Going Deeper into the Fringe-y Way
Worth adds that one of the benefits this season "is having Todd Masters of Todd Masters FX being on the practical side, which has really opened us up to doing more hands-on creature and body work, where you just know that the corpse and creatures work seamlessly with what we're doing. That's what I like most about episode nine with the parasite that came out of the body. We had such a good parasite to work with that we were able to design and execute a [better result]."
So, aside from new twists on the trademark creepy deaths, what are some of the new wrinkles this season?
How about someone turning to ash, inspired by Worth holding the remains of his wife's grandmother in his hands at her funeral?
"The Ash Man definitely had its own set of challenges," Worth says, "because we wanted to utilize a lot of real elements, and because we didn't have the time to do all the simulation and particle work needed to make it look real. The thing that sold The Ash Man more than anything was the aftermath shot: This half-disintegrated body with a pile of ash for the head on the ground. It ended up being a layering, compositing, tweaking challenge beyond belief. I got to shoot the elements myself and had more control over them."
The Ash Man was arguably the most daunting effect for Zoic so far this season. "Originally, it was supposed to be a practical effect but they couldn't get it to fall in a natural way, so what we had to do was shoot the practical elements in pieces and we put them all together and timed all those plates and ended up rebuilding a significant part of it and tying it all together in CG," Orloff explains. "So we took a cyberscan of the guy's body, and on top of all the practical elements we used as a base, we had a matte painting, a reveal matte painting of the cracks that ran through the body, 3D particles of large chunks of ash falling out, 3D particles of small ash bits floating down, residual dust flying off of it and, at one point, his head falls off and crashes to the ground as ash. So we had to do a full-CG head and tumble it down the body. That was pretty complicated and entailed lots of R&D: there was 2D work in After Effects, tracking, retiming, we did a lot of CG lighting for the body parts in Maya/mental ray and all of the particles were a combination of Maya software, and rendered in Maya/mental ray.
Then there was the effect of turning Bell and Bishop (John Noble) younger. "The guys at Zoic had to walk a fine line between too plasticky, stretched, morph effects and something that naturalistically looks younger," Worth suggests. "And we're looking to do again in the future, but that's all I can say."
For Zoic, the "youngify" effect is a compositing approach using After Effects to lift out some of the higher frequency details from the plates. "We're pulling those out and doing a softened pass and then we're using some selective roto to blend that back in and also some tracked warp to change the shape of the face to make it look younger," Orloff explains.