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August 11
2020

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Tracking Down Nazis in the 1970s in HUNTERS

By TREVOR HOGG

A group of Jewish vigilantes uncover a government operation to recruit Nazis scientists and a conspiracy to establish a Fourth Reich in the United States in the Amazon Studios production of Hunters. The crime drama created by David Weil takes place in 1977 and stars Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Lena Olin, Carol Kane, Saul Rubinek and Jerrika Hinton. Having to re-create period settings is nothing new for Visual Effects Supervisor Lesley Robson-Foster, who has received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Boardwalk Empire and Mildred Pierce.

Lesley Robson-Foster, Visual Effects Supervisor

“For the bigger shows, I am often brought on with the production designer and we get to look at things together,” states Robson-Foster. “To start with, you have to work with the directors and creators of the show to work out how accurate that they want to be. For example, in the 1970s there was no dip in the sidewalk for disabled people. Do you want to build those back up? Sometimes you have to reface a building completely because the windows are wrong. The bigger things in Hunters was making Florida, a subway ride we couldn’t shoot, NASA headquarters and set extensions for the prison camp scenes. The research I would do is try to find real-world examples, ‘how does that really look?’ and copy that but make it look cinematic as well.”

Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) partners with Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) to find and execute Nazis planning to establish the Fourth Reich in the United States. (Photo: Christopher Saunders) (All images courtesy of Amazon Studios.)

Around 1,200 visual effects were created for the first season of Hunters, which consisted of 10 episodes. “We’ve got explosions, blackouts, RPGs, guns and liquid,” notes Robson-Foster. “There was an average of 120 decent-size shots and I’m not counting the period fixes which was another 1,000. Around 450 shots were in the pilot which was feature length. Ever since Boardwalk Empire, I’ve had an in-house team that includes producer, matte painter, editor, and three or four compositors who do the look development, temping and design. I don’t have anybody else on my set. When we get down to there being 50 shots in a scene that all need the same thing, chances are my people would have done the matte painting and will share the asset with whoever I have chosen for that work. In New York there was Phosphene, Alkemy X, Framestore and Zoic Studios, as well as RVS-VFX in Iceland.”

Action takes place in a mixture of sets and locations. “In the pilot there is a big scene that is supposed to be Kristallnacht in the ghetto and it’s an oner,” remarks Robson-Foster. “It’s a cablecam shot that starts up high and goes down watching people’s belongings being thrown. That was a massive visual effects undertaking,  joining shots together, doing set extensions and CG things falling. It was a big mix of outdoor locations and bedroom sets. We would fly out through a window in a set and have to link it to a location shot. The subway train with Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton) was onstage with a greenscreen and had no windows. We had to go get plates of a real journey and make that period. Episode 6 has a big fire with Al Pacino but there was no fire there. We had to do the fire separately. There were some lovely big pieces to get sorted out.”

Henry Hunter Hall, Logan Lerman, and Caleb Emery star in Hunters which takes place in 1970s New York. (Photo: Christopher Saunders)

A major part of the visual effects work for Hunters was re-creating the 1970s. (Photo: Christopher Saunders)

“There were a lot of things in every episode and not just the period nature of it all. There were explosions, blood and guts, and fantasy stuff. It was a little bit of everything which made Hunters a good project to work on. I was happy that we were able to do juicy matte paintings, a lot of CG and photoreal set extensions, and animation and graphics.”

—Lesley Robson-Foster, Visual Effects Supervisor

All of the scenes that take place in Florida were shot in New York.

Bluescreen blocks out a bridge at a crime scene situated in Florida.

A bloody hand was added later in post-production.

A practical blood effect shot.

Palm trees were added to create the illusion that Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton) is in Florida rather than New York.

FBI agent Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton) appears in a moving subway car that is in fact stationary and shot with greenscreen.

“Ever since Boardwalk Empire, I’ve had an in-house team that includes producer, matte painter, editor, and three or four compositors who do the look development, temping and design. I don’t have anybody else on my set. When we get down to there being 50 shots in a scene that all need the same thing, chances are my people would have done the matte painting and will share the asset with whoever I have chosen for that work. In New York there was Phosphene, Alkemy X, Framestore and Zoic Studios, as well as RVS-VFX in Iceland.”

—Lesley Robson-Foster, Visual Effects Supervisor

Any means necessary is used by Nazi hunters Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone) and Joe Mizushima (Louis Ozawa).

Violent deaths occur throughout Hunters.

Outside of the prison camp, which was shot in Europe, everything else was captured in New York and New Jersey. “There’s everything in New York and Staten Island is a wealth of fabulous locations,” remarks Robson-Foster. “Florida for us in Hunters was a spot near the Throgs Neck Bridge in Westchester. We shot through the summer and was lucky with the weather.” The headquarters of NASA had to be digitally augmented. “NASA is an amazing place for sharing pictures, and the director had an idea in his head of this big empty space that he wanted. We were in an empty warehouse and added those two big rockets and the flags. Then we changed the end of the room to be twice the size of what was shot. There was a big greenscreen in the middle of that room where all of the people were. The matte paintings for those pieces were done by [Visual Effects Supervisor] Douglas Pulver who made the rockets in 3D.”

Two of the hardest shots to composite involved the reflection of Ruth Heidelbaum (Jeannie Berlin) in a car window that reveals Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) seated beside Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) and a mirror in a restaurant showing a grandmother and child on either side as a distraught Jonah tries to eat. “The car was onstage and had a little of poor man’s process lighting going on,” states Robson-Foster. “On another stage the second unit shot Ruth [Berlin] and the people at the food stands. We worked out how to best to get them up on the windows. The director didn’t want the pillars of the car showing and was keen on the position of the reflection. It was more of a projection rather than a re-projection that needed to fit with the heads behind it. There was a lot of back and forth with experimenting. [As for the mirror shot], they wanted to be able to do something ghostly with the grandma, so we shot her separately. Also, the physics of the mirrors were not what we wanted onset, so it was a composite joined together. We were able to re-position it perfectly. There were some tricky edits and fluid morphs in there to make the action work exactly as the director wanted.”

Around 1,200 visual effects were created for the first season of Hunters which consisted of 10 episodes.

Things such as dips in the sidewalks for wheelchairs did not exist in the 1970s and needed to be painted out in order to re-create an authentic urban environment. (Photo: Christopher Saunders)

A family gets slaughtered while having a poolside barbecue at a house situated in Florida. That was mostly practical,” remarks Robson-Foster. “There was a nice crane shot that needed to be smoothed out. We put all of the coloring in the pool.  The bullet hits were digital.” In another scene a bowling ball gets shoved into the mouth of a bodyguard for a U.S. senator by a Nazi enforcer. “That was entirely digital. Even the ball was digital. It helped production to be able to do that, as they don’t have to double the costumes, wait for cleanup, and suffer through the stains of things. I have an in-house team doing this work as well as vendors when we get to the bigger bulk of shots. We often re-create those things on a little stage ourselves. We have some simple face blood and put it on ourselves or work with special effects to do squib hits on pieces of cardboard so we can cut, paste and relight so it fits within the scene. I don’t like to do that stuff completely digitally. I want to keep it in the real world, so we have a tabletop setup where we can do all of those things. One of the good things about doing the blood afterwards is that the directors and producers can decide later on about the level of it.”

“We built a big and better render farm that was based on the software Deadline,   where it uses peoples’ computers in the background to render while you’re working. The bulk was geared with our in-house people and they had several workstations. I wanted to be able to service the editors and do temps quickly, but as photo-finished as possible so they wouldn’t be taken out of the story when editing.  It was important to have a fast turnaround in-house. There were a lot of things in every episode and not just the period nature of it all. There were explosions, blood and guts, and fantasy stuff. It was a little bit of everything which made Hunters a good project to work on. I was happy that we were able to do juicy matte paintings, a lot of CG and photoreal set extensions, and animation and graphics.”


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