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Feature-quality VFX for Episodic TV

Jan 26, 2010 12:00 PM, By Rodrigo Washington, CG supervisor, Encore Hollywood

The challenges of building VFX for television.

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Encore Hollywood CG Supervisor Rodrigo Washington (standing) assists 3D Artist Changsoo Eun (seated) on VFX for episodic TV.

Encore Hollywood CG Supervisor Rodrigo Washington (standing) assists 3D Artist Changsoo Eun (seated) on VFX for episodic TV.

Software alone can't deliver top-notch computer graphics. While there is a wide range of tools available to deliver 3D and compositing work with a minimal investment, it takes a combination of talented and experienced artists, producers, and technicians, and a significant technical infrastructure to deliver high-quality visual effects of the caliber and at the speed produced by a facility such as ours.

Encore Hollywood has been widely acknowledged as the gold standard for television postproduction for decades. What isn't as well known is that for the last eight years, Encore has also provided full-service visual effects for the film and television industries. Though some of our recent feature credits include the acclaimed films Zombieland and The Hurt Locker, episodic television enabled us to hone our VFX service offerings, and it remains our bread and butter. Because television audiences have grown accustomed to the often jaw-dropping effects they see in feature films and games, they also expect the same level of visual drama from TV.

Additionally, producers have recently begun to rely heavily on the use of invisible effects. This could be anything from removing palm trees from scenes that are supposed to have taken place in the mountains or adding cosmetic touch-ups to a tired actor (particularly important when HDTV is so unforgiving). Often, the work we do is subtle; invisible effects such as these are more standard practice than most viewers realize.

In addition to touch-ups, CGI is also widely used to create imagery integrated into a particular shot. The title character in My Name is Earl was often attacked with baseballs or arrows that we would build and composite using a combination of Autodesk 3ds Max and eyeon Software Fusion. For the series Cupid, we took a sequence shot on set and transferred the action to Times Square on New Year's Eve. Here, we didn't create Times Square in 3D. We instead used matte paintings of the location and created a background with the necessary complexity for the level of detail and camera movement involved. We built the famous New Year's Eve Ball in 3ds Max and used Fusion's particle capabilities to create fireworks. We rarely use just one tool for a single effect; it's more about finding the perfect mix.

Encore has created VFX for Fox's popular medical drama House since Season 1, and it is currently the show's main resource for visual effects. From House's inception, its producers have made clever use of digital VFX and continue to push the envelope. Earlier this season, we partnered with Visual Effects Supervisor Elan Soltes and Concept Artist Christian Scheurer to build 6 minutes of 3D CGI, complete with characters and an entire 3D environment for the episode "Epic Fail," in which a videogame developer loses touch with reality and seems to inhabit the world of an immersive game called Savage Scape. It was a massive challenge and is the kind of work that actual videogame developers can spend years creating.

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