Getting Lost in the Final Season
"It's hard for me to step back and watch it as a fan with that unknowing eye," Avitabile admits. "But, it's one of those season finales that people were either going to love or absolutely hate. I equate it with The Sopranos season finale. The show had so much momentum and so much power behind it that you could never make everybody happy. You were going to have the hardcore Lost fans, who are into every little detail and every little mystery, bummed that this one little mystery wasn't explained or that one. But I look at it from Damon & Carlton's perspective [writers Lindelof & Cuse]: it's the way they wanted to end it and they did a really good job of doing it.
For his part, Avitabile was able to push the animation further for the Smoke Monster and yet keep as much of the work in camera or as practical as possible, in keeping with the prevailing realistic tone , even with the challenge of taking on more ambitious vfx (350 shots alone for the two-and-a-half hour finale).
"I was such a fan of the series, so when I met with the producers I pitched certain ideas: for example, the Smoke Monster. It's kind of a challenging thing because it's been established for five seasons. I couldn't drastically change the look but, for me, I always wanted to put a little bit more character into Smokey through animation. We did some subtle things where, depending on the scene, he's not so much this freight train running through everything. He's looking out for that person first, finds him and then zeroes in on him. It makes a slight difference."
For the most part, though, there was a great deal of set extension work involving matte paintings projected onto 3D objects for change of perspective. This included the temple, which was extended several levels beyond the first two, and the lighthouse on a cliff face, which was extended about six stories.
"These types of invisible effects are my favorite," Avitabile suggests. "If you've got a cloud of smoke killing people, people know it's not real. But, if you can make a building or a natural structure look natural, that, for me, is where the magic comes in because you can fool the eye.
"For the premiere this season, we did this gigantic crater in the ground that was an implosion; and when we built the set it was only a half-circle and the other back half of the wall was 60-feet of greenscreen. But if you watch the sequence, you think they've dug a big whole: it's pretty seamless."