The Leftovers Move Forward
The Guilty Remnant from HBO’s The Leftovers may have taken a vow of silence, but luckily ALKEMY X (formerly Dive VFX) has not, The New York -and Philadelphia-based visual effects company, acted as both on-set and post supervisor during the first season of the popular sci-fi drama based on Tom Perotta’s book of the same name.
The series created by Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Perotta revolves around a small suburban town three years after two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously disappeared. Justin Theroux stars as Captain Kevin Garvey tasked with trying to keep the peace between those who are struggling to move on with their lives and The Guilty Remnant (TGR), a chain-smoking, compulsively clad in all-white cult.
Ed Mendez, the Visual Effects Supervisor at ALKEMY X, and his team relied heavily on mocha Pro from Imagineer Systems to create invisible and seamless effects to help drive the dramatic story. “We pretty much use mocha for all of our 2D tracking and a lot of our roto-masking. We import tracked data into Nuke, and do the compositing work inside there,” says Mendez. “It was a lot of fun to work on The Leftovers. The staff was really creative. Every episode presented our team with different creative and technical challenges.”
Deer in the Headlights
A memorable image in the beginning of the series involves a roaming pack of wild dogs and an elusive deer on the suburban streets of upstate New York. “We could not have a deer running around New York for obvious reasons, so we ended up digitally filming a deer on stage in California.” Director, Damon Lindelof was very specific on how he wanted the deer to look on camera and where it’s feet and head should be positioned,” recalls Mendez. “So, we ended up masking pieces of the different takes of the deer and Frankenstein compositing them together to build the deer’s digital performance in that sequence with 2D techniques. mocha Pro was very handy for accurate planar tracking and making sure that the textures of the deer, the muscles would follow along.”
Another particularly complicated sequence from episode three “Two Boats and a Helicopter” called for ALKEMY X to get creative; and ended with a new technique and workflow. The scene is a flashback dream-like nightmare in which the town’s Reverend (Jamison) catches on fire and becomes engulfed in flames. “We shot multiple passes for this,” notes Mendez. “We shot the actor in the bed with no fire. Next we shot a pass of a stuntman wearing a suit and lighting him on fire, but he had these really big safety hands on. Then we shot a third pass with the stuntman wearing tight black gloves and added on our stock and CG elements.” The producers wanted his hands to ignite first to act as the fire’s catalyst, but also felt like the scene needed another element.
“They wanted a burn texture to appear on him in the fire,” continues Mendez. “He’s moving all around and we had to make it look like he was wearing almost black gloves. We used mocha to track the hands.” The texture then animates and ascends up his arms.
“We were trying to create a match move in 2D, where we could easily work with 2D elements to try to mimic what 3D rotation his hands and arms would have in the real world,” adds Ruben Rodas, ALKEMY’s 2D Supervisor. Rodas first used mocha Pro to solve 2D planar tracking. Next he combined 2D corner-pin projections and spine-warps using mocha Pro’s ability to paste tracked masks directly to Nuke’s warper. “We essentially created our own match move in Nuke,” explains Rodas. “From there we were able to assign the textures that we wanted to match move and everything went for the ride as far the tracking data permitted.”
mocha Pro’s complementary workflow with The Foundry’s Nuke plays a big part in ALKEMY’s workflow. “mocha Pro was extremely useful. It helped us develop a powerful and fast technique,” states Rodas. “We’ve used it in other sequences and other jobs. It has become part of our workflow. We just continue working with it.”
VFX for Television
ALKEMY X continues to make a name for itself nationally and is carving out a niche in the growing area of high-end visual effects in television dramas including recent work on Starz series, Black Sails, and Power. “The Leftovers” team works out of ALKEMY X’s New York office.
“We pretty much use mocha Pro for all types of tracking tasks…” concludes Rodas. “Hundreds of shots and on almost all our projects. And while some shots are pretty simple, others like the ones mentioned, can be very complex… we use it for everything.”