Eyeon Case Study Battlestar Galactica Aurore de Blois

Could you supply a bit of background on how and when Battlestar VFX was started?

Season One’s VFX was all completed by vendors. VFX Supervisor Gary Hutzel had the in-house VFX Dept. under way at the beginning of season 2. By early season 3, the in-house VFX Dept. handled 100% of the work.

What are recent and current productions that have gone through Battlestar VFX?

We focus entirely on BSG’s VFX, although we have also done a few pilots between seasons.

Project specific:

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What is your role on the show at Battlestar VFX?

I am Senior VFX Compositor. My work is primarily the Matchmoving, set extensions, centurion shots, and FTL Jump shots. The remainder of my work would be all-CG spaceship shots but not really so much of those as I primarily work on the shots integrating live action and CG.

What is your basic pipeline procedure (configuration)?

We’ve had an all 64bit hardware pipeline from the beginning, so having all-64bit applications like Fusion, SynthEyes and Lightwave just allows us to use everything our equipment has. All our CG is done in LA, and Compositing is shared between LA and Vancouver.

Can you approximate the amount of shots that BSG VFX has completed for the series? What is the average weekly shot count?

That is difficult to estimate! Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds... We have had single episodes with over a hundred and twenty shots, and we have done episodes with 12 shots. I think Razor was 164 shots, maybe more. I suppose an average episode would be 40 or 50 shots. I have always considered a ‘small show’ to be 20 shots, and we have done very little that size so you can guess it from there.

We use all-new VFX for each episode as well, not a mass of re-use. I don’t recall seeing any re-use on BSG at all; we create new shots for each show.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on this project? How did you overcome them, and how did Fusion fit in to the solution?

They shoot everything to look cool, not to make our work simple.

What that generally translates to are shots that may require extensive roto, such as shots with multiple Cylon models, or set extensions that require complex matchmoving. This also means that, in the end, we have exciting shots that took some effort to pull off instead of simple shots that aren’t terribly groundbreaking.

Other than that, the tight deadlines have always made things interesting. Our most difficult show had, two compositors complete a hundred shots in a week, so you can get an idea from that how intense the schedule had been at times. It became easier on us all with a larger team and a more robust render farm.

Battlestar Galactica is an effects heavy weekly series. Tight deadlines and large shot counts put a lot of pressure on the artistic team. How does Fusion help you achieve your deadlines without sacrificing the show’s artistic vision and tone?

Secondly, how do you find working with eyeon’s technical support during production? And how would you rate their level of responsiveness?

We don't concern ourselves with how long renders might take, or compromise anything based on the amount of time we have [such as Radiosity renders, for example]. I love that aspect of our pipeline. It's the main reason why we manage to make things look the way we do. We haven't made sacrifices of any kind in order to get the work out faster.  If we need radiosity or HDRI renders, we'll do it properly rather than 'fake' radiosity. The render times are longer, but in the end the difference is night and day and allows for more control in the final print and ultimately, a superior image. Having a powerful 64bit render farm makes considering a compromise on render quality a no brainer.

Fusion's interface allows me to produce results at a greater speed than in any other application, and I much prefer to have a program that can keep up with me instead of having to work slower.

Tech support has always been great! I have always found their ability to quickly respond to questions or problems far above others. I have had macros written for me next day to get around things, and my feature requests appear in updates. I found that tech support wants to help the artists, instead of us being an inconvenience to them

In your experience, what are major differences between producing effects for film vs. effects for broadcast (please explain specific cases if possible)?

Deadlines! In episodic Television, you have to work significantly faster because you have that much less time to get it done. We don't cut corners in our work, so we have to make the most out of what little time we do have. We don't have six weeks to do a single shot, for example.

What has been the most rewarding shot in the series for you to date? Was there a particular shot that was more complex than usual, or turned out better than you could have hoped that you want to highlight?

With several hundred shots behind me, it isn’t easy to pick the favourites because I am very proud of all my work. However, a few come to mind.

I had a big motion control shot [1800 frames] in season 2 comprising four plates that were not aligned at all for some reason. I am uniquely happy with that shot because of all the effort you don't see that went into it.

I had to animate transforms, morphs and speed ramps on three plates just to get all the plates to be in register. This misalignment was mostly evident in a fine metal lattice fence along a balcony, and all the actors' legs appear through this screen. In HD the metal grid work is plainly visible so there were very fine details that had to line up solidly. Any misregistration of the plates would have been very plain to see. That was where all the work in that shot really was, but most would assume the real work was just Roto, as there are a number of duplicate Cylons on the balcony watching Caprica Six and D'anna as they walk by. There was a great amount of Roto involved, but that was minor compared to the preparation work involved beforehand.

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