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July 21
2020

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

ZEROZEROZERO: Mapping Out an Array of Effects for Globe-Hopping Crime Drama

By TREVOR HOGG

A cocaine drug deal that goes fatally wrong has repercussions for the Italian buyers, Mexican supplier and American broker in ZeroZeroZero, which was adapted from the novel by Robert Saviano and broadcast as an eight-episode series on Sky Atlantic, Canal+ and Amazon Prime Video.

The crime drama created by Stefano Sollima, Leonardo Fasoli and Mauricio Katz was shot on multiple continents and stars Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan, Giuseppe De Domenico, Harold Torres, Diego Cataño, Nika Perrone. Orchestrating and creating 1,200 visual effects shots over a period of a year and a half was Visual Effects Supervisor Stefano Leoni and his team at EDI Effetti Digitali Italiani.

Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor, EDI Effetti Digitali Italiani
Images courtesy of EDI Effetti Digitali Italiani and Amazon Studios.

Harold Torres portrays Mexican special forces leader Sgt. Manuel Contreras, who is devoted to God and the execution of drug cartel members. (Photo: Patti Perret)

ZeroZeroZero was different from previous projects because we had to plan the visual effects supervision for all over the world as the shooting took place in South America, Europe and Africa,” states Leoni. “I did location scouting and pre-production with the production company and directors. Each country had one supervisor under me and I explained what we needed to do in the visual effects. I followed everything in Milan and was on set for particular scenes in Italy and New Orleans. Concept art was used to figure out the background or set extensions. We kept the same workflow and pipeline. Everything was uploaded and downloaded from a portal, and we supported the production company with a tracking software, like ftrack or Shotgun.”

ZeroZeroZero travels around the world with Dane DeHaan, center, and Marc Grosy, right, starring in a scene that takes place in Africa. (Photo: Stefania Rosini)

In order to map out the visual effects, Leoni began by reading the scripts. “I discussed  with the director, cinematographer and the production company to figure out what is going to be visual effects and what can be done for real. ZeroZeroZero has a lot of set extensions, matte paintings and cleanup for the locations. In the script there was a missile that explodes by the van. In that case I suggested to use a visual effects explosion. In the closeup we kept the real effects and digitally improved them. Another situation is when we jump from Italy, New Orleans, Mexico, South American and Africa. There is a cargo ship that always needs to be the same. We cleaned up the name, colors and containers. We had a cargo ship that only had a square of containers. We had to fill the ship with CGI containers, and we also worked on day-for-night situations for the cargo scenes. The cargo ship that comes to Africa is a CGI replacement. We would do a scan and a lot of HDR pictures in the process because we needed to have as much information as possible to rebuild everything. Sometimes we need to put some reflections or dirt on the location.”

The family of Chris Lynwood (Dane DeHann) broker a cocaine deal between Mexico and Italy with him travelling on a cargo ship carrying the precious merchandise. (Photo: Patti Perret)

There was an emphasize on practical blood in the earlier episodes with the later ones relying more on CG. “We usually do a LiDAR or photogrammetry scan because we add several impacts or muzzle flashes or squibs that explode in the walls. It’s much easier for us to understand the space and the distance from the camera to the actors.”

A mountain had to be rebuilt in Columbia and cleanup was done on a harbor in Africa. “Stefano Sollima comes from an important series called Gomorrah and I knew what kind of photorealistic visual effects were needed,” remarks Leoni. “For the car chase in the first episode we shot the two main actors on greenscreen in a studio and did a plate for the background of the car that is following. We composited everything and matched together. When all of the military guys are in the square with the Mexican flag, they are digital doubles. In Italy, we did a crowd replication to fill the frame. For Africa, we cleaned up the desert and put in a refugee camp. In the Mexican market, we cleaned up the background for billboards and signs that the production didn’t have the licence to use and also made changes for aesthetic reasons.”

Previs was created for the explosion at the television station. “We did previs to understand the timing of the explosion, which was to be added in post-production, as well to figure out what could be practically captured at the location and how much greenscreen was needed. I prefer not to use greenscreen or bluescreen because they change the light. I favor rotoscoping and keeping as much of the set as possible. For the scenes at the airport we had to cover all of the billboards with greenscreen.”

The blood is digitally enhanced to make the wounds appear more severe.

Security camera footage is composited into computer monitors.

Crowds were replicated in order to increase their size such as this scene that takes place in Italy.

Paki Meduri was responsible for the production design. “Paki is a friend who understands visual effects and would ask what we needed,” explains Leoni. “He was a great partner.” Critical collaborators were Stunt Coordinator Alessandro Borgese and Special Effects Supervisor Alejandro Vazquez. “Stunts and special effects were important partners in this type of show as we had to find the right balance of what needed to be real and what had to be visual effects. Alessandro and Alejandro are special guys. We planned everything beforehand. It is important to me to have the real thing on set and then we try to improve it in visual effects.”

Moments referred to as ‘device shots’ involved complex visual effects. “Things become slower and you come back in the episode to tell the story,” says Leoni. “In each kind of device, we always thought about something that becomes slower and freezes in the shot. For the opening slow-motion sequence, we added all of the bullets rolling on the ground in CG as well as the lighting and muzzle flashes in post-production. In another episode we have the safe boat, and all of the water and spray freezes. It is a way of suspending time, like bullet time [in The Matrix].” There are no full CG shots in the series. “I’m proud that the visual effects in ZeroZeroZero are completely invisible. It’s one of the best television series that we did in Italy, but is also an international show. I am happy and proud to be on this series.”

Watch the “Making of ZeroZeroZero” VFX video and trailer.

The containers on the cargo ship needed to be digitally augmented and replicated.

“Each country had one supervisor under me and I explained what we needed to do in the visual effects. I followed everything in Milan and was on set for particular scenes in Italy and New Orleans. Concept art was used to figure out the background or set extensions. We kept the same workflow and pipeline. Everything was uploaded and downloaded from a portal, and we supported the production company with a tracking software, like ftrack or Shotgun.”

—Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor

“[There was a situation involving effects] when we jump from Italy, New Orleans, Mexico, South American and Africa. There is a cargo ship that always needs to be the same. We cleaned up the name, colors and containers. We had a cargo ship that only had a square of containers. We had to fill the ship with CGI containers, and we also worked on day-for-night situations for the cargo scenes. The cargo ship that comes to Africa is a CGI replacement. We would do a scan and a lot of HDR pictures in the process because we needed to have as much information as possible to rebuild everything.”

—Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor

The cargo ship always needed to look the same so EDI Effetti Digitali cleaned up the names, colors and containers.

The mandate was to create photorealistic visual effects.

“[Co-creator/co-writer/director] Stefano Sollima comes from an important series called Gomorrah and I knew what kind of photorealistic visual effects were needed.”

—Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor

“Stunts and special effects were important partners in this type of show as we had to find the right balance of what needed to be real and what had to be visual effects. … We planned everything beforehand. It is important to me to have the real thing on set and then we try to improve it in visual effects.”

—Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor

At times the cargo ship needed to be a fully CG asset.

A right balance needed to be found between stunts, special effects and visual effects.

“We did previs to understand the timing of the explosion, which was to be added in post-production, as well to figure out what could be practically captured at the location and how much greenscreen was needed. I prefer not to use greenscreen or bluescreen because they change the light. I favor rotoscoping and keeping as much of the set as possible. For the scenes at the airport we had to cover all of the billboards with greenscreen.”

—Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor

“[In ‘device shots’] things become slower and you come back in the episode to tell the story. In each kind of device, we always thought about something that becomes slower and freezes in the shot. For the opening slow-motion sequence, we added all of the bullets rolling on the ground in CG as well as the lighting and muzzle flashes in post-production. In another episode we have the safe boat, and all of the water and spray freezes. It is a way of suspending time, like bullet time [in The Matrix].”

—Stefano Leoni, Visual Effects Supervisor

A plate shot of crowds with an empty race track. The crowds are replicated to increase attendance while jockeys and horses are added in digitally.

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