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Androids, blood and fire : in-depth interview about Westworld Season 3 with RISE Studios

Reading time: 6 minutes

We already had the opportunity to interview RISE and the VFX Supervisor Jonathan Weber in 2018, about Black Panther (article in French only). We got back in touch with Jonathan to talk about the making of Westworld season 3. For this HBO show, RISE worked on impressing VFX ranging from a burnt body all the way to a flying machine.

3DVF : For Westworld Season 3, you worked on nearly 200 shots : how tight was your schedule?

Jonathan Weber (VFX Supervisor – RISE) : We worked 4 month on the project. As for series the schedule tends to be a bit more tighter than feature films, but fortunately we had a very experienced team on the show. That helps a lot with cooperating efficiently and avoiding unnecessary turnarounds.

3DVF : How was the collaboration between the Rise team, with Jonathan Weber as the VFX Supervisor on your side, and the VFX Supervisor of the show, Jay Worth?

It was great to work with such an experienced Supervisor who knows exactly what he and the director wants and what information is needed by the vendor to fulfill their tasks. The introductions and feedback were short and very precise, that´s rare in the industry.

3DVF : You had to set the body of Charlotte Hale on Fire. Those shots combine practical and digital FX : did you work hand in hand with the make-up team ?

No, at the time we started working on the show the shoot was already wrapped. The make-up that was used on set looked exceptional, but also quite extreme and hideous. Just too much for the client´s taste in the end.

© 2020 HBO
© 2020 HBO

3DVF : Obviously, it can be hard to find the sweet spot on this kind of shot : you want something grounded in reality and to avoid the result to look fake, but you probably also don’t want to disgust the viewers. Could you walk us through the creative process ? How did you decide where to keep the make-up, where to apply some digital enhancements ?

We had a detailed briefing about the fact that this should be an empowering moment for this character, as if she emerges from the fire stronger and in a strange, but also beautiful way. Not looking to badly hurt as she did in the plate photography. The biggest concerns were the reddish, meat-like textures used in the set make-up that just looked too gross.
So we started with this element, soon figuring out that going more silhouetted and darker kept it more elegantly. Removing plenty of the major blisters and adding an additional subdermal layer with inner glowing ashes helped bringing the desired beauty to the shots.

3DVF : You used FaceTracker from KeenTools on this sequence. Why did you make this choice ?

FaceTracker does an incredible job, with great results often with the first few clicks. For the long lasting close-up shots of her face we were afraid of spending a lot of time on the back and forth with object tracking and additional rotomation fixes. Staying in comp using FaceTracker gave us great results promptly, also because her detailed make-up was perfect for tracking it. It picks up every nuance of her facial expressions.
We used a proxy model of her scan with UVs inside nuke. This way we were able to tweak the texture of the head in nuke getting instant feedback on the look.

3DVF : Can you explain how you added the fire ?

The fire was a combination of plate and FX fire. The only trickier shot was the wide shot were Charlotte is crawling away from the car. Since she and her clothes are moving a lot we had to smartvector a noise pattern onto her rotomation body to have properly sticking fire emitters inside houdini. We then used these emitters to generate the desired fire look.

© 2020 HBO
© 2020 HBO

3DVF : You also (digitally) ripped off Evan Rachel Wood’s arm. What were the main challenges, both from a technical and artistical point of view ?

In one of the sequences Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) arm gets blown off from behind, resulting in a pretty gory shot with lots of blood and splatter. The event comes as a surprise, so it is critical that the audience is able to read the action on screen, but still feels the cruel power of the impact ripping off her arm.
After the timing was decided on, the rest of the disintegration of her arm went rather smooth. The appealing light on set and her acting went very well with the CG elements added.

© 2020 HBO
© 2020 HBO

Next page : Quadcopter, Rehoboam, render times, Houdini and Covid-19 response.

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