BURBANK — Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, the new science-fiction drama from NBCUniversal recently premiered on Machinima Prime’s YouTube channel. Ten episodes will be presented through February 2013 when Syfy, a division of NBCUniversal, is expected to televise the pilot and also offer it on DVD, Blue-Ray, On Demand, and digital download.
NewTek’s LightWave 3D software has been used throughout the Battlestar Galactica franchise for everything from otherworldly atmospheres to visual effects. Blood & Chrome continues the tradition, adding Cylon robots, snake creatures, and more than 20 sets constructed in LightWave 3D.
Blood & Chrome was originally envisioned as an Xbox project comprising nine 10-minute segments, with a budget of only $2 million. “Obviously, we can’t shoot Battlestar Galactica for $2 million,” notes Gary Hutzel, VFX supervisor at Universal Cable Productions and on Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome. “I suggested that we look at a radically different approach to the show: to shoot it entirely against greenscreen. As the project gained momentum and the studio realized the cost benefits of this approach, the project gained more financing and grew into a two-hour backdoor pilot for a potential television series.”
To date, almost 90 minutes of content has been shot greenscreen with roughly three minutes shot against a set piece.
“We are not a visual effects house in the normal sense,” affirms Doug Drexler, CG supervisor on Blood & Chrome. “Gary has set up a new paradigm. In his model, visual effects is part of the production, just like the art department. We’re there to do anything needed to get the job done.”
After the team shot the live action against greenscreen, the artists moved ahead with designing the virtual elements, including the mood and look, says Drexler. “The computer and LightWave give us a lot of freedom; we can experiment to our hearts’ content without the constraints of budget and building physical sets.”
Drexler and his team of 10 CG artists used LightWave to retrofit the Galactica, including the Battlestar’s interior sets. “Because the show was all greenscreen, we had an opportunity to expand the ship and give it greater scope.” He and the artists pushed back walls and raised ceilings, but stayed true to the original Galactica design and layout.
Extensive virtual environments permeate the entire pilot. Hutzel’s goal was to create environments that enhance the live action shots on greenscreen, without drawing so much attention that the audience is aware of them. “We have a very natural feel with some large-scale elements that are very believable,” he notes. “LightWave was instrumental because we can work with very large, high-resolution models very quickly. The latest visualization and lighting tools really expedite that process. I can literally light on the fly, just like I would if I were lighting a set. You simply can’t do that reliably in other packages and get the kind of results that we have.”