Visual effects for CSI's new sibling show, CSI: NY, are created by Look Effects (www.lookfx.com/) in Los Angeles. The one-hour show airs on CBS. Each episode averages about 20 visual effects with an emphasis, again, on "micro" forensics with a few Hollywood-style impact shots. The company's specialty is seamless compositing for feature films and television episodics, so it juggles its staff - from those best with nitpicky details to others good at winging it creatively, depending on the particular CSI: NY shots.
A typical shot starts wide and then "crash zooms" into a micro. A recent episode showed poison vapor soaking into the skin. The vapor turned the skin white around a half-dozen hair follicles before the camera goes below skin level to show a cross section of the poison running across the follicles. The look is photoreal skin with more "mind's eye" scientific animations below the surface. Alias Maya 6.5 with Mental Ray on assorted custom-built PCs were the tools.
Eden FX's John Gross and team used NewTek LightWave, Adobe After Effects and Eyeon Digital Fusion to create this scene for Medium.
Another shot is the hook, the first shot after the teaser. For an episode that should air in April, they put a CG skyscraper into a stock shot of New York City, then flew a helicopter right up to the building, and the camera flies right through the building, up to the show's stars at the crime scene. At press time, they were working on this shot and had only decided on using Maya with Mental Ray.
"We try to find photographic elements that are very close to what we create. We try to make it a short path to the results," says visual effects supervisor Max Ivins. "We're very much the end of the line for anything they do prosthetically. [We do] anything they want to fix... more editorial-like effects, which is knitting together wide and tight shots, and doing whole CG little environments for microscopic level."
Coors Field in 3D
Look Effects is also providing all the visual effects for the half-hour Malcolm in the Middle, now in its sixth year. The average is about 10 shots per show, ranging from sophisticated cleanup work to adding 3D. A spring episode has a character breeding caterpillars, winding up with thousands in his room. "Obviously it would have been a logistical nightmare to shoot that practically," says visual effects supervisor Henrik Fitts. "It was tried but it wasn't very successful, so we went in and took over and provided them with as many butterflies as they wanted, complete with interactivity. We landed them on the character, fluttering around and giving them the option to do whatever they wanted them to do, any kind of direction." They used Maya 6.5, rendering in Mental Ray on PCs.
Pre-planning is critical. Look Effects provides storyboards, sometimes even if clients don't ask for them. They created animatics of the butterflies, modeling, texturing and animating them and compositing them into stock footage. They always supervise on set where they do lighting schematics and set surveys. They send QuickTimes of rough cuts to clients to cut into the shows and get execs to sign off on.
"The only way to do this is to have experienced staff," says Fitts. "There's a learning curve about the specific product or show but that should be the only learning curve that's involved. I can't train people or tell them how to do things. We can, as a facility, do what we're doing because we use a pool of really experienced people. We have Flames in-house, so that helps us tremendously if the time crunch becomes too much. Even if a shot doesn't technically have to go on a Flame, we can run it through Flame, thereby speeding up the shot quite significantly. An absolute necessity if you work in these timelines."
Look Effects takes viewers deep into the world of forensic medicine for CSI/NY.
SPEEDING UP WORKFLOW
Eden FX (www.edenfx.com/) in Hollywood provides up to a dozen visual effects for each episode of NBC's one-hour drama Medium in which a psychic helps solve murders. A recent show involved a dream sequence about the lead character's daughter, also a psychic. Eden does episodics and film work, most recently over 200 shots on Hellboy. All its visual effects artists can work on both. "We're really resolution-independent," says visual effects supervisor John Gross. "All TV work we do nowadays is HD, including this, so the jump from HD to 2K film is negligible. With things like [Eyeon] Digital Fusion, you can combine video resolution with film resolution. It makes it easy."
For a recent Medium teaser, the art department painted fairy tale book pages of a castle with dragons flying by and a rainbow forming overhead. Zooming in, the camera focuses on the actual daughter in the window. Later on in the episode there's another shot where she's back in the dream castle and she pulls out a gun, shooting it at the camera. The TV screen cracks and breaks before a transition to the next scene where she wakes up screaming. This corresponds to a live action scene where the girl shoots a gun from a window, hitting a man who falls. Eden FX creates the blood flow.
The 3D was done in LightWave Version 8.02 on custom workstations running Windows. Compositing was done with Eyeon Digital Fusion. The glass break also used a little Adobe After Effects to create the cracks.
Shopping at NAB
"The way our pipeline is set up is we have a Digital Fusion renderfarm that's separate from our 3D renderfarm; that helps speed up the workflow," says Gross. "The other thing we have written is prop render control software to handle all the nodes that are rendering the LightWave. Then we've also developed automatic slate generators and things like that to just speed up the pipeline. And we have the ability to automatically generate QuickTimes and upload those to clients and things like that. It helps automate tedious things."