Panel looks back at <I>Xena: Warrior Princess'</I> VFX
November 29, 2022

Panel looks back at Xena: Warrior Princess' VFX

LOS ANGELES — Emmy Award-winning visual effects artist Kevin Kutchaver recently reunited with members of the Xena: Warrior Princess team to present a special panel that looked at the show’s VFX. Xena: Warrior Princess was an American fantasy television series filmed on-location in New Zealand. The series ran from September 1995 to June 2001 and starred Lucy Lawless as the lead character.

Writer/director/producer Rob Tapert created the series in 1995 under his production company Renaissance Pictures, with executive producers RJ Stewart and Sam Raimi. The recently panel, dubbed “An Inside Look at the VFX Featured Within the TV Series Xena: Warrior Princess,” reunited Kutchaver with two additional members of the VFX team - Andy Clement and Bryan Blevins. The event took place at the LAX Hyatt Regency Hotel, and was a highlight of Creation Entertainment’s “A Salute to Xena: 25th Anniversary” convention.

Photo (L-R): Kevin Kutchaver, Andy Clement and Bryan Blevins

During the presentation, Kutchaver, Clement and Blevins displayed numerous clay-sculptured models and maquettes, and explained how they had had to devise new methods by which to digitize those props into computers. 

“Back in 1995, ’96, ’97, we literally had to invent new ways to tell Xena’s stories,” Kutchaver recalled. “As visual effects work had just started to move to the desktop, it was literally like the Wild West of computer technology. People have since asked us, ‘Why weren’t Xena’s episodes shot in HD?’ to which I always reply, ‘Because HD wasn’t even invented yet!’”

Kutchaver recounted how he was walking once with Rob Tapert, who was, at the time, the executive producer of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, for which Kutchaver’s company, Flat Earth Productions, was providing VFX. 

“I remember Rob saying to me, ‘I have this idea for, like, a female Hercules character, what do you think?’ to which I replied, ‘Rob, that’s a terrible idea!’ Fortunately, Rob didn’t listen to my bad advice!”

“I owe my VFX career to Kevin Kutchaver,” added Blevins. “He gave me my first big break on Hercules and Xena when he owned Flat Earth Productions. We had to create a lot of digital effects for those shows under very tight budgets and quick deadlines. In the early days of Xena, each episode had only a few VFX shots, but by the end of the last season – well, there were 500 shots in the very last episode!”

“You don’t get anything on screen that feels more organic than when you sculpt a physical maquette and then digitize it,” added Andy Clement. “I did sculpting on a lot of creatures for Xena, along with a good deal of 3D animation work. In the early days of computers, it could take a very long time to map and grid each of the physical models and maquettes. Then rendering them took forever. But as Xena’s seasons progressed, so did computers and the software, which helped speed things up.”

“In retrospect, we really had a great time doing Xena,” Kutchaver notes. “Both Hercules and Xena were huge hits for Universal Television and Rob Tapert’s company, Renaissance Pictures, and Rob was interested in putting as much as he could into every episode. Each season we’d get a fairly locked budget, and we’d say, ‘Well, what do we have to do this week? What does the story call for? And what, given our talents and our tech, can we do to make those FX look as realistic as possible?’ I’m proud to say we never gave up, even with those limited budgets and ungodly deadlines. I like to think we played a nice role in TV history with the hundreds and hundreds of creative images we contributed to Xena: Warrior Princess.”