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Getting in the VFX 'Trenches'

Shane Felux talks about his new web series Trenches.

Shane Felux has crafted a sci-fi web series with more than 400 vfx shots on a budget of $25,000 per episode. All images courtesy of Sony Pictures Ent.

View an episode of Trenches on Crackle.com.

Trenches, a new 10-part sci-fi web series on Crackle.com, from Sony Pictures Ent., finishes its debut on Friday. The $250,000 production, shot in and around Washington, D.C., is the brainchild of producer/director Shane Felux (Star Wars: Revelations, Pitching Lucas), who took time out from his "regular" job to make it.

Trenches is set on a war-torn planet during a different time. A botched rescue attempt forces a young soldier and his squad to team up with their enemy in an epic battle against merciless beasts wreaking havoc. The series stars Mercy Malick, Aaron Mathias, Micci Sampery, Lev Gorn, Hong Chau and Daz Crawford, and is scripted by Dawn Cowlings, Sarah Yaworsky, Peter Gamble Robinson and Ian Shorr.

Bill Desowitz: So, how does Trenches compare with your previous work?

Shane Felux: This is much harder in scope and scale, and there are over 400 effects. But there's a reason why sci-fi is difficult because it's expensive and hard and it kills you. But it's definitely fun.

BD: It works well for the web, like an old-fashioned serial with cliff hangers.

SF: That's what the studio wanted and when I wrote the script they wrote the cliff hangers in. When I went in to edit, where I recommended stopping each episode, was different. Because I thought there wasn't enough for the audience to be invested so with a combination of practical effects like pryo and post effects in terms of color treatment, a lot of bleaching and stripping, monochromatic and then adding in grit and lasers and flare and a lot of smoke layers, I could create a pretty nasty-looking battle with only 15 extras.

Trenches is shot on location but also contains CG shots in space and lots of post treatment for a fittingly gritty look.

BD: So, talk about the effects. How much CG is there?

SF:

Most all of it is live action, but there are some shots that are pure CG, such as space shots, and we mainly use LightWave and a little 3ds Max and After Effects for all my composites. Lee Stringer [Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Battlestar Galactica], who is my CG supe-- he's in Singapore now working on Clone Wars. But this was the first time I've ever had a CG supe. It's usually been me, and, as you probably know, working with effects is extremely difficult. Sometimes it's better working with five prima donnas than working with effects artists. It takes a lot of energy and effort and man hours cranking away on keyframes and so forth to get it done. And with the type of budget that you have for Trenches, it's a tall order.

BD: How many vfx people do you have working for you?

SF: Well, because it's freelance, it's been my experience with all my films that the turnover is huge. You get a guy who's all hot and heavy and as soon as you give him a shot, a couple months go by and either they don't deliver or what they do deliver [isn't good enough]. And they come and go. Another gig comes around where they're actually paying, and they don't answer your phone call. All my previous films were volunteers so we didn't get paid anything. But there was an actual budget on this one where I was paying people, so I explained to them what I'm doing and what I'm trying to create for this level and what I was paying. This was a real opportunity for their work to be seen on Crackle. And there's a lot of talent out there, but we all have to pay the bills. But my very good friend, Zafer Mustafa, who's always been my TD and effects guru, had to come in and do some shots, because the guys just weren't getting it done. When it came down to it, it was really me and Zafe that finished it. I do compositing -- I'm not really a 3D artist -- so, in episode one, any time it's a laser explosion, visual cameras and tracking, that's me. When it's a 3D object, it's usually Zafe or Lee and some of his guys. But episode nine and 10 are very effects heavy, and that's basically me and Zafe getting those done. I called in some of the old crew from Revelations to help get it done. But this is a fun popcorn adventure and a good escape. But hopefully the effects lend to it.

Bill Desowitz is Senior Editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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