Christian Cardona and the VFX of Bones
When you first meet LOOK Effects VFX supervisor Christian Cardona, the thing you notice immediately is that he’s in really good shape. Not the wiry good shape you get from yoga and chia seeds, but the thick good shape you get from lifting and smacking around heavy things, like people. It’s the kind of good shape that reminds you of Ivan Drago glaring at Rocky Balboa and saying, “I must break you.”
And indeed, after a bit of discussion, it turns out that Christian Cardona’s path to VFX supervisor on Fox’s hit show Bones is different from that of every other person in the industry, and jives perfectly with the thought that most probably, he could easily break you in two or toss you through a window. Before getting into CG and visual effects, Christian Cardona was a stunt man. Martial arts and fight choreography. A stunt man who realized his career as a professional rag doll would probably be measured in months, not years. An on set chat with a VFX supervisor who had worked on Lord of the Rings piqued his interest. A bit of research, time spent at film school, more time spent learning CG, a lot of on the job training and eventually, he landed at LOOK, running himself ragged leading the work on Bones.
The recent Emmy nomination for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role on "The Twist in the Twister" episode is proof positive that his work, along with the entire Look team, is getting noticed. I recently sat with Christian to talk about the grueling, fast paced and highly rewarding work he’s doing on the show.
Dan Sarto: In your role as a visual effects supervisor, tell us a little bit about the type of shots you do on Bones?
Christian Cardona: Sure. The type of stuff we do for Bones is pretty wide ranging. It’s really broad. Almost every episode they ask us to do something completely different. One of the main things that they ask us to do are set extensions, because the show shoots in Los Angeles, but it takes place in Washington DC.
So, often if you see a monument in the show, we’ve added it later. What’s really funny is if you are looking for geographical accuracy with the monuments, you won’t find it on the show. They really don’t care where we put the monuments as long as it looks aesthetically pleasing. So that’s one aspect of what we do.
One of the other components that they ask us to do is gore enhancements. They take a lot of pride in the bodies. Often they ask us to do rig removals and then enhance a lot of stuff that they do practically. So that’s one of the other main components that they ask us to do.
3D characters are another one. When you have decomposing bodies, anything that interacts with the actors that you can’t obviously train, they want us to do that as well. Insects usually.
DS: Your production schedule must be unbelievably compressed. How do you breakdown production scheduling for a 22 episode season?
CC: We typically have two weeks to turn around an episode and we have 22 episodes per season, which as you know, is just crazy. Also, we’re usually working on three shows simultaneously. So, we will be in prep on one, we will be shooting one and we will be in post on another. Essentially I’m all over the place, either on set, in concept meetings or supervising our artists.
We had a unique schedule last year, because one of the lead actresses, Emily Deschanel, had a baby. So, they shortened the season. There were four episodes that we are delivering this season that carried over from last season.
So, we did get some extra time on those episodes, but right now we’re dealing with delivering stuff that’s being shot right now, as well as stuff that was shot last season. So, we’re almost delivering a show every week right now.
To give you an example, there is an episode they will be airing in the coming season that involves a car explosion in a parking garage. We ended up doing a miniature shoot for fire elements. So that’s something that we were able to shoot during their hiatus [between last season, Season 7 and the beginning of the current Season 8]. Once we got the plates, we had the elements already done in-house and we were able to composite those and deliver that show pretty quickly. But that was something that definitely needed additional prep going into it in order to deliver it on this type of schedule.
We also don’t have a traditional pipeline. We have a very small crew of about five people at any given time. It fluctuates a little bit depending on the amount of work per episode, but that’s pretty standard. Our artists are really versatile. Essentially they can all do 3D to a certain extent, they all track, they all paint and they all composite. So, I will give full-on sequences to each individual artist based on their own strengths, so that allows us to streamline things.