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October 2014
Issue: October 1, 2010

Keyframe handles VFX for 'Lost Girl,' 'Warehouse 13'

By: Marc Loftus

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO — Keyframe Digital Productions (www.keyframe.ca) is working on the visual effects for 13 one-hour episodes of the new, original fantasy-noir series, Lost Girl. The series will air on Canada’s Showcase in the fall and was developed by Prodigy Pictures in association with Canwest Broadcasting and Showcase.

Lost Girl follows supernatural creature Bo (Anna Silk), who feeds on the sexual energy of mortals, and her personal mission to unlock the secrets of her origin. Keyframe is performing all visual effects for the series, as well as handling on-set supervision. Co-founder Clint Green serves as visual effects supervisor on the show, and fellow co-founder Darren Cranford is directing the visual effects.

At the same time, Keyframe is handling visual effects for the second season of the supernatural drama Warehouse 13, produced by Universal Cable Productions, which returned to Syfy in July.

Darren Cranford spoke with Post recently about the two shows and their unique challenges.

Post: Where in the post process for Lost Girl are you at this point?

Cranford: “There are 13 episodes and we are in the middle of that now. They are waiting for all 13 episodes. I deal directly with the production company which is Prodigy (Pictures). 

Post: How demanding are the show’s VFX?

Cranford: “It’s heavier than most TV shows, but not as heavy as Warehouse 13. This one is approximately between 50 and 100 shots per show. It’s an hour-long show, [which is about] 45 minutes or so.”

Post: What kind of effects does the show require?

Cranford: “For Lost Girl, it is more super natural effects for humans, vampires — glowing eyes, pulling auras off of people — to grotesque features. We have different types of creatures that we do all CG, or CG appendages on different people, greenscreen, set extensions…”

Post: There is one main character?

Cranford: “Yes, Bo, she’s a succubent. She feeds off the sexual energy of people.”

Post: How is the show shot?

Cranford: “It’s shot on the Gemini.”

Post: And the VFX sequences?

Cranford: “They are shot on the Gemini too, and we get everything delivered to us digitally.”

Post: Do you have a steady toolset?

Cranford: “We use just about everything. We are not stuck to one program. We have so many programs. After Effects has a great new roto tool for when you need to roto quickly. We usually use Combustion. It’s our main compositing tool because it has a great paint feature that we love. And then of course we use 3DS Max for 3D work. We use FuelFX for our smoke and auras.”

Post: Does this type of show take over the facility’s resources?

Cranford: “We want to pay the most attention to the jobs we have, so no more than three projects at one time is usually what we take on. There’s no other FX house on these shows, it’s all on us.”

Post: What is the timeframe for delivering en episode?

Cranford: “We usually have about two weeks per episode.”

Post: Do you know in advance what each episode will require?

Cranford: “That’s the beauty part about it, they involve us in the process from the idea stage. They say, ‘We have an idea for a script. What can we do? Can we accomplish this? Or, [we say], let’s tweak it to do this so it would be a little quicker to do.

“There’s one CG character that plays dominantly in one of the shows. They gave us a heads up early on and we were able to build the creature and spend a month on the creature alone to get it the way we wanted it, so by the time we got to the episode, we’d already have it ready to go.”

Post: Do you have to work on multiple episodes simultaneously?

Cranford: “Yes, we are usually on two episodes at once.”

Post: How big is the team and are they dedicated to specific shows?

Cranford: “They work across shows. We usually use the talent itself. Ifthis person is really good at roto… different people specialize in FuelFX or Particle Effects, so we do a lot of cross polination in that way. There’s close to 30 of us now, and we do subcontract now and again.”

Post: Now in Season 2, is Warehouse 13 much different?

Cranford: “The thing about Warehouse 13 is they start airing before we finish. They start airing while we are in the sixth episode, and of course they show an episode every week and it takes us two weeks to do an episode, so when they start showing them at number 6, the crossroads meet very tight at the twelfth episode.”

Post: How far along are you now?

Cranford: “We’re finishing off 11 and 12, and the thirteenth episode will actually be a Christmas episode that will air in December.”

Post: Have the effects changed much for the second season?

Cranford “It changed significantly. The first season, the average was about 150 shots. In the cases of a few of these shows we’ve doubled that. Shows 7, 11 and 12 are over 200 shots each!”

Post: From a studio management standpoint, how do you know when a job is too big?

Cranford: “Well, we all love the show so much and want to give everything to it, so we never say we can’t  take it or can do it. And they do give us enough lead time to know what is going to happen. In the case of show 7, which has already aired with a robot spider, and Hugo was a hologram, everytime we saw that character, he was semi transparent and had an effect. More than half of his shots were never done on greenscreen. He needed to be selected out on every one of those shots. And of course the robot spiders were all camera tracked and placed in the scene, and they were interacting with these spiders in almost all the scenes. There were over 40 shots of those spiders alone.”

Post: Can anything be re-used from one episode to the next?

Cranford: [Laughs] “There’s the warehouse, which we rebuilt from scratch for the second season. We did the extreme blow up at the end of the first season where Artie gets killed. There was one done by another company for the pilot.

This season, specifically, they wanted the warehouse to look as if it goes off into infinity in all directions. So that’s what our goal was this season, to make it look like it goes off into infinity. You look down into infinity in one aisle, and then when the camera moves, you turn again and it goes off to infinity again.”