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June 06
2024

ISSUE

Summer 2024

EMMY VFX HOPEFULS RISE TO THE CHALLENGE TO SERVE THE STORYTELLERS

By CHRIS McGOWAN

One of the biggest VFX achievements on Masters of the Air was the focus on historical detail, which carried over to the depth of the effects highlighted by a complex choreography of hundreds of planes in battle, diving, zooming past and breaking contrails.(Images courtesy of DNEG © 2024 Apple Inc.)

One of the biggest VFX achievements on Masters of the Air was the focus on historical detail, which carried over to the depth of the effects highlighted by a complex choreography of hundreds of planes in battle, diving, zooming past and breaking contrails.(Images courtesy of DNEG © 2024 Apple Inc.)

One of the biggest VFX achievements on Masters of the Air was the focus on historical detail, which carried over to the depth of the effects highlighted by a complex choreography of hundreds of planes in battle, diving, zooming past and breaking contrails.
(Images courtesy of DNEG © 2024 Apple Inc.)

Big-screen VFX continues to stretch the small screen, and the effects keep getting more essential and cinematic, as evidenced by the shows eligible in the Outstanding Special Visual Effects categories (in a Season or a Movie or in a Single Episode) of the 76th Primetime Emmy Awards on September 15. The contenders represent a rich segment of the VFX work that has become the backbone of high-end episodic television, including world-building, digi-doubles, face replacements, de-aging, simulations, environmental and invisible VFX. Following is a look at some impressive VFX-infused TV/streaming shows poised for an Emmy nomination, with VFX supervisors revisiting their VFX highlights.

When it comes to world-building, no canvas is broader or more complex than sci-fi. “The largest VFX challenge on Season 2 of Foundation was executing all of the different types of visual effects required on the show while maintaining the quality we had established on Season 1,” states Visual Effects Supervisor Chris MacLean. “The variety of visual effects was daunting given we had to complete complex CG environments, CG creatures, giant CG mechas, CG destruction, water simulation, CG vehicles, and holograms, just to name a few. If we are talking about a challenging sequence, I would have to say that the escape from Synnax in Episode 202 was one of the most difficult. There were a lot of practical sets and stunt work that had to seamlessly integrate with CG water simulation and stunt work. Beki, our domesticated Bishop’s Claw, was a huge win for us. Knowing how difficult it is to make a ridable CG animal feel grounded in reality, the team planned and executed this flawlessly.”

Season 4 of For All Mankind saw a huge expansion of the Happy Valley Mars Base, which included designing and creatingdozens of new modules, landing pads, roads, terra-forming, vehicles and connecting infrastructure to show the huge growth over roughly a decade. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

Jason Zimmerman, VFX Supervisor on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds for Paramount+, embraces the opportunity to add to the Star Trek legacy. “A big challenge with any Star Trek show is always working with canon on some of the fans’ most beloved characters, ships and effects,” he says. “In the case of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, we saw more of the Gorn than had been seen in many years. In addition to the stellar work from Legacy Effects in creating the practical Gorn, we worked to augment it with additional facial animation, drool, breath, etc. We also did entirely CG shots of the Gorn or CG Gorn with practical actor interaction to help tell the story in the final episode of the season. It was crucial to our showrunners that we seamlessly integrate the CG moments with the practical to aid in the storytelling.”

Season 4 of For All Mankind saw a huge expansion of the Happy Valley Mars Base, which included designing and creatingdozens of new modules, landing pads, roads, terra-forming, vehicles and connecting infrastructure to show the huge growth over roughly a decade. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

Season 4 of For All Mankind saw a huge expansion of the Happy Valley Mars Base, which included designing and creating dozens of new modules, landing pads, roads, terra-forming, vehicles and connecting infrastructure to show the huge growth over roughly a decade. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

Zimmerman points to the Gorn fight and the conclusion of the last episode of the season as peak experiences. “In addition to the full-CG Gorn, facial performance enhancements and fight sequence, we had the scene take place on a backdrop of a partially destroyed ship hull destined to crash. Combining the practical and CG fight action and set extensions inside, with the exterior full CG beats as the ship begins to enter the nearby planet’s atmosphere, was both challenging and fun to play with as a team and with our vendors. The full CG exterior shots and destroyed ship assets were massive, requiring quite a bit of simulation in the debris field, re-entry fire and smoke, etc. Cut together with the interior fight scene with CG Gorn, along with the eventual escape of our heroes to the exterior in what became a full-CG shot with digi doubles, was quite challenging but ended up as one of our favorite shots during our tenure on the show.”

Complex CG environments, CG creatures, giant CG mechas, CG destruction, water simulation, CG vehicles and holograms were just a few of the many VFX tasks required on Season 2 of Foundation. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

Complex CG environments, CG creatures, giant CG mechas, CG destruction, water simulation, CG vehicles and holograms were just a few of the many VFX tasks required on Season 2 of Foundation. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

Complex CG environments, CG creatures, giant CG mechas, CG destruction, water simulation, CG vehicles and holograms were just a few of the many VFX tasks required on Season 2 of Foundation. (Images courtesy of AppleTV+)

Beki, the domesticated Bishop’s Claw, was a big success for VFX on Season 2 of Foundation, knowing how difficult it was to make a ridable CG animal grounded in reality.(Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

Beki, the domesticated Bishop’s Claw, was a big success for VFX on Season 2 of Foundation, knowing how difficult it was to make a ridable CG animal grounded in reality.
(Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

Orchestrating the wide variety and different types of VFX work necessary to bring the story to life was a daunting task for Jay Worth, Visual Effects Supervisor on Fallout for Amazon Prime Video show. “I have worked on shows in the past where they were primarily a set extension show or genre or world-building,” Worth says. “However, in this one we had everything. We needed to help create the overall look and feel of the world we were inhabiting. We needed to develop multiple real-time environments for use in Unreal for shooting on a volume. We had multiple creatures with various skins and textures. We had human characters that needed photorealistic replacements to portions of their face. We had characters we were de-aging using new and cutting-edge methods. And unique hard-surface vehicles that needed to match 1:1 to practical production vehicles – as well as a lead character that needed to have a CG nose replacement throughout the entire series.”

Worth and his team “fell in love” with the Cyclops. “I remember [Executive Producer] Graham [Wagner] calling me to say they wanted to do a cyclops,” Worth recalls. “When we started to talk about it, I realized how crucial this character was and how nuanced his performance would be. So, we tested a few methodologies – a pure compositing approach and an AI-generated approach. However, both of those had limitations in terms of the variety of environments we were shooting in along with performance flexibility we knew we would need. Chris Parnell’s performance was the primary thing we knew we needed to nail if we were going to pull this off, so we partnered with our long-time collaborators at Important Looking Pirates in Sweden and were ecstatic with the results. We were able to capture Chris’s performance, the humor, heart and nuance, while creating a full CG effect. I feel like we were able to push past the uncanny valley.”

: Adding to the legacy was an opportunity and a challenge for the VFX team on Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, as they explored new worlds and new ways to combine the CG moments with the practical to aid in the storytelling. (Image courtesy of Paramount+)

Visual Effects Supervisor Douglas Purver adhered to an extraordinary level of detail for Season 2 of HBO’s The Gilded Age. “With a show this opulent in its set design, costumes and more, there’s been a fine line to walk with the effects work. We don’t ever want to call attention to ourselves while maintaining the level of detail that seamlessly blends in with what’s captured on camera. Most of the time we can use elements from what’s practically there. I’m constantly taking stills of textures and architectural details, or we bring in a team to get high-resolution scans. But often we are creating things from scratch and finding a real-world reference is challenging, involving a deep dive into historical texts and postcards or a significant collaboration with our production designer and locations department to find elements that can fit into our world.”

The season’s climax found Purver and his team at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House, “which was filmed in three different locations, weeks apart from one another, at a stage in Albany, New York, the main Opera House in Philadelphia and a set of five opera boxes built on our film stages,” Purver details. “Getting them all to sit together, especially when the camera wraps around Bertha as she enters her box for the first time, was extremely satisfying. Building the CG crowd to blend with our tiled plates filled the entire venue and gave it the grand opening it deserved. Being able to collaborate with the production designer on how much to build and where, with the cinematographer on light placements – how and when to move the camera – the director on which story pieces to shoot where, along with the amazing VFX team who contributed countless hours to allow the viewer to stay in the moment and marvel at this climactic, cinematic moment in our story – was just a fantastic experience.”

Adding to the legacy was an opportunity and a challenge for the VFX team on Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, as they explored new worlds and new ways to combine the CG moments with the practical to aid in the storytelling. (Image courtesy of Paramount+)

Adding to the legacy was an opportunity and a challenge for the VFX team on Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, as they explored new worlds and new ways to combine the CG moments with the practical to aid in the storytelling. (Image courtesy of Paramount+)

Orchestrating the wide variety and different types of VFX work necessary to bring the story to life was a daunting task for the VFX team on Fallout, including the development of multiple real-time environments for use in Unreal Engine for shooting on a volume. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Orchestrating the wide variety and different types of VFX work necessary to bring the story to life was a daunting task for the VFX team on Fallout, including the development of multiple real-time environments for use inUnreal Engine for shooting on a volume. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Orchestrating the wide variety and different types of VFX work necessary to bring the story to life was a daunting task for the VFX team on Fallout, including the development of multiple real-time environments for use in Unreal Engine for shooting on a volume. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Tim Crosbie, Visual Effects Supervisor on Season 3 of The Witcher for Netflix, called out Episode 6 where “almost every shot required some form of VFX, from the spells cast during the battle to the many set extensions throughout all of the exterior fights, then the destruction of Tor Lara and Aretuza towards the end. Our on-set teams had their work cut out. We knew we needed to provide very accurate lighting and LiDAR data to ensure that post-production ran as smoothly as possible because the schedule was going to be tight to get all the shots through. All of our vendors came to the party and produced really beautiful work to help tell the story. This show was one of the more collaborative ones I’ve worked on, with everyone pulling in the same direction. I think the most satisfying accomplishment for us in VFX was how much value we were able to bring to the story.”

Charlie Lehmer, Visual Effects Supervisor on All the Light We Cannot See for Netflix, cited the “rampart run sequence” in Episode 4 as the most challenging. “Early on in pre-production, director Shawn Levy emphasized the need for its immense scale, leading us to explore numerous shooting solutions. However, as ambition grew, on-location filming became unfeasible. Constructing a fully-CG, period-accurate St. Malo [an historic port city in France] environment demanded rigorous research and planning. The core difficulty lay in marrying historical fidelity with our artistic narrative vision.” Lehmer says. “We dedicated a week to thoroughly scanning and photographing St. Malo. Archival footage, both pre-and post-bombing, was further analyzed to ensure as much accuracy as possible. ILM did an amazing job digitally transforming the modern town into its 1944 counterpart. The result was a full CG city of St. Malo, procedurally built to allow for extensive bombing and collapse of various buildings.”

An extraordinary level of detail was required for Season 2 of The Gilded Age. Working in close collaboration with the production designer, the VFX team referenced historical texts and postcards to produce effects that seamlessly blended in with what was captured on camera. (Images courtesy of HBO)

Crafting the detailed destruction of St. Malo was a great source of pride for the VFX team. “Much of our ground-based filming was set in the charming Villefranche-de-Rouergue,” Lehmer reveals. “Digitally transforming it into a ravaged postwar St. Malo presented a considerable yet rewarding challenge. We aimed to surpass conventional depictions of bombed-out cities which focus solely on brick and mortar, instead prioritizing granular detail for profound visual impact. Our rubble wasn’t mere debris; it was imbued with poignant elements: teddy bears, pianos and intricate paintings lending an unsettlingly personal dimension.”

John Haley, Visual Effects Supervisor on Marvel Studios’ Echo for Disney+, was heavily focused on the main action sequences in Episode 2. “Bushto and the train heist presented challenges due to their scope and complexity. Recreating the Choctaw Bushto environment for the stickball sequence, which takes place in the year 1200 AD in what is now Alabama, required careful research. The production and VFX teams worked with historians and cultural consultants to ensure that the sensitive historical details were correct. All the shots in the sequence were augmented with visual effects to make the game and scene as realistic as possible. The team at ILM thoughtfully created the environment and CG background characters to portray life in 1200 AD before the arrival of Europeans.”

An extraordinary level of detail was required for Season 2 of The Gilded Age. Working in close collaboration with the production designer, the VFX team referenced historical texts and postcards to produce effects that seamlessly blended in with what was captured on camera. (Images courtesy of HBO)

An extraordinary level of detail was required for Season 2 of The Gilded Age. Working in close collaboration with the production designer, the VFX team referenced historical texts and postcards to produce effects that seamlessly blended in with what was captured on camera. (Images courtesy of HBO)

Almost every shot required some form of VFX on Episode 6, Season 3 of The Witcher, from the spells cast during battle to the many set extensions throughout the exterior fights, to the destruction of Tor Lara and Aretuza. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

Almost every shot required some form of VFX on Episode 6, Season 3 ofThe Witcher, from the spells cast during battle to the many set extensions throughout the exterior fights, to the destruction of Tor Lara and Aretuza. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

Almost every shot required some form of VFX on Episode 6, Season 3 of The Witcher, from the spells cast during battle to the many set extensions throughout the exterior fights, to the destruction of Tor Lara and Aretuza. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

Continues Haley, “[For the train heist], combining live-action acting, stunt performances, digital doubles, face replacements, practical train cars, CG train cars and effects in photographed and digital environments seamlessly into the action-packed ‘Train Heist’ sequence was no easy feat. When Maya Lopez plunges off the highway overpass onto the speeding train below, the VFX team used all of those resources to achieve the shot – transitioning from the plate photography of Alaqua Cox to stunt photography on blue screen to a full Maya digital double, back to Alaqua on a bluescreen, all in a photorealistic all-CG environment. Whew! We wanted the train heist sequence to feel grounded and gritty, choosing camera positions as if we were shooting the scene on a fast-moving train or from a pursuit vehicle. Day-for-night train array plates were shot and color-graded, then used as a basis for the environment. Then, the nighttime environments were modeled and designed to give a sense of speed, danger and depth. Each shot was balanced and composited so it appeared as though it was photographed using only available moonlight and artificial practical light sources.”

Haley adds, “Orchestrating the collaboration between ILM and Digital Domain to create and bring the photoreal Biskinik bird to life [was also an accomplishment]. We were very pleased with the look, animation and attention to detail of the final shots. With the Biskinik bird being such a big part of Choctaw tradition, and Maya’s story, it was important that the bird be completely believable.”

Constructing a fully-CG, period-accurate city of St. Malo in France for All the Light We Cannot See, ILM digitally transformed the modern town into its 1944 counterpart. The fully CG St. Malo was procedurally built to allow for extensive bombing and collapse of buildings. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

The audience’s emotional reaction, particularly from fans of the book, to a couple of moments in Episode 8, the season finale, stood out to Andy Scrase, Visual Effects Supervisor on Season 2 of The Wheel of Time for Amazon Prime Video. “One was the death of Hopper. The performance of our Czech Wolfdog, Ka Lupinka, was fantastic! We supplemented that performance with an animated color flash to the eyes and added a pool of blood from Hopper’s fatal neck wound forming around the head. I think that little addition emotionally pushed everyone over the edge! It was straight-forward VFX work, but it gave such a payoff because it complemented the performance and initiated sadness and horror among those watching.”

Not long after Hopper’s death in the episode is Mat Cauthon blowing the Horn of Valere. “Again,” Scrase notes, “this seemed to get a big reaction with the book fans, but at the other end [of ] the emotional scale. Seeing the ‘Heroes of the Horn’ form and emerge from a localized mystical fog brought a certain degree of euphoria. The fog moment features in the second book [The Great Hunt], and so it felt important to keep that component. We then used influences from the Hindi festival of Holi, fireworks exploding in thick smoke, and some beautiful photography I found of dancers holding poses in clouds of powdered paint to inspire the heroes appearing in our CG fog. The low of Hopper’s death almost immediately followed by the excitement of Mat blowing the Horn heightened the emotional reaction from those in the audience. For me, it showed how our work in the industry is not just about flashy effects or seamless additions; it can emotionally contribute to a scene and an audience’s reaction.”

Christopher Townsend, VFX Supervisor on Season 2 of Marvel Studios’ Loki for Disney+, had many loose “threads and strands” to tie up for the finale of the limited series. “Creating some of the CG environments so they still fit in with the lo-fi, analog visual style of the whole show was challenging, particularly when outside the TVA, with swirling prismatic flares, a disintegrating spaceman-like suit and a massive floating loom weaving threads of time. The unique and original spaghettification and time-slipping effects were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart, felt like a beautiful and epic moment to end the show.”

Constructing a fully-CG, period-accurate city of St. Malo in France for All the Light We Cannot See, ILM digitally transformed the modern town into its 1944 counterpart. The fully CG St. Malo was procedurally built to allow for extensive bombing and collapseof buildings. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

Constructing a fully-CG, period-accurate city of St. Malo in France for All the Light We Cannot See, ILM digitally transformed the modern town into its 1944 counterpart. The fully CG St. Malo was procedurally built to allow for extensive bombing and collapse
of buildings. (Images courtesy of Netflix)

The production and VFX teams on Echo worked with historians and cultural consultants to ensure the accuracy of sensitive historical details. The Creation Pools sequence was rooted in Choctaw lore.Digi-doubles were made for the main Choctaw characters. VFX enhanced the realism. (Images courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The production and VFX teams on Echo worked with historians and cultural consultants to ensure the accuracy of sensitive historical details. The Creation Pools sequence was rooted in Choctaw lore.Digi-doubles were made for the main Choctaw characters. VFX enhanced the realism. (Images courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The production and VFX teams on Echo worked with historians and cultural consultants to ensure the accuracy of sensitive historical details. The Creation Pools sequence was rooted in Choctaw lore. Digi-doubles were made for the main Choctaw characters. VFX enhanced the realism. (Images courtesy of Marvel Studios)

For Jay Redd, VFX Supervisor on Season 4 For All Mankind for Apple TV+, the biggest challenge was the sheer variety of VFX work for Season 4 – and for every season of the show, “and keeping our feet firmly planted in real physics and science while bending the rules here and there to serve the storytelling,” he says. “While we are an alternate timeline show, our approach is hard science. We put a major effort into making sure things feel real in space, on Mars and on Earth. A lot of this work comes early in the previs stages, me working with The Third Floor in designing shots and sequences, working on physics, pacing, and scale. We work hand-in-hand with our astronaut and technical consultants to keep things as realistic and scientifically accurate as we can, knowing there are times when drama and story call for changing the pace and timings of certain events, like ships docking, landings, etc.”

Redd continues, “This year, we had two big challenges: the huge expansion of the Happy Valley Mars Base and the Asteroid Captures. Happy Valley was a 50-fold expansion from Season 3, so there was a massive amount of work in designing and creating the dozens of new modules, landing pads, roads, terra-forming, vehicles, and connecting infrastructure to show the huge growth over roughly a decade. We worked very closely with production design to make sure we integrated our look from Season 3 while also showing the epic scale of growth in Season 4. The DNEG Montreal team, led by VFX Supervisor Mo Sobhy, did an amazing job in hitting a massive amount of detail across the base and multiple landscapes under varying lighting and atmospheric conditions.”

TOP TO BOTTOM: The uniquely original spaghettification and time-slipping effects for Loki were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart, dramatically closed out the show. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The Asteroid captures in the beginning and the end posed major challenges for Redd and his team. “Once again, we needed to make things as plausible and scientifically accurate as we could while serving a dramatic and emotional story,” he states. “Working with very limited set pieces on small stages, we had dozens of shots that are fully CG, partial live-action and hybrid/mid-shot blends – utilizing extensions, digi-doubles, face replacements and big simulations for asteroid pebbles, rock and dust. The designs of the asteroids are based on real existing asteroids, and capture ships and mechanisms come from real-world examples and future-looking potential endeavors. We had conceptual challenges in showing ships firing engines but appearing to be moving backwards, and slowing asteroids to enter Mars orbit. The Ghost VFX team in Copenhagen, Denmark, led by VFX Supervisor Martin Gårdeler did an incredible job in working with me on a ton of scope and detail in the models and simulations, and very specific lighting cues to show the scale and reality of these scenes.”

The uniquely original spaghettification and time-slipping effects for Loki were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart, dramatically closed out the show. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The uniquely original spaghettification and time-slipping effects for Loki were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart,dramatically closed out the show. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The uniquely original spaghettification and time-slipping effects for Loki were designed to fit within the visual motif of time represented as lines, threads and strands. The final tree-like Yggdrasil galactic image, showing the transformed timelines with Loki at its heart, dramatically closed out the show. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

Daniel Rauchwerger, Visual Effects Supervisor on Silo for Apple TV+, found that his biggest VFX challenge was the open-space, curved mega structure of the silo, “where in every shot we see, continuous to the plate, a crowd that behaves naturally and actively reacts to the actions of our characters and tensions in the silo,” he says. “We had to make the natural feel of a living, breathing underground city where 10,000 people live, and make sure that we get the organic texture of movement and life combined with the mechanics and inner workings of the silo seamlessly. We are very proud that we managed to bring the character of the silo to life in an invisible way and become something the audience does not think about – and instead accepts the silo and its residents as real, hopefully not thinking about VFX.”

Most challenging for the VFX team on Silo was the open-spaced, curved mega structure and creating the natural feel of a living, breathing underground city where 10,000 people dwell.(Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

Most challenging for the VFX team on Silo was the open-spaced, curved mega structure and creating the natural feel of a living, breathing underground city where 10,000 people dwell. (Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

Most challenging for the VFX team on Silo was the open-spaced, curved mega structure and creating the natural feel of a living, breathing underground city where 10,000 people dwell. (Image courtesy of AppleTV+)

For Ben Turner, Visual Effects Supervisor for Season 6 of The Crown for Netflix, fidelity to character and story was paramount – and going unnoticed was an achievement. “The story of Princess Diana’s death brought with it perhaps the most expectations, and the greatest burden of responsibility, of any subject we tackled in the preceding 52 episodes. It was clear from the beginning that the subject would have to be handled sensitively and our VFX team was at the heart of achieving this.

Explains Turner, “One of our biggest VFX challenges of the final series came in Episode 3 [‘Dis-Moi Oui’]. A central location to the scenes in this episode was the famous Ritz Hotel, located in Place Vendome in Paris. The art department built a partial set [for the doorway of The Ritz] on the backlot at Elstree Studios in London. Our team created the rest of the enormous square in 3D, using extensive LiDAR scanning and photography of the real location in Paris. We then tweaked the CG to better match the art department build in order to create a seamless environment. The scenes required a building sense of frantic claustrophobia; we helped to heighten this by adding crowds and additional photographers to the square surrounding the characters and their cars.”

The low of Hopper’s death almost immediately followed by the excitement of Mat blowing the Horn [of Valere] just heightened the emotional reaction from those in the audience. For me, it showed how our work in the industry is not just about flashy effects or seamless additions, but it can emotionally contribute to a scene and an audience’s reaction.”

—Andy Scrase, Visual Effects Supervisor, The Wheel of Time

The VFX for Season 2 of The Wheel of Time demonstrated that the work isn't about flashy effects and seamless additions, but contributing to the story to evoke an emotional response from the audience. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

The VFX for Season 2 of The Wheel of Time demonstrated that the work isn’t about flashy effects and seamless additions, but contributing to the story to evoke an emotional response from the audience. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

The VFX for Episode 8, the season finale of The Wheel of Time, was designed to complement performance. (Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

The VFX for Episode 8, the season finale of The Wheel of Time, was designed to complement performance. (Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

A VFX highlight for Turner occurred in the same episode. “It sees a teenage Prince William shoot his first stag in the Highlands of Scotland. We were tasked with creating the animal fully in CG, together with tweaks to the environment, for a scene in which our work was literally in the crosshairs. We also had to make the CG creature match a real stag used on location for close-up shots of the animal. This required sculpting and grooming the model, to have an exact match for the antlers and fur coloring. It was a short sequence but very satisfying, as I don’t think people will question it for a moment. These invisible effects sequences typify the VFX work on The Crown. We help bring the writer’s and director’s visions to life but aim to maintain a quality, which means that the viewer would have no idea of the enormous amount of work that’s gone into our shots.”

Working on a high-flying, high-profile project like Masters of the Air for Apple TV+ was technically and creatively challenging for DNEG VFX Supervisor Xavier Bernasconi. “There were months spent on virtual production, featuring air battles with hundreds of planes in a war theatre on a scale never done before. DNEG’s VFX work covered thousands of shots taking place over thousands of kilometers, including accurate 1940s 3D landscapes and cloudscapes from Greenland and Algeria to Norway and the South of France, all with hundreds of plane models, liveries and damaged variations performing in extremely complex choreography while being truthful to every historical detail,” he explains.

Masters of the Air was the biggest launch ever for Apple TV+. Viewership climbed after the premiere. Bernasconi notes, “This meant that with DNEG’s work we were able to engage the viewers and tell a believable and compelling story, while wrangling thousands of people across the globe to deliver incredibly complex work. Historians, air pilots and veterans alike have praised the attention to historical details in the VFX work.”

One of the show’s biggest achievements was keeping that laser focus on historical detail, which carries over to the depth of the effects. “The show has so many incredibly stunning shots,” Bernasconi says. “Everyone was crafted with the highest level of detail. If I had to pick [one outstanding shot] I’d say the wide shots with hundreds of planes raging in battle – each crewed with digi-doubles, fighters zooming past at 600mph breaking the stillness of contrails, and with realistic choreography of the events – are a visual testament to the incredible work that our DNEG team produced.”

Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, One Piece and Avatar: The Last Airbender, Amazon Prime’s Gen V, FX’s Shōgun, AMC’s The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live and Disney’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians are among the other series eligible to be nominated.



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