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‘I’m a Virgo’ Channels ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Camera Tricks for its Own ‘Giant’ Magic

FuseFX VFX supervisor Jamie Barty shares his studio’s work using old-fashioned in-camera forced perspective to help tell the story of a 13-foot-tall young Black man, Cootie, as he experiences the beauty and contradictions of the real world, in Boots Riley’s new series, now streaming on Prime Video.

Though there are certainly some behind-the-scenes film and TV visual production secrets that can ruin the magic of watching stories play out, others make acting performances stand out on par with Ian McKellen-level status. 

Since the 1950s, filmmakers have used the practical effects technique of Forced Perspective to create the illusion that two objects the same size appear of different sizes by placing one closer to the camera than the other. This method was used in films like Casablanca (1942) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), just to name two. But when Peter Jackson adopted the technique so frequently - and with a moving camera - for his Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001-2003), it caused a stir in the VFX community still talked about 20 years later. 

Not only that, but the simple-yet-landmark way of filming is still being used at a time when VFX tech has never been more advanced. Boots Riley’s I’m A Virgo, a coming-of-age joyride (sometimes literally) about a 13-foot-tall young Black man, Cootie, who breaks out of his docile domesticity to experience the beauty and contradictions of the real world, utilizes forced perspective throughout the show; Cootie actor Jharrel Jerome deserves props for pulling off convincing emotions without being able to look his co-stars in the eye. 

AWN caught up with FuseFX’s Jamie Barty, VFX Supervisor on the new series, now streaming on Prime Video, who gave insight into how FuseFX collaborated closely with director Riley to create the alternative reality of Cootie - from making the most of miniatures, puppets, full digi-double characters, CG props, shrinking of other characters, and camera/compositing trickery - to fool… and fully captivate I’m A Virgo’s audience. 

Victoria Davis: What was your journey to getting on this project? Why did you want to work on I'm A Virgo?

Jamie Barty: The project came to FuseFX because the client-side VFX supervisor, Todd Perry, had a good relationship with our studio’s head. They’ve known each other a long time, so it worked out.

Reading the script, I was excited about the project and wanted to work on it because it was so different from anything I’d done before. I was lucky that I was chosen to work on it. 

VD: You've previously worked on Dr. Strange and Wonder Woman, so superhero VFX is nothing new for you. But I'm A Virgo is unique in its portrayal of superheroes. How did this affect your usual approach to this kind of visual effects?

JB: The work I did on Dr. Strange and Wonder Woman, Dr. Strange in particular, was fairly relevant to I’m a Virgo. Back when I was working on those projects, I was doing previs, where you previsualize the VFX before the live-action filming starts. Especially for a show like Dr. Strange, where there are so many visual effects and different plates being combined, you have to do that to see if things are going to work for the final cut. There was so much problem-solving and troubleshooting to get a complex show like Dr. Strange together and it was good practice for I’m a Virgo, which also required a lot of troubleshooting for all the different styles of VFX they wanted to use. Some of it was in-camera and visual, some of it was almost full CGI shots. 

Of course, there’s also a big difference between a big Marvel movie and a brand-new show, so that sort of affected the approach, but I’m always trying to find the most efficient way to do things. 

VD: There's also a lot of scale play in this show, with superhero characters fighting not a CGI monster but a real human kid who happens to be at giant height. How did your team achieve the right look for those scenes?

JB: This plays into some of that trying to plan beforehand to get as much in-camera as possible. A lot of the shots where Cootie is shown to be 13 feet tall are in-camera. Todd and his team would plan every single shot with both big and small characters. It was a lot of camera trickery, like The Lord of the Rings, with forced perspective. If someone is close to the camera, they look bigger. Cootie was always twice as close to the camera as everybody else on the scene, plus he was standing on a platform, so he looked really big. 

But now you’ve got the problem that all the rest of the actors are twice as far away, so they might be 50 feet away while Jharrel, who plays Cootie, is 25. There’s a 25-foot gap now, so when they’re trying to interact with each other, there’s a lot to figure out. They used on-set puppets to help with that. There was a literal 13-foot version of Cootie as a puppet, and they would put him in the scene first to make sure the actors knew where Cootie was going to be and where to look if they were speaking to him. They had little puppets around Jharrel, so he knew how low to look. We also had miniature sets around Cootie. So, for example, when he bumps his head on the ceiling, he’s actually bumping his head on something.

There’s another scene where Cootie’s sitting on a porch step in front of a house, and Felix is working on a car in front of him. When you see them on camera, it looks like they’re interacting normally with each other, as it should. As soon as you take a step to the side, you can see they’ve built a miniature version of the house and moved that close to the camera. So, you have Jharrel sitting by the house talking to nobody, because Felix is actually behind him rather than in front due to the trickery of the camera. It’s wild to see it on set compared to in the camera.

VD: What would you say was the biggest VFX production challenge?

JB: The sideshow scene had a lot of visual effects in it, probably the most per shot of the entire show. There was a lot of work that needed to be done to get it to how it's seen in the final cut. It’s also in Episode 1, so we were still trying to find our footing and look for the show and make sure we did what Todd and Boots wanted. 

Boots’ style is a little “janky,” and he even said to us that the visual effects can, and should, be a little janky so that it ties in with the rest of the world. It shouldn’t look perfect. Sometimes you can tell it's a puppet or the set is a little wonky, but that’s his style. Trying to do that massive sequence while starting up the show and building those relationships was the hardest part. That one sequence was the first thing we started because we had all the assets to create for the car, the characters, the digi-doubles, and the entire environment that they were spinning in. Those were the first things we started, yet some of the last shots we finished even as we finished episodes 5, 6, and 7, just because they were so complicated. 

We knew it would be heavily VFX, but as we got into it, it got to be more and more. In some of the shots at the end, there’s a digital ground, a digital car park that they’re driving around, digital wheels touching the digital ground, the characters inside the car are all the digi-doubles. The tires are digitally spinning, and there’s digital smoke coming up from them. They’re all in this digital environment with digital lights, digital people, and digital buildings behind them, so it’s all digital besides Cootie, who’s hanging onto the car.

VD: Were there things you got to do on this series you haven't tackled before in VFX? What would you say was your favorite sequence to work on?

JB: Playing with scale was something I haven’t specifically done on anything before. The different techniques they used on set and that we employed in post-production and VFX to finish them off were different for me. My favorite sequence was the one I just spoke about, just because it was the largest and most exciting. 

I think everyone loved the end result as well, because they used it in the trailer and a lot of the promotional material. It was awesome.

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at