Entity FX Sinks its Teeth into Vampire Diaries
The Vampire Diaries, which debuted last fall, and airs Thursdays at 8/7 Central on The CW Network, is about a high school girl torn between two vampire brothers. All the vfx is done by Entity FX (with Brian Harding serving as visual effects supervisor) and features a variety of work, including signature vampire "eye" effects to express angry or hungry vamps; "speed effects"; and even a witch that shows off her powers by levitating a room full of feathers. We spoke with Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor.
Bill Desowitz: Let's begin with the signature "eye" effects, especially the bulging and pulsing veins on their faces that are the hallmark of the vampires.
Mat Beck: It's digital makeup with a personality because it moves and changes constantly. It's interesting because early in the show there was a bit more happening within the actual eye itself but as we've progressed, this shot has evolved and we've developed the ability to convey quite a bit with the veins around the cheek bone and under the eye. And the challenge and opportunity, of course, is to tie it in to the actual performance. It shows emotion, it shows rage, it shows arousal, it shows ambivalence, it shows conflict. In order to be able to modulate the performance, each character has his or her own set of veins that are adjusted for their personality and physiognomy. And the individual veins can be controlled for color or height rising out of the skin and highlights and shadow and movement of blood through them. And individual veins can be rising while others are falling.
We've written some custom software that makes it easier to tweak all these variables to play along with the actor's performance to set the tone that the show's creatives want for each moment. Of course, the other thing is you have to make this surreal moment look convincingly physically real. So the veins have to look like they are actually under the skin of the actor. To do that we have a variety of 3D and 2.5D techniques that, in effect, model the skin over the bone so that as the skin of the real actor deforms, the pattern of veins deform with it. It's more than just a simple tracking mark here or there: We actually had to have tracked the deformation of the whole patch of skin under each eye.
BD: What software do you use for this?
MB: Besides some internally-generated scripts, we use Maya for the 3D and then, depending on the shot, the compositing work is done with After Effects or Discreet boxes.
BD: Tell us more about your custom software.