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Network 24/The Virtual Horizon

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""The Virtual Horizon"" is the thirteenth blog post on Network 24. It was posted by Shauna McGarry, on March 1, 2010, at 8:10pm CST

The blog was an interview with James Riley.

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Watch some “Before and After” visual effects on 24.

[A video shows actors performing green screen work, then the finished effects for the show]

Q: Can you tell me your name and what you do at 24?

A: My Name is James Riley and I'm the Visual Effects Supervisor on 24.

Q: What were some of the scenes that were the most challenging to produce up through Episode 10 of this season?

A: Trying to make Valencia California look like Roosevelt Island in New York presented some interesting challenges. Unlike Valencia, every direction on Roosevelt Island has dramatic views -- Manhattan skyline, bridges, traffic, water ways, shipping, etc -- which all had to be recreated for every angle we shot in Valencia. In the end, other than the helipad and surrounding grass, it was all replaced.

Q: What other details do you include to “sell” New York?

A: The best "sell" is the one that seems so natural, you can't imagine the scene is not being shot in NYC. For a show like 24, it would feel staged to have a big wide lock-off of two people exiting a cab in Times Square -- but multiple hand held cameras covering the scene from multiple points of view feels more natural, dramatic, and compelling. That's the beauty of our Virtual Backlot -- with each VB location we create an immersive 360 environment that can be shot from any angle, lens, and camera move desired -- whether it's a walk through Times Square or a helicopter chase skimming the rooftops of Midtown Manhattan.

Q: Why are you and Executive Producer/Director Brad Turner off to NYC? Why is scouting important?

A: Next weekend, Brad and I will be scouting and shooting backgrounds in NYC for various scenes in the final Episode of 24. It's the ideal way to utilize the Virtual Backlot -- where the Director can scout the actual locations, determine the best coverage and camera positions to cover the action, and Stargate can focus on getting the best background plates for the scenes.

Q: Can you explain, in layman’s terms, the green screen process?

A: The basic green screen process has been around for a long time. Actors/partial sets are shot on green screen so they can be easily 'chroma keyed' into various backgrounds/environments in post production. Most recently, however, the most significant and exciting innovations are in "Virtual Production" where the basic green screen techniques are enhanced with real time tracking, keying, and multilayered controls so everyone can see (and manipulate) the entire world while they're shooting. James Cameron developed and utilized Virtual Production extensively on Avatar. Since the movies and TV shows we work on don't have $200 million for their projects, we've developed a low cost Virtual Production system we call "Virtual Backlot Live" which offers many of the benefits of Virtual Production at a fraction of the costs.

Q: What is the process Stargate Studios takes with any particular scene? Can you walk us through that process from when you first get/read the script to when you finally get your hands on the footage?

A: Our Virtual Backlot (VB) process starts with an early discussion of the scene with the Producers, Writers, and Directors, covering various issues including; locations, action, camera coverage, story points, etc. At this stage, the show is often surprised by the added scope and flexibility using VB and will enhance their creative approach accordingly. Once the direction is worked out, Stargate will provide the backgrounds required in each shot from our extensive VB stock library or shoot custom backgrounds as needed. Those backgrounds are then integrated into the foreground shots (of actors, props, partial sets/locations) during principal photography -- thru previs, precomps, and/or in camera real time composites (w/our VB Live system) -- so that everyone on set can see the world as if they were shooting at the actual location -- an essential part of getting great shots. Once the scenes are cut, we'll then polish/enhance the precomps for the final product.

Q: If someone is interested in your line of work, what is a good starting point in today’s industry? School? Internships?

A: Accessibility is better than it's ever been. Any training a person might get from school, trade classes, and/or working at home on their computer (in photoshop, after effects, shake, maya, lightwave, etc) helps develop their talents (and understanding of what areas their interested in). Stargate Studios has internship programs and we're always looking for talented artists. Visit our website for more information on career opportunities.

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