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A High Octane 'Event'

Stargate briefs us on the new political conspiracy series from NBC.

The vanishing plane required some bizarre atmospherics by Stargate. All images courtesy of NBC and Universal.

Lost and Heroes have come and gone, but now we have The Event, the latest conspiratorial, sci-fi thriller, airing Mondays at 9:00 on NBC. What is the eponymous "event"? Well, after Monday's pilot, we still don't know, but there's a bizarre vanishing act that's certainly a great cliff-hanger. So hang tight: the producers and creator Nick Wauters insist that revelations will start coming soon in subsequence episodes on a need to know basis. What we do know is that the fate of the world is in jeopardy and that the series introduces (mostly in flashback) a diverse cast of characters ranging from the President (Blair Underwood) right on down to an Everyman (Jason Ritter) investigating the mysterious disappearance of his fiancé (Sarah Roemer).

Still, there is plenty of vfx by Stargate Studios (around 140 shots), under the supervision of Victor Scalise. Although he was naturally hush-hush about getting into too much detail, particularly concerning the meaning of the pilot's cliff-hanger and what the rest of the series' vfx roadmap will be, Scalise discussed the pilot's major sequences.

One of the bigger effects was the fly over Mt. Inostranka, the military base in Alaska. Its importance is that there's a CIA conspiracy surrounding the facilities and its detainees that reportedly goes back to World War II.

"We were originally going to have stock footage of aerial plates of Alaska; then we were going to put a CG military base into that," Scalise explained. "What happened was we got the plates, put the environment in and because of scale it didn't work. So we scrapped that and built a full-CG environment. This is when Marine One comes into the shot. We built the environment fully in LightWave 9.6 and then our matte painters actually used some of the stills from our library. We painted the environments and then projection-mapped the matte paintings onto geometry in LightWave. We tracked everything in boujou and mocha."

Meanwhile, there is additional vfx inside of Inostranka, which was shot at the old Los Angeles Times building in Chatsworth. Stargate extended the facility with matte paintings and also used the CG environment again to put out the doorway when the President arrives, where you have Marine One and a snowstorm, which was a combination of practical and CG snow done with Maya.

Mt. Inostranka was a full-CG environment done in LightWave.

There was also a plane sequence where an agent is chasing a plane down a runaway in Miami. "We shot all the plates practically at Ontario Airport and with Maya we put in a CG 767 in about 20-13 shots," Scalise added.

"We had another major sequence where we did some greenscreen work inside the lobby of a hotel and then out the windows we put a CG cruise ship. So it's like being inside the lobby looking out to the pool area of the cruise ship, which we populated with the greenscreened people. There's also some stuff off the balcony of the cruise ship. It's supposed to be in St. Lucia and we shot in Hawaii and our matte painters painted it up and we used the water plates from Hawaii to put out the windows."

A further sequence involved the air traffic control tower. According to Scalise, that was all greenscreen, with a matte painting.

The runway chase was done in Maya.

However, the most memorable sequence that has everyone abuzz is the cliff-hanger, in which a dive bombing plane aimed at the President's retreat vanishes into thin air after some "atmospheric" phenomenon. No, it's not the "event," but some sci-fi prelude of some kind. Aliens? Time-travel? We'll know soon enough.

"The disappearing effect is based as much on a world of reality as possible, using particle simulations to create the cloud," Scalise offered. "It's like an atmospheric effect that's happening. We used 3ds Max 2010 with fume fx plug-in; we put the usual flares and light effects to speed it up and give it more of a presence. We spent three weeks doing R&D and trying different techniques. We used Maya Fluids and After Effects to enhance it. We also added CG palm trees, roof tiles, flags, hanging pendants and debris in that sequence. Plus we added the Miami skyline in the distance on many shots in this sequence."

As for the future of the series, episode two has nearly a comparable number of vfx and includes "some big excitement." In terms of the roadmap, expect to see a return to Mount Inostranka and various CG environments surrounding the President in Air Force One and Marine One

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.