VFX Voice

The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.

Subscribe to the VFX Voice Print Edition

Subscriptions & Single Issues


October 12
2021

SHINING A LIGHT ON ‘WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS’

By TREVOR HOGG

Transplanted from the streets of Wellington, New Zealand to Staten Island, New York, the television adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows returns to FX for a third season. The mockumentary about vampires Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Colin (Mark Proksch) and their Latino familiar Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén) trying to cope with drudgery of everyday life as well other supernatural beings has not lost its satirical bite. Supervising the over 1,000 visual effects shots for the 10 episodes produced by WeFX, Spin VFX  and Maverick is Mohammad Ghorbankarimi (See), who founded Toronto-based WeFX during the pandemic.

More articulation was given to the Nadja doll, which is a combination of digital effects and puppeteering. (Images courtesy of FX Network.)

“The whole idea of Nadja’s spirit going into a doll that comes to life, talks and has a personality was a hit in Season 2. The writers brought it in more for Season 3, and we’ve made the doll a lot more agile. We had a full CG Nadja doll but only use the portions that change, from mid-nose down to the chin and cheeks. We animate that and track it back onto the actual on-set doll. The eyes, head and neck movements are done practically by puppeteers.”

—Mohammad Ghorbankarimi, Visual Effects Supervisor

Comedic timing had to be kept in mind when creating the visual effects. “I have never done visual effects for comedy before, but the timing is as important as when a stand-up comedian appears onstage and performs a joke,” notes Ghorbankarimi. “Usually, you have to have the effect long enough for the viewer to digest it, but when it’s comedy we’re using the shortest amount to bring the joke and emotion out.

“When I came on board,” continues Ghorbankarimi, “I watched the movie and series at least 10 times to familiarize myself with everything. What I’m trying to do is repeat the same thing but bring a little of my own touch into it. The whole idea of Nadja’s spirit going into a doll that comes to life, talks and has a personality was a hit in Season 2. The writers brought it in more for Season 3, and we’ve made the doll a lot more agile.” Video reference was shot of Natasia Demetriou to get a sense of her movements, facial expressions and timing. “We had a full CG Nadja doll but only use the portions that change, from mid-nose down to the chin and cheeks,” he adds. “We animate that and track it back onto the actual on-set doll. The eyes, head and neck movements are done practically by puppeteers.”

Set extensions were created for the exterior shots. “Half of the main vampire house was built in the parking lot of the studio and the rest was extended in CG,” states Ghorbankarimi. “Because we’re not shooting on location this season, the neighbor house was added in CG. A lot of trees were added. On the other side of the stage there is a car dealership that we had to paint out. There are almost no set extensions for the interiors unless something breaks or doesn’t work as intended. In Episode 302, someone smashes into and demolishes a wall. We also did those kind effects for the interiors. The sets are beautiful. The way that DP D.J. Stipsen lights is painterly. So much design, talk and time has gone into every single room and location.”  The plate photography is treated differently than the final image.  “By the time it is fully graded and is on TV,” he says, “you don’t see some of the details because it’s so dark, but when you’re working the details are kept vivid and visible with a brighter plate to make sure that all of the details are there.”

The exterior of the digital asset for the vampire mansion.

The actual mansion composited with the digital asset.

The Cloak of Duplication allows the wearer to shapeshift into someone else. “It is one of the coolest new effects this season,” laughs Ghorbankarimi. “The body motion of the two actors has to be similar. Usually, we go from a much shorter actor to a much taller actor. We came up with this particle system in Houdini. The cloak creates this particle, the particle grabs the body, the body transforms the particle and rotates around. By time the cloak is on the shoulders, the taller actor stands up, pushes all of these particles aside and walks out. The fabric is match moved in Maya to generate the particles, and the two bodies inside are matched moved to collide with the particles. The particles are getting color from the environment. You’re mapping color from the actor’s outfit into the particle. We used Nuke to composite it all together. It’s very believable how they spin around like a twister and convert from one person to another.”

Kristen Schaal portrays The Guide from the Vampire Council. “The Guide can shapeshift from human to smoke and vice versa,” explains Ghorbankarimi. “She doesn’t become like real smoke that blows in the air and dissipates. We came up with this idea that the smoke is fully controlled so she can bring the smoke back to her body or dissipate it away based on the action that she does. There is a shot in Episode 301 where as The Guide is climbing a building and she needs to grab onto things. She can bring back the smoke and have it shape into the body part that is needed like a hand. When she wants to look around, the smoke comes together to make an indistinguishable human shape. Every time The Guide wants to land, she jumps into the location. We animated the CG character that drives the smoke, and the moment that the foot hits the ground, the gravity and dynamics drive the smoke from that point on. It is an elaborate effect.”

Kristen Schaal portrays The Guide from the Vampire Council who has ability to shapeshift from human to smoke and vice versa.

The idea was that smoke is fully controlled so The Guide can bring the smoke back to her body or dissipate it away based on the action that she does.

The Cloak of Duplication allows the wearer to shapeshift into someone else.

A special particle system was created in Houdini for the transformation caused by the Cloak of Duplication.

“I come from a film background and try to come with ideas that are mostly done practically because nothing is more real than real things,” remarks Ghorbankarimi. “This season we did use Unreal Engine and LED panels for one of the episodes. The assets were built in advance, and we did real-time playback. It worked phenomenally. There was a lot of interactive light. It made a complicated episode into something that was doable. The Cloak of Duplication effect is so cool and funny, especially when Nandor is transforming into another character and mimics how that person sounds and talks. The big challenge is making sure that you are elevating, not degrading the show. It’s one of the best sets that I’ve been on. Everybody knows what they’re doing and there are no surprises on set. It’s a well-designed machine.”

For the Wolf-Bat to be believable it was important to get the anatomy correct.

“I come from a film background and try to come with ideas that are mostly done practically because nothing is more real than real things. This season we did use Unreal Engine and LED panels for one of the episodes. The assets were built in advance, and we did real-time playback. It worked phenomenally. There was a lot of interactive light. It made a complicated episode into something that was doable.”

—Mohammad Ghorbankarimi, Visual Effects Supervisor

The Wolf-Bat makes an appearance in Episode 303.

Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

The Miniature Models of <strong>BLADE RUNNER</strong>
02 October 2017
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
The Miniature Models of BLADE RUNNER
In 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner set a distinctive tone for the look and feel of many sci-fi future film noirs to come, taking advantage of stylized production design, art direction and visual effects work.
How to Start a <strong>VFX Studio</strong>
01 October 2019
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
How to Start a VFX Studio
Four new VFX studios (CVD VFX, Mavericks VFX, Outpost VFX, Future Associate) share their startup stories
Converting a Classic: How Stereo D Gave <strong>TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY</strong> a 3D Makeover
24 August 2017
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
Converting a Classic: How Stereo D Gave TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY a 3D Makeover
James Cameron loves stereo. He took full advantage of shooting in native 3D on Avatar, and has made his thoughts clear in recent times about the importance of shooting natively in stereo when possible...
The New <strong>Artificial Intelligence</strong> Frontier of VFX
20 March 2019
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
The New Artificial Intelligence Frontier of VFX
The new wave of smart VFX software solutions utilizing A.I.
THE PEARL: THE SUPER ALIEN MODELS OF<strong> VALERIAN</strong>
02 August 2017
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
THE PEARL: THE SUPER ALIEN MODELS OF VALERIAN
Among the many creatures and aliens showcased in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets are members of the Pearl, a beautiful...
cheap cialis online online cialis