VFX For TV: 'Olympus'
Issue: April 1, 2015

VFX For TV: 'Olympus'

London’s LipSync Post (www.lipsyncpost.co.uk) spent the past year and a half working on the new SyFy seriesOlympus, which debuted on April 2nd. The show spans 13 episodes, each approximately 45-minutes in length, and takes viewers back to a mythological world in the year 2,000 BC. In this ancient Athens setting, Hero embarks on an adventure, where he is faced with the desires of lust, betrayal, jealousy, greed, ambition, fear, trust and love. 

According to LipSync’s head of VFX, Shanaullah Umerji, the series relied heavily on green screen production techniques, both indoor on a stage, and outdoors too. Except for a few small stage sets, most of the environments and backgrounds were created with CG, including the cave of the cyclops and the dramatic forest backgrounds.

“The show is set in roughly 2,000 BC, in pre-ancient Greece,” explains VFX supervisor David Houghton. “It’s very much in a mythological world. The filmmakers wanted to create a world or environment that you would believe could have been real and existed, but at the same time, was almost hyper real and exaggerated. I think they decided early on that they would film all the exteriors as computer generated. 

The team decided to go for an all-CG experience, and some of the interiors of the palace were built as standard sets, but there were only a few of those. Caves and temples were CG. So it was very much a job where we created the environment world.”
“We are doing everything,” adds Umerji of the studio’s work on the series. “All the post, grading, the sound, sound design and visual effects. It helps to keep it under one roof. We are talking to the DI team, and delivering visual effects right to them.”

The series is shot outside of Vancouver and will include more than 4,000 visual effects upon completion. 

“We completed first episodes and they are full of visual effects,” says Umerji. “The first has 580 VFX shots and the second has 440 shots. Within those two episodes we see the fully-CG forest we created, most of the caves, including the cyclops cave, and there’s the Temple of Fire, which is in quite a few story points throughout the series. All of these were created using digital backgrounds and most are very involved. The forest has a lot of detail.”

According to Houghton, the LipSync team started with concept work a few of months before principal photography began. Once production began, a Lightcraft camera tracking system was paired with a Red Epic. 

“We built proxy 3D sets that we could view back live, so we could have an idea of the layout of the environments and roughly what it would look like when we were finished,” Houghton explains. Principal photography was also shot with the Red Epic.
In addition to Autodesk Maya, the studio used SpeedTree (www.speedtree.com) for the quick creation of trees that populate the forest environment. Pixologic’s ZBrush (www.pixologic.com) was used to create cave interiors. World Machine (www.world-machine.com) was used for terrain development, along with Maya SOuP. 

“We are rendering with Arnold and compositing with Nuke,” Houghton adds.

Both of LipSync’s London studios were involved in posting the series. The 195 Wardour Street location is where all the visual effects were created, while the 123 Wardour Street studio, just down the road, handled grading, using a Baselight system, as well as audio post.

At press time, Umerji says the studio has delivered the series’ first five episodes. “We’re going to deliver 6 next week, and we are kind of having to work on three to four episodes at the same time because we are now in delivery mode. We’ve got a couple of months to deliver the rest of the episodes.”