VFX For TV: <I>Scorpion</I>
Issue: April 1, 2017

VFX For TV: Scorpion

Now in its third season on CBS, Scorpion is loosely based on the life of eccentric computer expert Walter O’Brien and the skilled group of misfits working with him to solve complex global problems in Homeland Security’s Scorpion think tank. FuseFX (www.fusefx.com) became involved with Scorpion in Season 1 and was named primary VFX studio for the series in Season 2. FuseFX’s offices in Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York City currently work on a wide variety of high-profile shows for broadcast, feature, cable and streaming platforms. “People expect feature-level VFX” for TV, says VFX supervisor Bob Homami. “They don’t want to cut any corners,” even though TV budgets and turnaround times are constant challenges.

VFX for Scorpion are plot driven and range from creating sinkholes, spiders and snakes, to hungry sharks and a rescue at sea, to a freefall from a rocket back to Earth. “VFX have gotten more ambitious this season,” Homami reports. “Almost every episode has them, and they’re completely new each time. They allow our artists to do something different for every show, and that’s very exciting and refreshing.”

A recent episode charged FuseFX’s flagship LA office with pulling off a complex shark sequence in about three weeks. The story had lead characters Walter and Paige in jeopardy after their boat sank at sea. As the two battle sharks, the rest of the team races to rescue them.

Live-action plates with the actors were shot in the Paramount parking lot tank; additional topside photography was done at the port of San Pedro. FuseFX was tasked with creating and animating the sharks and integrating them and CG water with the live-action actors and stunt footage. Fortunately, the company was a quick study: FuseFX had previously worked on several shows requiring CG oceans, including the Starz series, Black Sails.

Artists crafted realistic sharks circling with their dorsal fins poking out of the water. One shark tried to grab Paige while she was clinging to a buoy. When the shark lunged at the submersible carrying Walter and Toby swung in to save him, FuseFX replaced a prop submersible shot in San Pedro with a CG watercraft, kept the stunt doubles and the rescue boat, added the CG shark and replaced the water for all of the shark and submersible interactions.

Working in HD resolution, FuseFX modeled and textured the shark in ZBrush, used Autodesk 3DS Max for rigging and animation, rendered the shark in V-Ray and projected it onto geometry in Houdini since the CG water had to be rendered in Mantra. That process “made the best use of our lighting and Houdini teams,” says Homami. “We’ve had to develop tools and procedures to get complicated things done on a tight schedule.”  Andersson Technologies’ SynthEyes tracked the plate photography; Nuke handled compositing. Homami notes that Houdini — “everybody’s choice for water and particle effects” — was paired with FuseFX’s proprietary pipeline to create the CG seawater.