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August 16
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

THE OFFER CAN’T BE REFUSED WHEN IT COMES TO INVISIBLE EFFECTS

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of John Mangia and Paramount+.

A number of CG cars were created, such as the Alfa Romeo.

A number of CG cars were created, such as the Alfa Romeo.

Every movie that gets made is a miracle as so many elements need to come together logistically, budgetarily, artistically and narratively over a period of a couple of years before it can be presented to audiences. There are moments when artistic ambitions are able to rise above the societal and economical obstacles to create a seminal classic like Francis Ford Coppola was able to achieve with The Godfather. The Offer, which consists of 10 episodes streaming on Paramount+, recounts the trials and tribulations of producer Albert S. Ruddy to cinematically adapt the pulpy gangster best-selling novel by Mario Puzo. The biographical drama miniseries created by Michael Tolkin (Ray Donovan) and guided by showrunner Nikki Toscano (Hunters) relied on Visual Effects Supervisor John Mangia (The Queen’s Gambit) to transform the Paramount Studios backlot and Universal Studios in Los Angeles into early 1970s New York City.

“The key to being able to pull that off [building a believable New York City on an L.A. backlot] was doing the research and having those early discussions with the production designer and showrunner, making sure that we had a clear target of what we were achieving and making sure that all of our vendors were on the same page. The Offer did not have the budget for the schedule to do something twice.”

—John Mangia, Visual Effects Supervisor

Bluescreen assisted with scenes that had wet downs.

Bluescreen assisted with scenes that had wet downs.

Bluescreen assisted with scenes that had wet downs.

Bluescreen assisted with scenes that had wet downs.

The bulk of the environment work occurred in Episode 106 when the principal photography of The Godfather is portrayed.

The bulk of the environment work occurred in Episode 106 when the principal photography of The Godfather is portrayed.

The bulk of the environment work occurred in Episode 106 when the principal photography of The Godfather is portrayed.

The bulk of the environment work occurred in Episode 106 when the principal photography of The Godfather is portrayed.

“I started on the show in May of 2021 and during shooting we had a couple of COVID-19 related shutdowns which created some scheduling issues and caused us to strategize and rethink a couple of things, but the impact was not terrible, especially because we were shooting on studio backlots which are much more controlled environments,” Mangia notes. “It was challenging to find and secure vendors because we were looking for ones that were invested in what we were making. It’s a show about how The Godfather got made, and when it’s an incredibly beloved film like that, you have to put the love into it and make sure that everything is true to the film. We’re recreating some of these famous sets from that film, and we were looking at all of the small details trying to get them right.”

Outpost VFX, Mavericks VFX, CBS VFX, Epic Shepherd and Basilic Fly Studio created 800 visual effects shots for the 10 episodes. “We had 10 weeks of post per episode, but it was all overlapping,” Mangia explains. “We were block shooting, so we were prepping, shooting and in post concurrently.” The bulk of the visual effects occur in the middle of the season when the actual shooting of The Godfather is recreated. “They’re out on Fifth Avenue or in Harlem or the Bronx,  and you have all of this environment work in these scenes,” Mangia outlines.

“For some reason, out here [in L.A.] it’s bluer, and having lived in both places I know this. When we were working on our environment and set extension work, sometimes we would modify the amount of cloud coverage and how blue the sky was in certain scenes. It was something we were sensitive to and conscious of because it’s one of those subtle things that people might not think about. That’s one of those unique things about Los Angeles that we wanted to feel different in the New York City shots.”

—John Mangia, Visual Effects Supervisor

“Episode 106 was our biggest one as it had 30% of our set extensions shots for the entire season, which was a tremendous amount of work. Almost all of those set extensions had to be CG because of the fluidity of the camera moves. By the end of it, we were delivering an episode every other week.” The development process was driven by visuals. “Visual effects vendors working on specific scenes would provide a concept still of that environment, which could be shown to the showrunner and get the creative signoff,” he says. “Sometimes it was ‘Fifth Avenue is Fifth Avenue,’ and we had to make it look like it was in The Godfather. Other times it was getting the right vibe.”

Plate photography was conducted in Sicily, but not in New York City. “The visual effects team shot thousands of photographs of neighborhoods, like Columbus Circle, Mulberry Street and Carroll Gardens,” Mangia remarks. “It was important especially for me as I’m originally from New York City and of Italian-American heritage, that if we’re making a show about The Godfather set in New York City it has to have that authenticity, otherwise my great-grandfather is going be rolling over in his grave! We did source a lot of the designs of the buildings, textures, grunge and patina that is on everything in New York City. There is nothing clean in New York City.” New York City has changed a great deal since the early 1970s. Mangia explains, “That was part of the reason why it didn’t make sense to shoot the show there, because some of the locations that we were depicting either don’t exist anymore or don’t look anything like they used to. We looked through photo and video archives of New York City, old tax survey photos, and we were collaborating with the art department the entire time to get the aesthetic right.”

The visual effects team shot thousands of photographs of neighborhoods like Columbus Circle.

The visual effects team shot thousands of photographs of neighborhoods like Columbus Circle.

The visual effects team shot thousands of photographs of neighborhoods like Columbus Circle.

The visual effects team shot thousands of photographs of neighborhoods like Columbus Circle.

New York City has changed a great deal since the early 1970s, so the decision was made to transform the Paramount Studios backlot in Los Angeles.

New York City has changed a great deal since the early 1970s, so the decision was made to transform the Paramount Studios backlot in Los Angeles.

New York City has changed a great deal since the early 1970s, so the decision was made to transform the Paramount Studios backlot in Los Angeles.

Actual set plans from The Godfather were sourced by the art department led by Production Designer Laurence Bennett (Billions). “They were able to rebuild the Don’s office based on the original blueprints of Louis Restaurant where Michael Corleone shoots Virgil Sollozzo and [NYPD Captain] Mark McCluskey was redone completely from scratch,” Mangia reveals. “But some of the other things, like Best & Co., which is a department store that is no longer on Fifth Avenue, we had built on the backlot, and we were able to do some previs to work out how to fit the building by taking over the top of it and extending it by three or four display windows. We also had to build St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue and Cartier Building. All of these landmark buildings on Fifth Avenue would be there and are actually in The Godfather. We built all of that including the period cars and people walking around. We shot photo reference of 170 extras in period clothing to create the crowds in various shots, and we also did a bunch of bluescreen plate photography for crowd elements for scenes in Columbus Circle where there is a crowd chanting, waving signs and yelling. Some shots such as the aerial of Columbus Circle were fully CG.”

“The visual effects team shot thousands of photographs of neighborhoods, like Columbus Circle, Mulberry Street and Carroll Gardens. It was important especially for me as I’m originally from New York City and of Italian-American heritage, that if we’re making a show about The Godfather set in New York City it has to have that authenticity, otherwise my great-grandfather is going be rolling over in his grave!”

—John Mangia, Visual Effects Supervisor

A personal favorite for VFX Supervisor John Mangia is the opening shot of Mulberry Street and seeing New York City.

A personal favorite for VFX Supervisor John Mangia is the opening shot of Mulberry Street and seeing New York City.

A personal favorite for VFX Supervisor John Mangia is the opening shot of Mulberry Street and seeing New York City.

“That [the changes in New York City since the 1970s] was part of the reason why it didn’t make sense to shoot the show there, because some of the locations that we were depicting either don’t exist anymore or don’t look anything like they used to. We looked through photo and video archives of New York City, old tax survey photos, and we were collaborating with the art department the entire time to get the aesthetic right.”

—John Mangia, Visual Effects Supervisor

“Something that was helpful was our vendors all had similar cloud pipelines which allowed us not to double down on certain kinds of assets,” Mangia remarks. “We did share assets. Mavericks VFX built all of the cars except for the CG Alfa Romeo in Episode 109. Outpost VFX built a crowd asset.” Virtual production was not a viable option. “We had a lot of exterior shots and the LED panels are not bright enough to have the right dynamic range,” Mangia adds. Bluescreen assisted with scenes that had wet downs. “What that required was reflecting our environment work into the puddles on the street, which was quite a bit of extra compositing,” Mangia notes. “But as soon as you put something like that in shot, the viewer is more likely to believe because it’s what you expect to see. On my end, it was making sure that the bluescreens were tall enough that we didn’t have to do an extra roto and paintwork. If the bluescreens were high enough, the reflection would be entirely bluescreen and it would be easier to key. It’s an interesting conversation to have because sometimes you’ll get a unit production manager or line producer asking, ‘What is the reason the bluescreen is so large?’ And you need to explain that it has to be that big because of the environment that’s going there.”

The visual effects team looked through photo and video archives of New York City, and old tax survey photos, and collaborated with the art department to get the aesthetic right for landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The visual effects team looked through photo and video archives of New York City, and old tax survey photos, and collaborated with the art department to get the aesthetic right for landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The visual effects team looked through photo and video archives of New York City, and old tax survey photos, and collaborated with the art department to get the aesthetic right for landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The former Lincoln Medical Center was recreated, as it served as the location for where Michael Corelone attempts to prevent the second assassination attempt on his father.

The former Lincoln Medical Center was recreated, as it served as the location for where Michael Corelone attempts to prevent the second assassination attempt on his father.

The former Lincoln Medical Center was recreated, as it served as the location for where Michael Corelone attempts to prevent the second assassination attempt on his father.

“We also had to build St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue and Cartier Building. All of these landmark buildings on Fifth Avenue would be there and are actually in The Godfather. We built all of that including the period cars and people walking around. We shot photo reference of 170 extras in period clothing to create the crowds in various shots, and we also did a bunch of bluescreen plate photography for crowd elements for scenes in Columbus Circle where there is a crowd chanting, waving signs and yelling. Some shots such as the aerial of Columbus Circle were fully CG.”

—John Mangia, Visual Effects Supervisor

Special effects compensated for the climate differences between Los Angeles and New York City. “Special Effects Supervisor Blumes Tracy [Made for Love] and his team created snow from 180 tons of chipped ice, had snow blowers, fans, falling snow, and dusting greens with snow,” Mangia states. “Then we had some other scenes that involve the mafia and some violence like gunplay and people getting shot, so there were squibs, and maybe later in post, visual effects would enhance it for timing. It’s always great to get that stuff in-camera. We also had a big shootout scene in Episode 106 in Harlem where a couple of the mob guys go and shoot up Nicky Barnes’ club. The special effects team placed 500 squibs on this building that were all blowing as these guys are shooting with shotguns and rifles, that visual effects ended up going in and doing a little bit of augmentation primarily due to editorial adjustments that were made.”

Plate photography was conducted in Sicily for settings such as Castello degli Schiavi.

Plate photography was conducted in Sicily for settings such as Castello degli Schiavi.

Plate photography was conducted in Sicily for settings such as Castello degli Schiavi.

The sky in Los Angeles looks quite different from sky in New York City. “For some reason, out here [in L.A.] it’s bluer, and having lived in both places I know this,” Mangia states. “When we were working on our environment and set extension work, sometimes we would modify the amount of crowd coverage and how blue the sky was in certain scenes. It was something we were sensitive to and conscious of because it’s one of those subtle things that people might not think about. That’s one of those unique things about Los Angeles that we wanted to feel different in the New York City shots.” The biggest challenge was how to make a believable 1970s New York City with just a couple of streets on Los Angeles backlots. Mangia observes, “The key to being able to pull that off was doing the research and having those early discussions with the production designer and showrunner, making sure that we had a clear target of what we were achieving and making sure that all of our vendors were on the same page. The Offer did not have the budget for the schedule to do something twice.” All of Episode 106 was challenging. Concludes Mangia, “I love the opening shot of show with the camera booming down on Mulberry Street and seeing New York City. It sets the mood and tone as well as brings the audience into it. There are so many great shots and scenes in The Offer.”


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