VFX: Fox's <I>9-1-1 Lone Star</I>
Issue: January/February 2020

VFX: Fox's 9-1-1 Lone Star

FuseFX (https://fusefx.com) has been providing visual effects services for Fox’s 9-1-1 Lone Star. The show is set in Austin, TX, and centers around a father and son firefighting team (Rob Lowe and Ronen Rubenstein), who have relocated from New York to Texas to help rebuild a station following a tragedy. Liv Tyler plays a chief paramedic. 

FuseFX’s VFX supervisor Brigitte Bourque (pictured) recently provided insight into the studio’s work on the series, which spans 10 episodes in its first season. 

What were the VFX needs for the show?
“9-1-1 Lone Star had a very tight turnaround, with every episode portraying a different emergency. Therefore, all the visual effects needs varied greatly from episode to episode. We went from creating CG tornadoes and snakes to switching out horns on bulls. Because it's a show about firefighters, we had our fair share of fire and smoke episodes as well. One of the great things about this show is how much the production team utilizes practical effects, which allowed us to augment the in-camera effects and have seamless, realistic results. 
“One of the biggest requirements of the show was to be ready for anything. Scripts and storylines developed and changed at a fast pace, and everyone from production to post had to be prepared to blow up a building or go to a space station with little to no advance warning. It was amazing what everyone was able to accomplish on such a demanding schedule.”
How many VFX are required for each episode?
“We ranged between 150 to 300 VFX shots per episode, with varying degrees of visual effects needs. They had a very challenging post schedule that compressed as the season went on. We were able to work with the post team to get some of the heavier VFX shots in-house early, but by the last episodes, we really only had four days to turn it around. That, coupled with the finale airing of two episodes back-to-back, made it a pretty massive feat for the FuseFX team to pull off.”

What tools does FuseFX use for animation, modeling and compositing? 
“We use Nuke as our compositing package and Mocha to assist with planar tracking. Our matte painting department uses Photoshop. To create CG snakes and bulls, our 3D department worked with 3ds Max and Houdini. TyFlow and SpeedTree were utilized for our tornado effects and to create trees getting blown around by the funnel clouds. We had a special requirement to make several environments with the Aurora Borealis, and for that, we used After Effects.”

Is there a shot or scene in Season 1 that you would call attention to?
“Our tornado episode was very challenging. It was an elaborate view of tornadoes that were plaguing the city of Austin, seen first from a far distance, then up close. First and foremost, what we had to keep in mind was that the story was the most important facet. The visual effects were there to push the narrative forward, and we had to make sure what we were doing didn't obscure what the storytellers were trying to keep front and center. It wasn't about the tornado; it was about the people being affected by it. When I talk to my artists about the effects we are doing, we always discuss the story and what our directors, showrunners and writers have as their primary focus. At times that focus could change in the post-stage. Sometimes that meant scrapping what we had set up and coming at it from a different direction to serve the creative direction and story best. The challenge was when these changes happened at the last minute. We had to be flexible and creative on how to get it done on time. It wasn't unheard of for a big sequence to suddenly be a teaser ending for the previous episode, which is what happened for the tornado episode.”