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Doing the Time Warp with 'FlashForward'

Kevin Blank goes behind-the-scenes of the hot new ABC series.

Check out a FlashForward clip at AWNtv!

Zoic worked on the pilot, including this freeway disaster. All images courtesy of ABC.

Imagine if the whole world briefly lost consciousness simultaneously and witnessed a global, sixth-month flash forward. That's the premise of the trippy, sci-fi series created by Brannon Braga (rebooted Star Trek series) and David Goyer (The Dark Knight), airing Thursdays on ABC, 8/7c. What happened and why? And will it happen again? It's up to a crack team of LA-based FBI agents to find the answers. About six vendors worked on the Sept. 24 pilot (with Zoic doing nearly 40% of the work) and more than a dozen others have been working on the series: Eden FX, Blackpool, Cosa Visual Effects, Seven Crows VFX, Fugitive Studios, Kaia Inc., Race Rocks Digital, Fuzzy Logic Prods., Himani Prods., MatherArt, The senate, BranitVFX, Atomic Age Dog Prods., Roto Queen and Red Earth VFX.

Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Blank (Cloverfield, Lost), describes what it's been like experiencing FlashForward.

Bill Desowitz: What was the appeal of FlashForward?

Kevin Blank: The FlashForward effect: it's what brought me to the show, actually. The studio wanted to establish what the effect was and so when I finally sat down with David Goyer and talked about many, many many ideas, we tested many things. We did one shot, which we called the uber FlashForward when Joseph Fiennes is driving in his car and all of sudden we see what he sees: a series of a dozen to 18 little cuts that are bits of his future and then to a body of what he sees in six months. And we zoom into his eye; we lace little particle effects throughout and lens flares transitioning on cuts, and the whole thing's over in about three seconds. And then as we transition in and out, there's a posterizing effect linked to uniquely shot lens flares that punctuate each edit and transition. And any time someone references a flash forward, we have that little visual cue that takes you in and out of it.

Virtual environments from around the globe are a big part of the series, including the streets of Japan.

BD: And there are variations?

KB: Yes, everyone is unique. We shot hours of lens flare elements and we have them all recorded. Depending on what the photography looks like, we put something in so there's nothing boxed about it: every time someone's flashing in and out of a FlashForward, there's a unique effect taking place. When we flash back, there's a straight cut.

BD: What went into the design of the effect?

KB:

That was a lot of back and forth between David Goyer and me. We started out with some more elaborate ideas and kept on preaching that simplicity was something that would rule out because it was something we were going to see a lot and it needed to be brief and communicate your life flashing ahead before you jump to this. The main creative inspiration was the Marvel Studios movie logo, which has flashing comic book pages and I wanted to have it feel like you were flipping through a brief memory, just a frame or two, and didn't want any computer-generated lens flares. The company that does the FlashForward effect exclusively is Seven Crows. The compositor is Steve Fong and he does that all in Nuke.

BD: What came next?

KB: Then there was the setting up of the devastation. And then as we went along in the series, there was a continuation of the devastation and a negotiation with the studio about the devastation, between how big it would be and how destroyed the world would be, how quickly they would be back to normal.

BD: Let's jump back to the pilot. What did that consist of?

KB: The pilot had about 150 shots and Zoic did 40%: the whole 110 destruction scene, and a series of matte paintings and 3D helicopter and 3D car going over the freeway and comping lots of fire, smoke and debris into the scenes, and the rest of the episode a little bit of changed world status -- helicopters flying around and damaged buildings.

Eden FX, which uses LightWave and Fusion, did the bus crash in episode four.

BD: What's been fun about the series?

KB: Probably my favorite stuff thus far is transforming Los Angeles locations into other places. In episodes nine and 10, we're doing large transformations into Tokyo and Hong Kong and we hired a DP to spend a couple weeks in each location, sending us back reference photos and specific photography shot with Red cameras and Canon 5D Mark II.

We had two big set pieces: episode four has the bus crash and episode seven has the rooftop suicide. Both of those were done by Eden FX. They pretty much use a combination of LightWave and Fusion. The bus crash was a combination of actually putting a real bus into a tank and a CG bus going under and then adding particle effects in the water to make it not look like a tank and then doing smoke and debris and crashing cars around it all.

And then in episode seven, we established their FBI building as the Department of Water and Power, which doesn't allow you to film on the rooftop, so we shot at the Cal Mart building and transformed it.

Another big contributor is Blackpool Studios. Eric Chauvin does a lot of the location matte work, which includes Somalia and Tokyo.

The extent of the devastation and recovery were important considerations.

BD: Any other highlights?

KB: For episode five, we did some Washington, D.C. transformations. We had our guy go to there and shoot plates at the Capitol and in Georgetown and. In episode three, we built a 3D prison in Munich, so there are some big matte paintings there. And at the end of that episode it takes place in Somalia, which was comprised of all virtual environments mixed with a little bit of photography. And we will return.

And one of my favorite shots was actually the opening of the second episode. It was a shot that started in outer space and continued into the earth and then transitioned through the clouds and then transitioned from a CG shot into a series of helicopter plates and finally transitioned to a crane shot to one of our characters.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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