VFX Legion and its global team of 25+ artists were called on by Shondraland Productions to build the computer-generated enviroments and visual effects that created the virtual worlds surrounding the actors in 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder's' highly anticipated crossover episodes.
The storylines of the political thriller and legal drama intersect in the back-to-back two-hour event, which recently premiered ABC and continues to rank as a streaming favorite on Hulu.
'Scandal' and 'HTGAWM' are shot in Los Angeles and set in DC and Philadelphia, respectively, yet the cast never needs to leave Hollywood, thanks to the creativity, technical ingenuity, and experience of the team at VFX Legion.
The Los Angeles-based company and its global colective of 25+ artists, based in cities throughout the USA, the UK, as well as Johannesburg, South Africa,where three artistst that worked on the high-profile TV crossover event are based. The mix of photorealistic CG environments and other effects that they created enabled the actors to be transported into a variety of digital surroundings that seamlessly match the live-action footage, and defy the viewer’s eye. The 'invisible' effects dramatically augment the shows’ visual landscapes with shots that would be either too expensive or impossible to shoot on location.
The scenario for the tie-in opens with 'How to Get Away with Murder's' high-powered defense attorney, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), making an appearance on 'Scandal's' turf in the aptly titled episode, 'Allow Me to Introduce Myself.' Keating travels to D.C. for a face-to-face with political fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) to elicit her help fast-tracking a class-action case to the United States Supreme Court. The storyline plays out with the guest appearance of Pope in How to Get Away with Murder’s crossover episode, ‘Lahey vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.'
Legion has handled all of the visual effects for both shows for almost three-years, and is slated to work on the upcoming season of 'HTGAWM.' Over the years, the series have tasked the company with creating high shot counts of quality CGI for almost 100 episodes, each matching the overall look of a single show. However, the crossover episodes required visual effects that blended with two series that use different tools and each have their own look, presenting a more complex set of challenges.
For one, 'Scandal' is shot on an ARRI Alexa camera, and 'How to Get Away with Murder' on a Sony F55, at different color temps, and under varying lighting conditions. DP preferences and available equipment required each environment to be shot twice, once with greenscreens for 'Scandal' and then again using bluescreens for 'HTGAWM.' Its team addressed all of these variables, finding creative solutions to bridge the look and match the texture and tone of both series.
The replication of the Supreme Court Building is central to the storyline. Building its exterior facade, and interiors of the courtroom and rotunda digitally, from the ground up, were the most complex visual effects created for the episodes. The process began during preproduction with VFX supervisor Matthew T. Lynn working closely with the client to get a full understanding of their vision. He collaborated with Legion’s head of production, Nate Smalley, production manager, Andrew Turner, and coordinators Matt Noren and Lexi Sloan, on streamlining workflow and crafting a plan that aligned with the shows’ budgets, schedules, and resources. Lynn spent several weeks on R&D, pre-visualization, and mockups. Legion's end-to-end approach was presented to the staffs of both shows during combined VFX meetings, and a plan was finalized.
A rough 3D model of the set was contructed from hundreds of reference photographs stitched together using Agisoft Photoscan, and a technique called ‘photogrammetry.' HDRI panoramas and 360° multiple exposure photographs of the set were used to match the 3D lighting with the live-action footage. CG modeling and texturing artist, Trevor Harder, then added the fine details and created the finished 3D model. CG supervisor, Rommél S. Calderon, headed up the team of modeling, texturing, tracking, layout, and lighting artists that created D.C.'s Supreme Court Building from scratch.
“The computer-generated model of the exterior of the building was a beast and scheduling was a huge job in itself,” says Calderon. “Meticulous planning, resource management, constant communication with clients and spot-on supervision were crucial to combining the large volume of shots without causing a bottleneck in VFX Legion’s digital pipeline.”
Ken Bishop, VFX Legion’s lead modeler, ran into some interesting issues while working with footage of the lead characters, Pope and Keating filmed on the concrete steps of LA’s City Hall. Since the Supreme Court’s staircase is marble, Bishop did a considerable amount of work on the texture, keeping the marble porous enough to blend with the concrete in this key shot.
Tracker, Ruy Delgado achieved a perfect lock on the camera moves in SynthEyes using photogrammetry, lens specs, camera measurements and other on-set survey data. The depth of detail enabled him to match the marble columns inside the courthouse exactly. Working from overcast and flatly lit plates, lighting artist Bryan Shepperd added interest to the feel of the shots, while maintaining the continuity needed to blend with the shows.
Compositing supervisor, Dan Short, lead his team through the process of merging the practical photography with renders created with Redshift and then seamlessly composited all of the shots using The Foundry’s NUKE.
“These episodes required a combination of good planning and a talented team of over 25 artists and support staff,” says Lynn. “We pulled out all the stops to deliver a large shot counts of complex, high-quality VFX, and make last minute changes, while still meeting a tight deadline and getting the most value out of the budget.”
“The crossover episodes of 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder' showcase some of the best television visual effects that VFX Legion has created to date,” adds James David Hattin, the company’s founder, creative director, and senior VFX supervisor. “I’m very proud of all of the hard work that our team put into these shows and the results we achieved. Watching the final shows on air was jaw-dropping.”
About VFX Legion / Los Angeles:
VFX Legion specializes in providing end-to-end visual effects services for episodic television and feature films.
Founded in 2013 by creative director, senior VFX supervisor, James David Hattin, the LA’s company’s veteran management team, a core group of senior talent and support staff, along with a collective of over 70 artists based throughout the world, consistently produces high-quality VFX while meeting tight deadlines for multiple projects with ease.
Located in the epicenter of the film and television industry, Legion provides studios with a full-service approach, collaborating closely with producers, directors, DPs, camera operators, editors and post teams, gathering data and providing input that enable its team to maximize the efficiency of the production and postproduction process and get the most out of every budget.
VFX Legion’s TV credits include Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Madam Secretary Suits, El Chapo, Eye Candy, Revolution, and Gone, to name a few. Legion has created the VFX for feature films, including Hardcore Henry, Sinister 2, The Purge: Election Year and The Purge: Anarchy.
For more information about VFX Legion call 818.736.5855, visit http://VFXlegion.com or at info@VFXlegion.com.
CREDITS: Scandal + How to Get Away with Murder – Cross-Over Episodes
PROJECT: VFX for Scandal + How to Get Away with Murder Crossover episodes: VFX Legion
Show: 'Scandal'; Episode: 'Allow Me to Introduce Myself'
Creator: Shonda Rhimes
Production Company: Shondaland Productions, ABC Studios / LA
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Writer: Raamla Mohamed, Shonda Rhimes
Show: 'How to Get Away with Murder': Episode: 'Lahey vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania'
Creator: Peter Nowalk
Production Companies: Shondaland Productions, ABC Studios /LA
Director: Zetna Fuentes
Writers: Morenike Balogun, Sarah L. Thompson
VFX: Scandal + How to Get Away with Murder:
VFX Company: VFX Legion / LA
Creative Director/Senior VFX Supervisor: James David Hattin
VFX Supervisor: Matthew T. Lynn
Production Manager: Andrew Turner
VFX Head of Production: Nate Smalley
VFX Coordinator: Matthew Noren
VFX Coordinator: Lexi Sloan
CG Supervisor: Rommel S. Calderon
CG Layout: Alex Keller
CG Lighting: Bryan Shepperd
Tracking: Ruy Delgado
CG Modeling & Texturing: Ken Bishop
CG Modeling & Texturing: Trevor Harder
CG Dynamics: Mark Hennessy-Barrett (How to Get Away with Murder)
Compositing Supervisor: Daniel Short
Compositor: Nick Guth
Compositor: Bruce Harris
Compositor: Christopher Klassen
Compositor: Jonathan Reid
Compositor: Kevin Shawle
Compositor: Johan van Huyssteen
Compositor: Martha Soehendra (Scandal)
Compositor: John R. McConnell (Scandal)
Compositor: Evan James (Scandal)
Compositor: Allan Torp Jensen (How to Get Away with Murder)
Compositor: Brad Moylan (How to Get Away with Murder)
Compositor: Sam Scott (How to Get Away with Murder)
Compositor: Eugen Olson (How to Get Away with Murder)
Color Conform: Technicolor / LA
Music Company: Chop Shop Music / LA
Music Supervisor: Alexandra Patsavas