Based on the DC Comics character, Arrow follows Oliver Queen, Mayor of Star City, who fights crime and corruption as the superhero Green Arrow. The show is now in its fifth season on The CW. Zoic Studios (www.zoicstudios.com) in Culver City, CA, has been with the series since the pilot and serves as its primary VFX studio.
“It’s a really fun show to work on,” says Andrew Bardusk, Zoic’s digital effects supervisor for Arrow. “Every year it gets more ambitious in its VFX. What we thought was a big deal in Season 2 has now become standard. Some shots are full CG or matte paintings; others combine stunts, practical effects and digital effects. Everything serves the story no matter what departments are involved. The goal is to find the best way to tell the story.”
The hero’s signature bow and arrows are a consistent visual effect, although the weapons take on different characteristics show to show. “Oliver likes to create new arrows and gadgets,” says Bardusk.
The Season 5 premiere highlighted Queen’s adaptable arrows. In an intensive CG scene, Queen shot a grappling arrow at a helicopter, so he could try to foil an escape. But as he tried to climb aboard the aircraft he fell to earth — saving himself by shooting another arrow that deployed a parachute.
“It was a full CG shot, apart from some close ups of the fight with a practical helicopter shot against black,” says Bardusk. “We added a CG propeller on the top and clouds in the background. When the camera is above the helicopter, looking down, we created a matte painting of a cityscape; we added a digital double of Oliver and created the CG arrow and parachute, which you see unfurl.”
The CG elements were crafted in Maya. The matte painting was done in Photoshop; Nuke created 3D geometry to map the painting onto. Final composting was also done in Nuke.
A particular challenging character is Ragman, who survived a nuclear blast wearing his magic cloak of rags. The cloak can shoot out rags like weapons, which grab villains and toss them around then retract back onto the cloak. “The rags have to feel like cloth but they have to be strong enough to pick up thugs,” Bardusk explains. “You can’t totally do cloth dynamics because you need to art direct the rags. And match moves, wrapping the rags around characters, are more challenging. So we do rough match moves and take deep info from the 3D render in V-Ray into Nuke for compositing.”
A sequence featuring another nuclear blast about to go off found Ragman using hundreds of rags to muffle the bomb and contain the explosion. Choreographing the rags as they wrap around the bomb, but don’t collide with each other, required extensive hand animation.
Mister Terrific’s A.I. drones called T-Spheres made their debut this season. A prop chrome sphere is photographed for some shots, but the T-Sphere’s laser effects are created by Zoic using the 3D tools in Nuke. “We want to make sure we can create as many iterations as possible within the time schedule,” says Bardusk. The laser beams are textured with dust and integrated with glows as they point out their targets.
Although VFX for Arrow are done in HD, Bardusk notes that HDR is used “all the time,” particularly in shots involving the arrows and the T-Sphere. “It’s essential to make sure everything lives in a scene correctly and relates to practical light sources,” he explains. “HDR is especially important for dark scenes where we want to get the reflections right and make sure that every scene will cut correctly.”