Getting Lost in the Final Season
As for the highly anticipated finale, there were three main vfx sequences. One was a climactic fight on top of a cliff face. "Of course, it was supposed to take place in the rain -- a big, tortuous fight right on the edge of a 100-foot drop on the edge of the ocean," the vfx supervisor explains. "Of course, we filmed that in beautiful, sunny, Hawaii weather. I spent seven days on this cliff face. Everyone was harnessed in rock climbing gear to the wall. There were no horizontal surfaces to sit on. I tweaked my knee; everyone was hurt. The stunt guy broke two ribs. So a lot of it was doing color corrections they couldn't do in the DI, sky replacements where we had to, adding rain. We had two guys with fire hoses, but on a windy day on a cliff top they don't always act the way you want them to. We accentuated the practical stuff with CG rain and the island itself has a seismic shift. We pull out wide and you actually see cliff faces falling into the ocean, so full particle-type explosions raining down into the ocean and big chunks sliding off, which was really cool."
The second sequence involved a pool of light, deep within an underground cavern, which is the source of the island's power. "We built this set, which took up one of our soundstages," he continues. "We provided this pool in the middle of the room, and created this light effect. There were probably 60 shots of that alone. It starts out almost magical -- and we usually don't do magical on this show, but this is the closest we've come with twinkling particles and a pixie dust kind of thing.
The biggest vfx sequence (175 shots) happened at the end when the remaining survivors try to escape the island by plane during the destruction, with a wide shot of some of the bluffs falling into the ocean.
"We had a plane set piece that we built and had to put the other wing and tail on it," Avitabile says. "And so they get in this cockpit and pull the thing back and we have to do all the extensions on this set piece and everything inside the cockpit was greenscreen, so I approached it like everything else this season: trying to get as much in camera as possible. Instead of doing CG environments, which would be easier for us to have control over, I shot everything practical out the window, which took some time to get it all right… We ended up doing a digital matte painting and tracking it with Maya on the actual ground plane itself to get more of a sandy texture with weeds growing in it and cracks forming to make it look a little more precarious. And then we had five full-CG shots of the plane going down the runway in various states. The plane was CG, the foliage was CG, the backgrounds were plate photography that we altered and color corrected and added the necessary elements to that we needed."
Even so, the edit wasn't locked when they started the vfx and they had a little more than three weeks to do 350 shots. "It'll probably take me a couple of months to realize the enormity of what the last year was," he concludes. "It's been an amazing experience being out in Hawaii with a crew that has been together for six years. Here I am the new kid on the block trying to do things differently. But it's to their credit that they accepted some new approaches and new ideas and the producers were happy with the results."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.