Magazine article Variety

High-End Tech on Small Screen

Magazine article Variety

High-End Tech on Small Screen

Article excerpt

Zombie polar bears and dragons, giant mind-reading gorillas, futuristic tardigrades flying around space, and terrifying shadow monsters reigning parallel universes. With such high-concept, ambitious story elements flooding television, transforming words on a page with acting abilities alone is no longer enough to sustain and immerse modern audiences. This is why, despite the medium's inherent time crunches and restrictive budgets, viewers have come to expect the same quality visual effects on TV as they do feature films. Fittingly, VFX houses and producers are more than happy to oblige.

It's a trend that "Stranger Things" senior visual-effects supervisors Paul and Christina Graff, the duo that helped breathe life into the second-season shadow monster featured on the Netflix original, links to the progressive at-home technologies now available to everyday consumers.

"What determines the quality is resolution, and that's the same in film and TV these days," Paul Graff says, noting the Duffer brothers series was shot at a higher resolution than most films he's worked on. "The quality is getting better with the new 4K sets; you can watch a movie in the same quality in your house as the theater."

Two main parameters of concern remain time and budget, which often determines what's physically possible in any given series despite emerging technologies. "Star Trek: Discovery" executive producer Alex Kurtzman knows this well through experience on both the televised and film versions of the franchise. The intense world-building that went into the CBS All-Access series was partially what caused premiere delays, while tricky VFX shots also make for a steep budgetary learning curve.

"We were under-budgeted on visual effects, and as we started to grow we realized we needed more money allocated to that," he says. "The truth is there isn't any one single house that could handle everything given the volume of CG we have, plus the turnaround itself. There's a three-month window of turnaround time on work, and with so much work to do, sometimes different elements within a single shot will be divided between different houses that specialize in things like water or space or texture."

That spread-the-wealth model is one pay cablers including HBO first molded with big-budget, VFX-heavy series such as "Game of Thrones." While the first two installments of the Emmy-winner worked with single production houses, that evolved when current VFX producers Steve Kullback and Joe Bauer joined the team in year three. Heading into the final, eighth chapter, the show now utilizes at least 13 vendors in order to meet demands, which may include upward of 2,000 shots in its six-episode final season run - more than double the 800 or so from season three. …

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