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MastersFX Delivers Effects for TNT’s 'Falling Skies'

MastersFX perfects the mix of practical and digital effects for Emmy-nominated TV Series, Falling Skies.


Los Angeles & Vancouver BC --

Award-winning character effects company MASTERSFX has been signed to continue developing and creating its mix of Practical/Digital FX for season four of the hit DreamWorks/TNT television series Falling Skies, set to debut in Summer 2014. MASTERSFX has regularly worked on the series since its 2011 launch. The company also designs and produces a diverse number of makeup and special creature effects for a variety of other hit TV shows and feature film projects. Todd Masters, founder of MASTERSFX, made the announcement.

For Falling Skies, a Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks Television produced series airing on TNT, MASTERSFX creates and produces armies of practical alien characters. Having perfected a Practical/Digital FX mix, MASTERSFX creates all of the aliens which physically appear on-set, as well as other special makeup effects and mechanical monsters. For the just concluded season three, MASTERSFX upped the ante, adding its unique digital process into the mix. Working in tandem with the 2013 Emmy Award-nominated digital effects team at Zoic Studios, MASTERSFX provided several practical/digital creatures and enhanced live-action environments depicted in season three.

For decades, MASTERSFX has worked to perfect the practical and digital effects mix in working with live, on set actors. “We have been strong — and vocal — proponents for realism in mixing Practical and Digital FX to depict unique and organic feeling characters,” Masters said. “Falling Skies is the perfect example by which to illustrate how we can evolve character FX technology. If these techniques don't grow, traditional CG will become fossilized, just like other technologies that have come before. We need to continue to innovate and strive for better looking results. We are delighted to continue our association with ‘Falling Skies’ into its fourth season, and wish to congratulate the show for its 2013 Emmy Award nomination for outstanding visual effects.”

The most popular new character added to Falling Skies during season three was Cochise, a warrior of the Volm alien race portrayed by actor Doug Jones. (Jones also performed as several other members of the Volm species, even playing his own father.) MASTERSFX adds Performance Driven enhancements to these Volm characters via the company’s in-house digital tools. By analyzing the actor’s original performance -- tracking his precise movements and then modifying them with proprietary software - the artists at MASTERSFX are able to create a hybrid performance of both practical and digital FX, one not possible with traditional solutions.

MASTERSFX helps bring Jones' on-set practical prosthetics to life organically, so that other actors can better respond to his characterizations. His alien portrayal can physically be part of the scene, can be directed, and can interact with performers and props. He appears as a true member of the show, rather than as digitally fabricated character rendered in post.

“As artists, working in both make-up and visual effects, we prefer to embrace any tool or technique appropriate to helping our clients tell compelling stories,” states Andre Bustanoby, Visual Effects Supervisor at MASTERSFX. “In Falling Skies for example, the character of Cochise is a unique amalgam of techniques, built in tandem with a brilliant live-action performance.”

“What we wanted to create was an extension of Doug's live, on-set performance, not something that would be replaced later in post,” Masters continues. “This provides the additional benefit of something actually being on-set. Our finished product looks real -- because it is real. With our process, we can put a full character on-set, in real-time, which allows the other actors and director to see the ‘being’ and collaborate with it directly. There are no tennis balls to act to or direct; we deliver Cochise in full character prosthetics.”

“When we work with an actor through our practical/digital process, that person can author his/her performance in collaboration with the prosthetic make-up,” adds Bustanoby. “The audience is emotionally drawn into the overall story without being distracted by the techniques used in the execution. We see practical and digital methodologies as part of a larger tool box – in which the strength of one technique is often the weakness of the other. So by integrating these varying techniques, they dovetail with seamless results.”

“Doug Jones as Cochise can ‘guide’ us in extending his character’s performance and control, for example, if his character is blinking at just the right time or presenting a highly emotional moment,” states Lead MASTERSFX Art Director Werner Pretorius. “All of this can happen very organically, and we have the ability to tweak the timing and push the live/human performance very easily. This is something that has traditionally not been possible with on-set characters in suits or wearing prosthetics. We think of this as an interpretation of emotion, principally driven by the actual range that animatronic characters can achieve. Integrating our techniques, we can discern the actor’s real emotions and character’s subtleties, and ‘project’ them back onto our prosthetic-enhanced character, thus extending and enhancing each overall performance.”

In addition to The Volm aliens, MASTERSFX also creates many other creatures seen on Falling Skies, including the multi-legged Skitters -- a race of intelligent insect/humanoid-type warriors which serve are the foot soldiers of the invading aliens.  Initially a digital creation for the series pilot, MASTERSFX was contracted to redesign aspects of the Skitters, and produce a practical suit that actors could perform with on-set -- in conjunction with fully CG characters -- for more extreme action.  The MASTERSFX makeup team continues to bring these highly mobile and menacing beings to life through a blend of suit wearing performers, on-set puppetry, and animatronics. The production chose to blend computer-generated Skitters and practical on-set animatronics, in order to take full advantage of both techniques.

The upgrade of MASTERSFX’s Digital Makeup division occurred in tandem with the launch of Falling Skies. “Makeup FX have evolved dramatically over the past 30 years — today, better materials and modern techniques are standard fare. But these are just tools in the hands of an artist,” says Johnny Banta, MASTERSFX’s Lead Digital Makeup Artist. “The computer is also a tool, and it is our intent to marry the physical and digital toolsets into one cohesive, dynamic solution with actors and directors. This is not a ‘fix it in post’ approach, but a deliberate attempt to apply the right tool to best serve the character. Computer-aided design and manufacturing, as well as post-performance enhancement, are part of that toolset. Falling Skies is the perfect opportunity by which to evolve this rapidly evolving art form even further.”


Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.