In the news: How to Get Away with… Scandal

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months you’ll know that two of ABC’s biggest shows – Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder came together for an epic two-hour crossover episode. The team at Legion has handled all of the visual effects for both shows for the past three years, so we were doubly psyched for the opportunity to combine our efforts in this highly-anticipated episode.

Our work on the episode included blending the VFX of both shows, building the Supreme Court Building that was central to the storyline, and extensive environments and set extensions work. Watch a reel of our work and take a look at some of the coverage of our work on the crossover episode below.

CG+ News

Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are both shot in Los Angeles, while the shows are set in D.C. and Philadelphia, respectively, yet the cast never needs to leave Hollywood, thanks to the creativity, technical ingenuity, and experience of the team at VFX Legion.

PostPerspective

“VFX Legion has handled all of the visual effects for both shows for almost three years and is slated to work on the next season of Murder (this is Scandal’s last season). Over the years, the Shondaland Productions have tasked the company with creating high shot counts for almost 100 episodes, each matching the overall look of a single show. However, the crossover episodes required visual effects that blended with two series that use different tools and each have their own look, presenting a more complex set of challenges.”

Digital Cinema Report

“The Los Angeles-based company created a mix of photorealistic CG environments and other effects that made it possible to transport the actors into a variety of digital surroundings that seamlessly match the live-action footage, and defy the viewer’s eye.  The invisible effects dramatically augment the shows’ visual landscapes with shots that would be either too expensive or impossible to shoot on location.”

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Creative Planet Network

“The CG replication of the US Supreme Court Building is central to the storyline. Building its exterior facade, and interiors of the courtroom and rotunda digitally, from the ground up, were the most complex VFX shots in these episodes.”

ProductionHub

“A rough 3D model of the set was constructed from hundreds of reference photographs stitched together using Agisoft Photoscan, and a technique called ‘photogrammetry.’ HDRI panoramas and 360° multiple exposure photographs of the set were used to match the 3D lighting with the live-action footage. CG modeling and texturing artist, Trevor Harder, then added the fine details and created the finished 3D model.”

Film Contact

“The process began during preproduction with VFX supervisor Matthew T. Lynn working closely with the client to get a full understanding of their vision. He collaborated with Legion’s head of production, Nate Smalley, production manager, Andrew Turner, and coordinators Matt Noren and Lexi Sloan, on streamlining workflow and crafting a plan that aligned with the shows’ budgets, schedules, and resources. Lynn spent several weeks on R&D, pre-visualization, and mockups. Legion’s end-to-end approach was presented to the staffs of both shows during combined VFX meetings, and a plan was finalized.”

AnimationXpress

Scandal is shot on an ARRI Alexa camera, and How to Get Away with Murder on a Sony F55, at different colour temps and under varying lighting conditions. DP preferences and available equipment required VFX Legion to shoot the same environments twice, once with green-screens for Scandal and then again using blue-screens for How to Get Away with Murder.”

 

Please Stand By – a Star Trek fan’s dream project

VFX Legion was called upon as the sole visual effects vendor for Please Stand By. The team were trusted to bring some visual familiarity to this story of a Star Trek fan’s journey across America.

To be asked to work on your dream project is not something that comes round very often for many CG professionals. But, for VFX Legion’s Rommel S. Calderon that’s exactly what happened when he got a call about Please Stand By.

“I was in seventh grade when the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. It was then that I decided I want to do visual effects as a career,” explains Calderon. “Personally, Please Stand By is a dream project for me.”

Please Stand By tells the story of a young autistic woman who runs away from her caregiver in order to boldly go and deliver her 500-page Star Trek script to a writing competition in Hollywood. On an adventure full of laughter and tears, Wendy, played with exquisite delicacy by Dakota Fanning, follows the guiding spirit of Mr. Spock on her journey into the unknown.

As the sole VFX vendor on the film, it was vital the studio utilise its pool of international talent, bringing in artists and compositors from all over the globe, to deliver 51 shots across the film, including two key atmospheric environmental shots made to look like they’d been pulled directly from Kirk’s 1960s adventures in space.

These shots, also featured in the trailer for the movie, involved recreating the space suits used in Star Trek: The Original Series.

“I’m very proud of the two CG shots I got to work on in Please Stand By. They were a lot of fun to produce as we had to recreate the goofy space suits of the original series for these two characters walking on a red, desert planet,” says Calderon.

Pinning down the animation in these shots was one of the most challenging aspects of the production. The team relied on a motion capture library to make the performances more realistic.

“We started out with a six foot model and retextured it, then we attached the motion capture data and modified it so it looked like a limping person carrying another person.” Calderon explains. “We then placed the characters into our digital matte painting of the desert environment, and then I reprojected it over a 3D surface so I could get the texture and terrain right. Those shots were then sent over to our compositors, who added a really cool wind effect.

“I’m really proud of the final look of those shots, I think they look great in the trailer and will play out beautifully on the big screen. I’m really excited to see the final cut of the film, Dakota Fanning is a force and Patton Oswald speaking Klingon is a memory I will treasure for a long time.”   

Please Stand By is available now on Amazon Video, iTunes and On Demand.

Post Magazine: VFX Legion’s new studio model

James Hattin (pictured below) is the co-founder of Burbank, CA-based VFX Legion, a provider of visual effects services for the film and television industry. Hattin’s career as an artist and VFX professional includes time at Luma Pictures, Zoic Studios and Industrial Light & Magic. When he launched VFX Legion in May of 2013, he rejected the traditional VFX vendor-meets-sweatshop setup, opting instead for a forward-thinking approach that prized one thing above all else: the artist.

Today VFX Legion operates a global remote workforce, with creatives contributing from one side of the world to the other. Legion artists can be found all over the globe, working on projects such as How To Get Away With Murder and El Chapo from the comfort of their own homes.

LegionFounder

Why did you choose to set up VFX Legion and what was it a reaction to?

“We built Legion to attract the artists that were senior, experienced and tired of running around the world for jobs. Nothing says ‘burnout’ like moving across the country, chasing tax credits, and trying to raise a family – all while working 16 hours a day.

“There’s a whole group of very talented mid- and senior-level artists that want to contribute to the VFX industry, but also want work/life balance, and that’s unfortunately so rare. Legion was established to tip the balance of scales in their favor. Over the years, we have built a community of incredibly talented artists, from all over the world, who can work from the comfort of their own locations while still contributing to amazing VFX projects. It’s been an incredible journey and we’re still going, bringing the experience to more and more talented people.”

Read on to find out more about Legion’s truly global studio

Outlook 2018: The rise of Netflix

The rise of Netflix has posed and interesting challenge to the post industry. On the one hand, direct streaming funnelled into every viewer’s house means an increased need for post work across the globe; even so in the LA area, where tax incentives are not so readily available. The veritable content machines such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and HBO and now producing more entertainment than ever before, pouring more cash into ever more impressive projects.

Of course, much of that entertainment requires vast amounts of visual effects resources. This all presents a different landscape to that of five or six years ago; a time when television work existed but not to the extent that it does today, and aspirations to cinema-level quality were perhaps not as pronounced.

Today, quantity is higher, quality expectations are rising, and processes must align to this new status quo. Scalable companies that are well placed to expand and contract as needs change are the ones that will find themselves successful in 2018.

Read on to find out more about the rise of Netflix on Post Magazine

VFX Legion blows up the model with Media Shuttle

VFX Legion initially selected an accelerated file transfer solution from one of Signiant’s competitors that offered the promise of solving this challenge of speed, and avoiding (or at least mitigating) most of these other concerns. For a while life was good. But problems emerged as the business grew, more remote artists were added, and the volume of work, almost always under tight deadlines, increased. The accelerated file transfer solution just wasn’t scaling well with their needs.

Artists were complaining about their file transfers not using all the available bandwidth. An enhanced product, designed to improve collaboration, took nine months to get working, caused frequent server crashes without warning, and resulted in many of the artists losing confidence in the system and electing to not use it at all. And the overall solution was becoming prohibitively expensive as the business expanded.

Andrew-Turner-at-work-in-Burbank

By late 2016 VFX Legion knew they needed a better file transfer solution, one that not only provided the speed and security they needed, but that also was more reliable, easier to deploy and support, simpler to use, and that offered a far more economical pricing model that scaled better with their business.

In December 2016, when most of the shows they work on where on hiatus, VFX Legion, on the recommendation of a colleague, and after researching alternative options, set up a trial of Media Shuttle, Signiant’s industry-leading cloud-native SaaS solution for accelerated person-initiated file sending and sharing. After just a couple of days of testing, the company was sold on the solution, which was fully set up and configured within a single day. Rolling Media Shuttle out to their globally distributed artists was just as easy, as Andrew Turner explains:

“Compared to our previous system, Media Shuttle was a lot easier for people to grasp and understand. They didn’t have to worry about installing additional hardware or software. It just worked without headaches, which was great! ”

Read on to find out why we made the switch to Media Shuttle

CG in Horror, with Dread Central

FX is a very touchy subject for many genre fans. There are those that are diehard practical FX fans while others are embracing the use of CG for specific events that could otherwise not be accomplished. With Legion VFX, is there a sense of needing to honor past practical traditions while growing and embracing the future of CG?

James Hattin: Visual effects can be used for good or for evil. There will always be a place for practical FX on set. It helps the actors act, and the crew to film the right thing. The idea of a full CG creature in a horror movie isn’t impossible, but horror movies are generally done on the cheap, and that is what what usually causes the problems. We worked on Insidious 3, and the main character starts to lose limbs in the Further, clearly this could be done with some kind of make up effect, but it wouldn’t really sell the look. People would know it was fake. This is the real world problem… not enough money, or poorly spent money leaves creatures or VFX sorely lacking.

We worked on a short project for a friend, and he had a person in a rubber suit. It looked like a rubber suit. So, we augmented it by matching the rubber tentacles and adding a ‘sheen’ to it, so that it looked more wet, creepy and alive. This is the marriage that, I think, we are going to see going forward.

VFX-Legion-–-Gore-1CG has clearly come a long way over the past couple of decades but there’s always room to grow. What are the ways in which audiences will see improvements to the medium in the coming years and how are those being accomplished?

JH: CG really has come a long way. From the perspective of movies in general, I think we will see a flawless human in the next decade. Right now, that ‘uncanny valley’ where things look ‘real’ but not quite, is the place we are sitting in. It’s really hard to take a fake character seriously. More and more the mix of practical and CG is going to be the way to go. To augment what can’t be easily shot in camera. pIf you think back to Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, there were a number of times they extended the jaws on the apes when they roared. This was a subtle effect, but one where we could still suspend disbelief and not be pulled out of the story. (not that I missed, it…. but I’m not an average consumer of feature films) If you look at the evolution of those movies, they’ve gone completely CG, and I don’t think it is any worse for it.

 

Read on here for the rest of our head-to-head with the good ghouls at Dread Central!