Getting Bewitched in 'Eastwick'

Entity FX discusses their work on ABC's new Eastwick supernatural series.

Three coins in the fountain clink together with the help of vfx animation integrated with the live plate. All images copyright Warner Bros. and courtesy of Entity FX.

Three coins in the fountain clink together with the help of vfx animation integrated with the live plate. All images copyright Warner Bros. and courtesy of Entity FX.

Check out the exclusive Eastwick clips at AWNtv!

Adapted from The Witches of Eastwick novel and film, Eastwick is a new supernatural series in which three women in a seaside village wish for dramatic change and become fast friends when their wish comes true. Entity FX (Smallville) handles the vfx and Eli Jarra, the visual effects supervisor, describes some of the environments they've created along with a few other nifty tricks. But first Founder Mat Beck offers an overview:

"The reason we got into the project was because director David Nutter [The Mentalist, Smallville, The X-Files] called and whenever he calls, we answer. He's great to work with, he's super creative and his projects always turn out well. David is an example of a director who extends you to want to do better work. When you're doing a pilot, you've always got time constraints, but one of the things about this show was we had to help build the world of the story and the effects that we did always had to be cool and magical, but they also had to be completely photoreal and believable in the sense that maybe the magic really could have happened or happened for a different reason. That was a major focus, plus making Burbank in the summer look like New England in the fall."

Bill Desowitz: So, what were the basic challenges here for creating the magic and helping build the world of the story?

Eli Jarra: One of the challenges has been making the environment look inviting or threatening, mysterious or sexy, and blending these effects into the show as seamlessly as possible. As Mat pointed out, we have fall foliage sprinkled throughout the town, which resides in New England. And here we are on a Burbank lot, shooting all the plates and making our work look indigenous to New England.

BD: So, how did you accomplish that look?

EJ: We added CG leaves and trees and integrated them into the background plates that were shot. Also, there's an episode where CG butterflies were used to calm an otherwise nervous daughter of one of the lead characters.  Little moments like this really influence the storytelling of a scene. In this case, a story point depended on what this butterfly is doing and how our character creates it to better relate to her child.

In terms of some of the other CG work, there's an anthill that produces thousands of ants that attack the character Bun. And we were there to create all of the ants digitally, to make sure they looked threatening and could come out of the anthill and move realistically throughout the ground plane. You’ll see this in the premiere episode.

BD: How did you animate the ants?

EJ: We produced an ant model with the proper IK and replicated the models to the create a multitude of ants coming out of the anthill and marching on forward in a line that is indicative of what you would normally see. But they do have an idea of what they want to attack, so you see this large formation of ants converge towards our unknowing actress.

rmy ants attack Eastwick Historical Society head Bun (Veronica Cartwright) on the day Darryl Van Horne (Paul Gross) arrives in town. The swarming anthill was animated by Entity FX's David Alexander using a custom script in Maya.

BD: What tools did you use?

EJ: We use Maya and a proprietary script that was created to produce the large amount of ants. Compositing falls within After Effects, Flame and Nuke and 3D tracking in boujou and PFTrack.

BD: What were some of the other noteworthy effects?

EJ: We've been called upon to create CG rain, which was incorporated into a dry environment.  We've also done an ice effect that shows up in an unexpected location.  There's an upcoming episode where the plot point called for a lunar effect known as Luna Solvo, which is based on the moon’s close proximity to the earth. It's like this massive thing in the sky and has an effect on all the residents of Eastwick. This [phenomenon] happens every 90 or so years and should make for a night to remember.

And then there are also the magical powers these women have. Sometimes the magic needs to be grounded in such a way that it makes the viewer do a double take, questioning if what they just saw is real or sleight of hand.  One example would be the coin toss. The three women toss coins above a fountain and the coins clink together at the last moment. It's a very iconic moment and a complex shot to implement at the same time.

n upcoming episode calls for a lunar effect known as Luna Solvo, which is based on the moon’s close proximity to the earth.

BD: How was that achieved?

EJ: Plate photography, 3D tracking, replicating the actual real coins used on the show and then animation on top of the background plates. These all needed to coincide with what the director, David Nutter, envisioned in terms of how that appears magical in the execution of the scene.

BD: Do you previs?

EJ:

Yes, we set up the whole shot as a previs prior to the shoot so we could get a feel for timing and composition, as well as technical execution of the shot.  As we were shooting, we could call this previs up and make determining answers to what we should be using like camera lens focal information or how deep the camera crane is from the street, the type of move or even how fast the move should be to really affect and maximize the potential of the shot. Having a really nice previs not only got everyone in sync but also helped achieve the shot with the maximum effect.

BD: So, what else can we look forward to throughout the season?

EJ: Our effects are used to introduce some of the magical powers that these women have or are in the midst of discovering You know, this is a new show, so the audience isn't really privy to the capabilities or magic these women have to offer. But the effects are there to complement the storyline, and we look forward to introducing more and more of these capabilities throughout the season. We've enjoyed the creative freedom to have input. David Nutter and Maggie Friedman, the writer, really support this process. So it's great to offer up these ideas and have some of them accepted into the show.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

randomness