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April 15
2024

ISSUE

Spring 2024

THE CONSEQUENCES OF FALLOUT

By OLIVER WEBB

Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

VFX Supervisor Jay Worth and the team at RISE FX were responsible for creating the nuclear explosion in Los Angeles. CG buildings were added between real buildings to create a retro-futuristic L.A.

VFX Supervisor Jay Worth and the team at RISE FX were responsible for creating the nuclear explosion in Los Angeles. CG buildings were added between real buildings to create a retro-futuristic L.A.

Based on the popular video game franchise, Fallout is set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. After a devastating nuclear explosion, citizens are forced to live in underground vaults. Jay Worth served as Visual Effects Supervisor on the Amazon Studios show and has worked alongside director Jonathan Nolan and Executive Producer Lisa Joy since Person of Interest (2011). “We also worked together for the entire run on Westworld and The Peripheral, and I helped out with Lisa’s movie, Reminiscence,” Worth adds. “It has been a great partnership for a long time. I’ve had the privilege of working with them for 13 years. So I was able to come onto Fallout very early into the project – it has been an amazing one.”

When it came to his initial conversations with Jonah [Jonathan Nolan] and Lisa about the look of Fallout, Worth notes that the conversations always begin the same way when working on a new project. “It’s first getting the script, then there are the huge ideas behind it and then figuring out how to take all these pieces and figure out a visual language that will work. This one started out with immersing myself in the game because the specifics were so vital for this project. Fallout has a very specific patina that we wanted to honor and be faithful to, but that is also what makes it a fun playground for VFX to play. We always start with real locations as our canvas, and we build from there. We did some amazing scouts to Namibia and Utah, which helped ground the world we were trying to create. I’ve enjoyed working with Howard Cummings, the Production Designer, since Westworld, and it has been really fun partnering with him to bring this world to fruition. Working with the same people for years brings a measure of trust and collaboration that makes a daunting project like this much more enjoyable.”

RISE FX handled all the power armor work

RISE FX handled all the power armor work

Andrea Knoll was Visual Effects Producer on the show. “A big part of the initial conversations, specifically in visual effects, involved Jay and I breaking down the scripts together, planning how we would want to approach the day-to-day with our On-Set Visual Effects Supervisor, Grant Everett, then really digging into early discussions with key vendors we both loved working with and knew would make a good fit for the type of work we would be doing on Fallout, from environment to hard surface to creature work. I said it from the beginning, this is a show where we truly got to do it all. And we wanted the best teams to join us on this journey. To ensure we’d have the best, we started specific planning very early on,” Knoll says.

“We knew we would be shooting primarily in New York, and we knew block one would be big, with Jonah at the helm,” Knoll continues.

Power Armor Suits on the move.

Power Armor Suits on the move.

Director Jonathan Nolan and Ella Purnell (Lucy). The series story is set in the Fallout world, but it’s not a story that has already been told or seen in the games, which gave the director, producers and VFX team the freedom to shape the story and tone of the show.

Director Jonathan Nolan and Ella Purnell (Lucy). The series story is set in the Fallout world, but it’s not a story that has already been told or seen in the games, which gave the director, producers and VFX team the freedom to shape the story and tone of the show.

“Building a strong on-set team in New York was key to the success of the shoot. The team was composed of our amazing on-set supervisor, Grant [Everett], and three data wranglers as well as an on-set production assistant. They all brought a lot to the table and did a fantastic job. When we moved into the later blocks, we expanded the team a bit to accommodate our shooting plan; we hired a second on-set supervisor, Sam O’Hare. He and Grant had the support of the three wranglers, an assistant wrangler and a production assistant. This way they could handle multiple units that were running simultaneously. Jay and I were very hands-on when it came to the day-to-day during the shoot and made sure the right teams were covering the right units and ensuring we would have what we would need in post to execute the best work. In L.A., we built our VFX team as we were gearing up to shoot in the summer of 2022. We had a VFX Editor, Jill Paget, and VFX Assistant Editor, Stephanie Huerta-Martinez, who had worked together previously and came on as a very strong team. We also hired our VFX Production Manager, Jackie VandenBussche, and two coordinators, with Kacey Phegley leading the coordinators.”

FutureWorks in India was responsible for the Ghoul noses and character. Over 500 nose replacements were required for Walton Goggins (The Ghoul) for the entire season

FutureWorks in India was responsible for the Ghoul noses and character. Over 500 nose replacements were required for Walton Goggins (The Ghoul) for the entire season

Creating the desolate, post-apocalyptic L.A. landscape was a big VFX challenge, as multiple shooting locations were combined to make it feel real while staying true to the tone and look of the Fallout world.

Creating the desolate, post-apocalyptic L.A. landscape was a big VFX challenge, as multiple shooting locations were combined to make it feel real while staying true to the tone and look of the Fallout world.

Creating the desolate, post-apocalyptic L.A. landscape was a big VFX challenge, as multiple shooting locations were combined to make it feel real while staying true to the tone and look of the Fallout world.

Worth usually takes a more categorical framework when approaching the workload with his team, and Fallout hit at a time when all of his favorite vendors had bandwidth. “In years past, I’ve gotten stuck not getting the teams I wanted on certain shows, which made it a little hard when I was trying to say yes to certain creative choices. So, this situation where I got to have my dream vendors work on all the things I wanted was truly rewarding. I was able to partner with Framestore out of Montreal to do our creature work, RISE FX in Germany to work on all of the Vertibird shots, power armor work and numerous environments, and Important Looking Pirates out of Sweden did the flawless work on the Cyclops and our robot, Snip Snip. Additionally, FutureWorks in India is doing all our Ghoul noses; they have stepped up to the challenge of creating the character and having that look amazing. We also have the privilege of working with Refuge, CoSA, Mavericks, One of Us, Studio 8 and Deep Water FX. I was able to lean into each of their strengths or the things that I love about the work they do.”

“I was impressed by Framestore’s work on the polar bears in His Dark Materials. I felt confident working with them to create the Yao Gui,” Worth continues. “Grant had worked on that with them, and we leaned on his experience for our shooting methodology. We have this amazing battle between the power armor and the Yao Gui. These two titans are fighting, so figuring out how to get the weight right and all technical aspects accurate is key to making it feel real. We try to make sure there is always something real in the frame, which gives us something to work from and build on.”

The VFX team worked with Framestore to get the proportions, look and skin tone, and Quantum FX built the puppet head that provided a real object forthe actors and water to interact with. It was even rigged so someone could get swallowed.

The VFX team worked with Framestore to get the proportions, look and skin tone, and Quantum FX built the puppet head that provided a real object for the actors and water to interact with. It was even rigged so someone could get swallowed.

The team at Legacy FX was responsible for building the incredible power armor suit. “The suit is just amazing,” Worth says. “For the season, we only had to do a few power armor shots, and it was just for when it was flying through the air and we weren’t able to rig it for safety reasons. We were also able to build a massive puppet head for the Gulper. The VFX team worked with Framestore early in the process to get the proportions, look, and, most importantly, we nailed down the skin tone. The team at Quantum FX built this beautiful puppet head that was integral to our shooting methodology. We had this real object for our actors to interact with, for water to interact with, and it was even rigged so someone could get swallowed, which was vital to pull off the climactic moment between Max and Thad in Episode 3. Whenever it’s interacting with somebody, it is really interacting with them. So, you get all of the contact points, the shadow and lighting interactions, and that makes it far easier to build off of and make and end up with something that looks real.”

The Brotherhood of Steel and Vertibirds.

The Brotherhood of Steel and Vertibirds.

The Brotherhood of Steel and Vertibirds.

For the Vertibirds, Howard and the production team built the entire interior buck of the Vertibird. “So, we have all these real practical surfaces, and then we are able to take that, put it on a gimbal and shoot it on a huge LED volume,” Worth explains. “We went to our locations and shot numerous three-camera helicopter and drone plates to play back on the LED stage. So, all of our flying footage is all captured in-camera, which was critical to make it feel real. There’s no other way to do it and make it look like you are really flying.”

“We were able to partner with the team at Magnopus to create three unique and vital environments in Unreal for use on the LED stage,” Worth continues. “The story lent itself to the technology of the LED stage. Our story is that the vault used a Telesonic projector to recreate a Nebraska landscape inside the vault, so we were able to lean into and use that to our advantage to create one side of every vault interior. However, the interior of the vault door room before Lucy leaves for the outside world is my favorite. The set Howard and the art department built, combined with the assets that Ben Grossmann, AJ Sciutto and the team at Magnopus put together, created a flawless environment. We got the footage back after the first day, and we couldn’t tell where the practical set ended and the virtual one began.”

Production Designer Howard Cummings and the production team built the interior buck of the Vertibird. RISE FX worked on all the Vertibird shots.

Production Designer Howard Cummings and the production team built the interior buck of the Vertibird. RISE FX worked on all the Vertibird shots.

Production Designer Howard Cummings and the production team built the interior buck of the Vertibird. RISE FX worked on all the Vertibird shots.

Important Looking Pirates was responsible for creating the robot Snip Snip.

Important Looking Pirates was responsible for creating the robot Snip Snip.

Important Looking Pirates was responsible for creating the robot Snip Snip.

Overall, there were approximately 3,300 visual effects shots for the season. “Every time we said yes to something, we thought it would be the most challenging thing, and then our vendors kept knocking it out of the park,” Worth notes. “The Cyclops, played by Chris Parnell, was one of the biggest challenges of the season because he’s a character we see over multiple episodes. We wanted to retain his amazing performance while figuring out how to replace the majority of his face. We didn’t want to create the traditional Cyclops that we had seen before. It needed to feel more real and organic. One of the things that we felt cracked part of the code on that realism, was we ended up giving him two eyebrows. It sounds like a subtle thing, but that for me makes it feel like it’s a real person with a real single eye. Even though all of us watched it through iteration after iteration, his entire performance made us laugh every single time. The team and Important Looking Pirates delivered magnificently on that one. We also knew that replacing the Ghoul’s nose was going to be rough, having to do over 500 nose replacements for one of our leads for the entire season. However, the team at FutureWorks created an amazing pipeline for those and stepped up to the challenge.”

Creating the Wasteland proved to be particularly daunting for Worth and his team. “The biggest challenge we had was in combining multiple shooting locations to make it feel like a real place, all while making sure we are true to the tone and look of the Fallout world, ” Worth says. “It was a really fun puzzle to put together. The game has this wonderful tone and look to it, and we were lucky enough to shoot in amazing locations like Namibia, Utah and New York. However, to bring all of these together and make it look like a unique version of Fallout Los Angeles took a lot of collaboration between Jonah, [Executive Producer] Geneva Robertson-Dworet, [Executive Producer] Graham Wagner, Howard and myself. Usually, I try to have a singular vendor that would do all of our environmental work, but we had the opportunity to work with a number of teams to create this world, which brought a unique richness to the world. There’s a lot of freedom there with how desolate the wasteland is, but with our specific locations that had such richness with what Howard was able to build and find, tying that all together was the biggest challenge for us throughout the season. The other challenge was telling the layered story of a bomb that went off hundreds of years ago along with the story of the people that have survived on the surface.”

For the iconic shot of Los Angeles when the nukes are dropped at the end of the teaser in Episode 1, the first step for Worth and the team at RISE FX was to recreate all the buildings you see in the source plate with enough detail so that they could use them for the interaction and integration with the bomb shockwave. “This modeling step was done in Maya. We also used geographic height data to get a closer representation of the hills in the shot,” Worth details. “We added several CG buildings in between the real buildings to create the retro-futuristic L.A. to match the establishing shot at the beginning of the sequence. We did the same for the monorails and thousands of trees. Those additional buildings and vegetation were all prepared to be used in simulations so that they could be affected by the bomb. As the plate was based on stock footage that did not provide the best quality, we also replaced the complete mountain on the right side of the frame. This helped with the integration of the street, horse and billboard as well. To make the plants as realistic as possible, we created several types of trees and bushes that are common in Los Angeles.

Important Looking Pirates worked on the Cyclops. Played by Chris Parnell, the Cyclops was given two eyebrows to highlight the single eye. (Photo: JoJo Whilden)

Important Looking Pirates worked on the Cyclops. Played by Chris Parnell, the Cyclops was given two eyebrows to highlight the single eye. (Photo: JoJo Whilden)

Important Looking Pirates worked on the Cyclops. Played by Chris Parnell, the Cyclops was given two eyebrows to highlight the single eye. (Photo: JoJo Whilden)

A Power Armor Suit and Aaron Moten (Maximus). Legacy FX was responsible for building the power armor suits. (Photo: JoJo Whilden)

A Power Armor Suit and Aaron Moten (Maximus). Legacy FX was responsible for building the power armor suits. (Photo: JoJo Whilden)

“As every nuke explosion, especially the shockwave, interacts with the city, it was not possible to re-use just one simulation,” Worth continues. “So, we had to run a custom sim for every nuke, which consists of the mushroom, the rolling wave around it, the fast-traveling shockwave and a debris and glass pass emitted from the buildings. Another challenge was the fact that the whole shot was running in slow-motion, and there are not many references out there showing this type of explosion in slow motion. But we could use reference of normal explosions to transfer the look to the individual layers of the atomic blast. The whole shot has more than 20 effects and CG layers that were composited in Nuke.”

“I’m really happy with how everything has come together in terms of all of the effects for the season, especially the environments and making it feel like a version of Los Angeles. We took a bit of creative license in terms of geography throughout the season. We were not worried about an exact documentary path in terms of a route through Los Angeles. We do have a map tracing an approximate path which helped us ground certain things like the distance toward downtown L.A., and it does all make sense. However, it still had to be beautiful and impactful. One of the big things was not necessarily worrying about how much it looked and felt exactly like Los Angeles, but how much it always needs to look like Fallout. That always felt like our goal, and that is what we kept coming back to more than anything else. It has been a fun thing to have that as our North Star throughout the season and making sure that’s where we try to land each time. This is a story in the Fallout world, but not a story that has already been told or seen in the games, which gave a lot of freedom to Jonah, Geneva and Graham with how to shape the story and tone, which in turn gave us all the freedom in the world with how to make that come to life,” Worth says.

“Working on a show like Fallout is a dream come true for several reasons: working with visionary filmmakers like Jonah, working with an immensely talented, passionate team and, of course, the work itself. We set out to produce stunning, photorealistic visual effects and achieved that goal. The show looks incredible, and I’m certain many viewers won’t be able to tell what’s practical and what’s visual effects. We worked hand in hand with production and created this beautiful, interesting, textured world. Geneva and Graham are just a joy; two very talented writers and showrunners, they also have a clear vision and a great deal of respect for those they’ve entrusted to work with them to create the show. On a personal note, I’ve always wanted to work with a female showrunner and after many years in this industry, this has been my first opportunity to do so. Geneva is brilliant,” concludes Knoll.



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