VANCOUVER, BC — Artifex Studios (www.ArtifexStudios.com) recently served as the sole VFX vendor on the new YouTube Premium anthology sci-fi series, Weird City. Created by Jordan Peele and Charlie Sanders, dystopian comedy looks at the stark divide between classes. Artifex handled work on more than 250 shots, providing VFX services that ranged from CG animation, set extensions and matte painting work, to creating graphical interfaces, and performing wide-ranging compositing duties.
The studio’s CG team created the opening aerial panoramic shots of the shiny, futuristic city of the rich juxtaposed with the ramshackle city of those who live below ‘The Line.’ Artifex’s work can be seen continuously throughout all six episodes. In addition to detailed CG animations, environments and creature work, Artifex also created ever-present HUD overlays, video & holographic interfaces, icons and surfaces.
In the episode “The One”, Artifex had free reign to build out the city Above the Line, as well as modifying Negari Labs via 3D work and matte painting. Artists created new buildings (also seen throughout the series), embodying bold, futuristic architecture. Once inside Negari Labs, Artifex helped Dr. Negari, played by Levar Burton, up his escape tunnel vacuum tube, before adding effects and site gags the main characters interact with.
The studio was called upon to provide filmed park footage, shot outside Vancouver, that was incorporated into a green-screen experience that a couple shares while on a date. Additionally, the crew was invited to have fun when concepting a store with touch screen emoji pets, which were modeled off the real-life dogs at Artifex’s facility.
The anthology’s second installment, A Family, centers around Michael Cera’s offbeat, ‘just wants to be loved’ character joining Shape Cult, a crossfit-style gym led by Rosario Dawson. It features some of Artifex’s most difficult work on the series.
The team added beauty work on Cera’s jacked-up muscle suit prosthetic, removing seams and texture, as well as providing workout light beams and particle effects. From there, Artifex dove into the meat of the episode. Cera’s character creates juice-fueled carnivorous worms, which he eats to max out, and which eventually eat Dawson’s character in turn. The CG-fueled invertebrate feast was created in SideFX Houdini.
“The two biggest shots for us were probably the opening establishing shot of Weird City, used in the first episode and opening credits, which was a full-CG build descending down from the clouds,” explains Artifex VFX supervisor Rob Geddes. “And of course the worm sequence from Episode 2, which required extensive match-move work on the actress, as well as some darkening and milking effects around her eyes, and heavy FX simulation of the wriggling and crawling worms.”
Smart House, is the fourth part of the anthology, and leans heavily on Artifex for comedic effects, as Dr. Negari has imbued a questionable personality as the A.I. on a ritzy home Above the Line. As tensions escalate during a house party, the home decides to get drunk on its own. Artifex created a CG animated sink hose, using Maya, that knocks over bottles of beer and chugs an entire bottle of fine scotch.
For this scene, Artifex animated the hose over a green-suited actor, removed digitally in Nuke. The gag culminates in an expulsion of alcoholic bile from the sink, created with spray simulations. As things continue to spiral out of control, the home catches fire and eventually explodes. This required artists to integrate practical fire elements with CG flames, smoke effects, and flying debris and matte damage.
In Episode 5, characters lapse into a VR-style entertainment system akin to Netflix, where they experience TV show plots Below the Line. However, in this episode, a CG dragon roasts two children as a metaphor for poverty.
“The dragon we were asked to create had to be part Game of Thrones and part camp,” recalls Artifex founder Adam Stern. “Because it’s a comedy and these Above-the-Liners have such a limited understanding of life outside of their bubble, we had to create a monster that was intimidating and cool, but at the same time, ultimately cliché. It’s a tricky thread to weave but we feel we pulled it off.”
In the final episode, Below, Artifex provided one of the most memorable images: Awkwafina and Yvette Nicole Brown swapping outfits as they learn they have limited free will to do what they please. Tackling this required significant morphing and compositing work to aid the transition and get it to work naturally.
Artifex provided a total of 265 shots for Weird City, drawing on the talents of 21 artists. They also provided on-set VFX supervision.