Issue: November 1, 2007


Our "Preparing for VFX" feature this month focuses on how visual effects supervisors/artists help directors save time and money — and help them get a better result — by preparing for all possibilities during a shoot.

There are some who see it as yet another person to deal with on "their" set, but Glenn Lazzaro, director/creative director at Crossroads Television in NYC, isn't one of them. "I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to have extra support around them. I'm a big collaborator and I love having everybody on the set help me with everything. It's just another person to bounce ideas off of."

He points to a rebranding project Crossroads did earlier this year for HGTV, which featured some of the network's on-air talent; it was a mix of live action and graphics. "We shot the stars of their shows on sets we built and had them interacting in homes in interesting visual ways," he says.

In one of the pieces, Candice Olsen, host of Devine Design on HGTV, is sitting with a big piece of plexiglass in front of her, sketching the layout of a room with a grease pencil. Behind her, the empty room becomes populated with furniture, lamps and carpeting as she draws them on the glass.

"It was very difficult because when she's writing, the camera is facing her, so she has to write in reverse," explains Lazzaro. "We had to lock camera, set up places where a certain piece of furniture would go, mark it precisely, see her draw, erase the board, move the furniture, have her draw it, put the furniture back in, shoot the plate…" Oy.

He says having VFX director/Flame artist Steve Zourntos and creative director Ders Hallgren from Crossroads ( sister company Headlight Design + Visual Effects on set made it a very collaborative process.

"As a director and creative director, my job is to be incredibly optimistic about what can be accomplished in-camera," says Lazzaro, who comes from an editorial background and knows what can be accomplished in post. "But I also know that if you do it in-camera first, you've got a better chance of making it happen."

In some instances, what he thought could be done in-camera, in the reality of the moment — with the crew and lighting, etc. — didn't work. "You can't really do it until you have everything there," he says. "There were cases where we said, 'We can't do this because we want to do that later, and that won't work later if we do it now.' So we put our heads together and came up with a different way to do it." On the spot, they came up with plates and shot mattes, "so when it went into compositing it would all work. I couldn't have done it without those guys there," he concludes. "I was thinking in terms of the camera and not at all of the options they have at their disposal."