DC Universe’s Titans follows a group of young superheroes as they come of age. The show is a new take on the
Teen Titans franchise and features characters such as Batman’s former sidekick Dick Grayson (Robin), the mysterious Starfire, the loveable Beast Boy, and Rachel Roth, who, as Raven, is possessed by a strange darkness.
The series premiered in October of 2018 and recently completed its second season. Encore VFX (www.encorepost.com) in Hollywood handled visual effects on the first two seasons of the show, helping to introduce the characters, as well as their signature powers.
Armen Kevorkian, creative director/senior VFX supervisor at the studio, says it was Encore’s work with production company Berlanti on superhero shows such as The Flash,
Black Lightning and
Batwoman that led to their working on
“I think the pilot shot like two years ago in November,” he recalls. “It was a very cold November in Toronto, from what I remember. And, we just went from there. There were a lot of concepts because there’s Teen Titans, which is more kid friendly. And this was a darker version, so there were a few things we had to figure out.”
One of the main challenges was the transformation of Garfield “Gar” Logan (played by Ryan Potter) into Beast Boy.
“We decided early on that he’s just going be a tiger for that year,” explains Kevorkian of the character, which in cartoon versions, regularly changes into a range of different animals. “Obviously, for time and budgetary reasons, we decided just to kind of stay with the tiger for the first year.”
Raven’s effects were another challenge. The Rachel Roth character is portrayed by Teagan Croft, and unlike Beast Boy, had little reference to draw from. After some early R&D, and back and forth with the series’ producers, the effect was determined to be a black energy that emanates from her.
“[It] has a little bit of a liquidy/smoky feel to it,” says Kevorkian on her energy. “Kind of like an extension of her evil side. It was one of those things that had to have its own personality, even though [it’s] like energy — the way it attacked people. The way it wrapped around people. The way it just came out sometimes to show that she’s on the cusp of that bad side.”
And the Starfire character represented yet a further challenge. Anna Diop plays Kory Anders, Starfire’s mortal persona. In addition to her main power of shooting flames from her hands, Starfire is also protected from dangers such as bullets, etc., thanks to an energy layer beneath her skin.
“We were kind of back and forth on what that look was,” says Kevorkian of Starfire’s protective layer. “The one thing I knew early on that I wanted to do was, I wanted to have something underneath her skin to show like this energy building up. With my team, what I referenced was ‘burning steel wool’ as a starting point of what this should look like. And that’s kind of what we did to mimic the under-skin effects for her.”
All of her fire effects were created with CG, and made to resemble that of a flamethrower.
“They’re all CGI,” he says of the flames. “They’re all simulations that we do. We match move her so we can do the subsurface elements…And then if it’s going to hit something, we usually have some kind of collider object there. If it’s another person, we will usually put another digital double in as a collision object, so it does feel like the fire is hitting something. The same with if there’s any kind of architecture it’s going to hit. So there’s quite a bit of work that goes on…for those moments.”
In addition to Gar (who does turn into a snake in one Season 2 episode), Raven and Starfire, Encore created a number of effects to support Brenton Thwaites’ Dick Grayson/Robin character, including the ‘Batarang’ — a bat-shaped boomerang.
“That was CG,” he confirms. “Any hard surface-type material things that he would throw, or his grappling hook, all that stuff was CG. His baton opening up in the beginning, or going away, or being thrown was CG. But if he was in a fight, it was obviously real for most of the time.”
Additional character work included Trigon, the demon who is Raven’s father; Wonder Girl’s glowing lasso; Super Boy’s leaping ability; and his dog Krypto, who is CG in instances where a practical dog could not be used.
Beyond the character work, Encore also created the entire exterior of Starfire’s spaceship, along with parts of its interior to augment the practical interior used on-set.
Kevorkian says the Encore team was excited to work on a streaming show like Titans because, unlike some of the broadcast work they do, the production schedule granted them a little more time up front than they usually receive.
“But what happens is, afterwards, it kind of catches up,” he says of the schedule. “Our finale for Season 2, we only had three weeks — and we had like 40 tiger shots. So I still don’t think we’re on the same playing field as some of the other streaming shows from what I hear, because I know that Netflix and Amazon, when they do their shows, a lot of times they’re in post for a year. That’s not the case for us.”
By his estimation, each episode of Titans involves 100 VFX shots. Encore uses Pixologic’s ZBrush and Autodesk Maya for modeling. Animation is achieved completely in Maya, and Foundry’s Nuke is their compositing solution. They have both Maya and Max pipelines for lighting and rendering. FumeFX is a powerful fluid dynamics plug-in for Max. The studio also uses Chaos Group’s Phoenix FD for Max, which allows for the creation of realistic liquid simulations, splashes, foam, fire and explosions. They have also been using SideFX Houdini for similar situations.
Season 1 of Titans comprised 11 episodes and Season 2 spanned 13.
Encore has 30 to 40 of its 250 LA-based artists working on the show. They can also tap talent from their smaller studios in Vancouver and Atlanta.
Having completed Season 2 of Titans, Kevorikian is working on another DC Universe streaming series —
Doom Patrol — which, he adds, is coming to HBO Max.