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October 31
2023

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

UNRAVELING THE MYSTERIES OF SILO

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of AppleTV+.

CG crowds had to be produced to create the impression that there are 10,000 inhabitants.

CG crowds had to be produced to create the impression that there are 10,000 inhabitants.

CG crowds had to be produced to create the impression that there are 10,000 inhabitants.

With the Earth rendered uninhabitable, 10,000 people seek refuge in a 144-story silo buried in the ground, which leads to questions arising that threaten the stability of the dystopian society. This is the premise for the AppleTV+ production Silo, which is based on the sci-fi Wool series by novelist Hugh Howey and has been adapted for the streaming service by Graham Yost (Justified). In order to get the necessary scope of the massive structure, big practical sets were constructed by Production Designer Gavin Bocquet (Jack the Giant Slayer) and expanded upon by utilizing bluescreen.

“There was a section that was bluescreen to allow ourselves extensions and the ability to differentiate the levels. One of the challenges was, ‘How do you avoid repetition and continuity issues?’ The entire set would be converted to bluescreen with the balconies and then we would be able to take over the build. None of those sets [for the other floors of the silo] were built because of the sheer scope and the time it takes to change the set. We also had a smaller replica of the main set to access into other floors.”

—Daniel Rauchwerger, Visual Effects Supervisor

Given the scope of the environments whether it be the interior of the silo or the outside world, bluescreen was unavoidable as only so much could be constructed practically.

Given the scope of the environments whether it be the interior of the silo or the outside world, bluescreen was unavoidable as only so much could be constructed practically.

Given the scope of the environments whether it be the interior of the silo or the outside world, bluescreen was unavoidable as only so much could be constructed practically.

MPC and Outpost VFX handled the bulk of the 2,300 visual effects shots along with Rodeo FX, DNEG, Zoic Studios and FuseFX  “There was not much that we could have built completely to not need visual effects,” notes Visual Effects Supervisor Daniel Rauchwerger (F9: The Fast Saga). “It was quite an interesting thing with Mark Patten [Raised by Wolves] because it was a balance of what you do with your DP to get that ability to transition nicely between our bluescreen and CG worlds. Mark had a great part in designing the show and making it what it is.” A lot of the concept art was done in SketchUp by the art department. “We did not use the models because the tools that we use are quite different. Each vendor had its own modeling methodologies and tools. Gavin and I worked well together. It was an intriguing relationship because the production design and continuity of our world meant that a language had to be created that we both speak and understand. There was no holding back in the design of the silo.”

LED screens were utilized to project the images of the outside world for the cafeteria set.

LED screens were utilized to project the images of the outside world for the cafeteria set.

The main set was dressed as generic apartments. It was not a complete circle. “There was a section that was bluescreen to allow ourselves extensions and the ability to differentiate the levels,” Rauchwerger explains. “One of the challenges was, ‘How do you avoid repetition and continuity issues?’ The entire set would be converted to bluescreen with the balconies and then we would be able to take over the build. None of those sets [for the other floors of the silo] were built because of the sheer scope and the time it takes to change the set. We also had a smaller replica of the main set to access into other floors. We had the access bridge and actual access into the cafeteria set so we could do those shots and use the massive screen at the end of it.”

Silo was shot using a new set of lenses developed by Caldwell based on Panavision anamorphics called Chameleons.

Silo was shot using a new set of lenses developed by Caldwell based on Panavision anamorphics called Chameleons.

“I dreaded it, but I was also excited about the blackout because I like this moment where everything drops into complete darkness. It was a bit of a weird one. There was no reason for the Hollywood moonlight or ambience, but we shot it a brighter than what we were planning on using to allow us some range in the frame to do the amount of visual effects work that was needed.”

—Daniel Rauchwerger, Visual Effects Supervisor

Grayscale models and previs showing the level devoted to growing crops for the inhabitants living in the silo.

Grayscale models and previs showing the level devoted to growing crops for the inhabitants living in the silo.

Grayscale models and previs showing the level devoted to growing crops for the inhabitants living in the silo.

Virtual production was utilized for the screens in the cafeteria showcasing the devastated outside landscape. “Virtual production introduces numerous challenges that we usually keep for the final post-production,” Rauchwerger observes. “Because of the nature of the space and we were in such a dark contained environment with no windows or exterior lighting, we wanted the light from that screen to affect how the people were being lit. You don’t want to have bluescreen or greenscreen spill across everything as it would be quite unpleasing to see.” The screen ratio was built from five cameras. “When we get close enough to the screen and the actor had to be cleaning the lens, the hand completely covered the lens. so that’s where we had to cheat. The actor is on one camera that is comped on top of the five-camera array used for wider shots,” Rauchwerger notes.

Initially, there were going to be thousands of floating Chinese lanterns, but fewer turned out to be more dramatic.

Initially, there were going to be thousands of floating Chinese lanterns, but fewer turned out to be more dramatic.

Initially, there were going to be thousands of floating Chinese lanterns, but fewer turned out to be more dramatic.

A vertical section was physically constructed for the trash chute that spans the entire height of the silo. “Part of it had to be open to be able to play with the camera and movement,” Rauchwerger  remarks. “We had to drop a CG air conditioner. It became a full CG shot because we couldn’t quite get that feeling of constant distance. There was a lot of mapping on this show.” Floating Chinese red lanterns emphasized the vastness of the human refuge. Rauchwerger comments,  “That is a fun one because it started very differently from the final version; because when you draw a storyboard, design and work on it, you need to find the right balance in the number of lanterns and in the interactive lighting. It was big challenge on the technical level because of the crowd in terms of movement. We had loads of interactive lighting on set and cranes that we built with moving LEDs to create the feeling of traveling. We were always aiming to be subtle with it to leave room for an extension. It played well in the final sequence.”

Human characters provide a scale reference to the massive structure of the silo.

Human characters provide a scale reference to the massive structure of the silo.

Human characters provide a scale reference to the massive structure of the silo.

Darkness prevails in the silo during two blackouts. Rauchwerger reveals, “I dreaded it, but I was also excited about the blackout because I like this moment where everything drops into complete darkness. It was a bit of a weird one. There was no reason for the Hollywood moonlight or ambience, but we shot it a brighter than what we were planning on using to allow us some range in the frame to do the amount of visual effects work that was needed. It was always about what would feel natural for the electrical system or structure like that to go and what do you leave working? The first blackout was when they were dimming the lights down for the festival and then the full one, which had to be different as well. How do you do 90% blackout versus 100%?  You can see that some floors have a delay so we can keep reading the texture on the sides of the silo without going to a point where you see nothing. Then we had to build CG people with flashlights to counter what we had done.”

The silo is buried 144 stories into the ground.

The silo is buried 144 stories into the ground.

The silo is buried 144 stories into the ground.

Aberrations, like the glitch that occurs when the hand of an exiled Juliette Nichols (Rebecca Ferguson) goes through a holographic image, had to appear accidental despite being intentional. “It was quite a process,” Rauchwerger admits. “Rodeo FX picked it up quite late in the show to get that look. The first thing that clicked was the design of it, which came quite fast, but then refinement of it is the slow process. We always talked about what would make the glitch still retain that illusion longer without feeling like it’s two dimensional. We decided to go with something that would almost treat that as an AR environment which has volume.  How do you break that volume? Is it the distance from the home base that she is moving to versus the distance of the hand? What is the illusion? That’s where the boulder instead of the dead body came into play because we wanted to have everything happen as she moves between the AR coverup to the real-world underneath. What does it do and how does the system try to fix it? The hand moves through something, and the system constantly tries to recalculate how to make another part of a dead body into a rock.”

Critical to keeping the silo operational is the power generator.

Critical to keeping the silo operational is the power generator.

Critical to keeping the silo operational is the power generator.

“[W]e had to look quite far into the future and into the books as to what was the story behind what we are revealing. We had to be careful about what we were revealing. It was mapped out, built, and there are a lot of nice details that we have carefully placed in there. I hope that one day people will be able to look at it and go, ‘It all registers.’ I’m proud of that shot [the final reveal at the end of the show] because it leaves you with a big, ‘Ahhhhh.’”

—Daniel Rauchwerger, Visual Effects Supervisor

The outside world is depicted as one of apocalyptic devastation.

The outside world is depicted as one of apocalyptic devastation.

The outside world is depicted as one of apocalyptic devastation.

After all of the time spent in the confines of the silo, an emotional release occurs with the wide aerial shot of the world outside. “There was one plan for the shot, but we decided to offer something quite different,” Rauchwerger explains. “We knew what we wanted to show, and it’s all about the big final reveal at the end of the show. We tried to figure out how to reveal the world in an interesting way that feels natural and connected to what you can do with a helicopter. We worked with Rodeo FX on this one as well. First of all, we had to look quite far into the future and into the books as to what was the story behind what we are revealing. We had to be careful about what we were revealing. It was mapped out, built, and there are a lot of nice details that we have carefully placed in there. I hope that one day people will be able to look at it and go, ‘It all registers.’ I’m proud of that shot because it leaves you with a big, ‘Ahhhhh.’”


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