her power,” remarks Kevorkian. “We’ve done a few gags where she is able to stretch out to confront someone or grab something from a distance. The general idea of what is happening to Rita is the same – it’s just putting her into different situations. Some of the stuff that she will be doing this season like manifesting into her blob self is a completely different methodology.

When it comes to Cyborg (Joivan Wade) and Robotman (Brendan Fraser) there is a heavier reliance on practical effects for their characters. (Photo: Bob Mahoney/HBO Max)

The plate photography, animation and final lighting of the Moonscape encounter in Episode 301 between Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Monterey) and the Candlemaker (Lex Lang). (Images courtesy of HBO Max and Encore VFX)

“In Season 1, we did butt monsters, which are butts with arms, and they’re making a comeback this year in a bigger sequence. I’m excited to bring them to life because that’s not something you get to do every day. The butt monsters speak to the comedic factor of the show along with being terrifying as well. It’s the most fun that we had animating and coming up with different things that they’ll be doing.” 

—Armen Kevorkian, Creative Director & Visual Effects Supervisor, Encore Hollywood 

It was challenging to make it seem seamless, but was also fun to do something different with that character. None of it is procedural. If she turns into a blob in a container, she comes out and forms into a person that takes a lot of blend shapes and morphing. It’s figuring out how to do go from CG cloth simulations to real cloth. The biggest challenge has always been Rita doing something that we have to reimagine how we’re going to do it. If I send back shots at all they’re usually Rita shots.”

“Dorothy Spinner [Abigail Shapiro], the daughter of Dr. Niles Caulder, has these imaginary characters that she manifests which have to exist in the real world, such as the Candlemaker [Lex Lang],” explains Kevorkian. “He premiered last season and there is a little bit of him in Season 3. In Season 1, we did butt monsters, which are butts with arms, and they’re making a comeback this year in a bigger sequence. I’m excited to bring them to life because that’s not something you get to do every day. The butt monsters speak to the comedic factor of the show along with being terrifying as well. It’s the most fun that we had animating and coming up with different things that they’ll be doing. There was one moment where the Doom Patrol interacts with one or two of them. We sent our model to props which did a 3D print of one so that the actors could touch it.” 

Introduced is the Sisterhood of Dada, which consists of five bizarre supervillains with the ability to act as chaotic as the Dadaism art movement. “There is a lot that we’re creating for that storyline, for example, Dada birds,” states Kevorkian. “This season we also have a gorilla character from the comics called Monsieur Mallah that wears a beret and has a machine gun. There are a few images out there of him. He actually speaks and appears in a few episodes. We started from scratch to avoid any similarities with Grodd [from The Flash]. We built a model and whole new muscle and fur systems for him. The final ADR determines the animation. The facial anatomy doesn’t translate one-to-one with a human, so we have to cheat certain things to make it visually correct. I was never worried about Monsieur Mallah – he looks great.” 

Research is guided by the scripts. “If something gets mentioned in a script, like a character, I will do research to see if it’s something that really exists,” remarks Kevorkian. “I will always use that as my starting point. I will go ahead and conceptualize something and send it over to Jeremy, who knows exactly what he wants and is very specific. It makes our process easier knowing that Jeremy has a vision of what we’re creating. If we’re in sync, sometimes we get first-pass approvals. There are times when he chimes in and says, ‘You need to adjust this to tell the story about.’ We’ll have one or two rounds of notes and get there fairly quickly. That adds to the quality, because we’re not going back and forth on things that slow you down.”

“We’ve landed on different and new technologies, especially for our CG characters. We’re doing a lot more simulations on them. We’re trying to push the boundaries for what we can to do to add some dynamics to these characters. During the end of last season and into this season we’ve been doing more motion capture, in particular for Monsieur Mallah as it helped to give him more of a presence and grounded in a scene.”

—Gregory Pierce, Visual Effects Coordinator, Encore Hollywood 

Ideas from the comic books are re-imagined to fit into the real world, such as the Candlemaker. (Images courtesy of HBO Max and Encore VFX)

A majority of the storyboards, previs and postvis are created by Encore VFX. “They do have storyboard artists in Atlanta to work with directors on sequences,” states Kevorkian. “Encore VFX does all necessary previs and concept art of creatures. At times, some of the concepts that we have to match come from the art department because it’s something they’re going to build practically. Postvis is done with stunts.” An emphasis is placed upon location shooting. “The greenscreen is used for environments that do not exist and need to be created,” adds Kevorkian. “Most of the world building involves digital augmentation. For example, last year we did a scene where Dorothy is on a lunar surface. The art department built part of a set for the lunar surface that had crystals which popped out of the ground. We built our own version based on that for the extensions that we did.” 

Cyborg (Joivan Wade) watches Elasti-Girl (April Bowlby) working on controlling her powers. (Image courtesy of HBO Max)

Visual effects have a close partnership with stunts and special effects. “Stunt Co-ordinator Thom Khoury Williams always has great ideas and works with our ideas,” remarks Kevorkian. “All of those sequences usually come out the way that we prepped them so there are not surprises when we get into editorial.” Doom Patrol definitely has its own visual style, he observes. “Maybe it is a bit retro with some of the equipment that you see on set. The look of Robotman is from the comic books. He’s not your shiny 21st century robot, but something you could have built in your garage. The show definitely has an older feel, so we try to stay within that same world.” Kevorkian found everything was challenging in an exciting way. “I’m excited for people to see Monsieur Mallah and the butt monsters that come back in Episode 304. Each episode is unique, so it will be different things for different people when they watch this season. Doom Patrol is not repetitive. Every season is its own thing.”


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