Zoic Studios wages alien battles for Falling Skies

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Zoic Studios Vancouver has one mission, Visual Evolution. They have made it their mission to evolve the story, art and technology of the moving image, and through this evolution, broaden the audience for everything they work on.

On the heels of a 2012 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects on the series, Zoic Studios returns to once again battle the 2nd Mass in Season 3 of TNT’s sci-fi drama, Falling Skies, which is filmed in Vancouver.

Zoic’s Vancouver office handles the colossal visual effects work for the series, which is also filmed nearby in various locations throughout Vancouver. The VFX team employs their robust internal pipeline to create feature film-level effects on a much more accelerated television timeline.

The Zoic team comes on board during the scripting phase to discuss with the writers and producers what the CG characters can do and what they will be like in the upcoming season, as well as to introduce any new characters. For these characters, concept artists are brought on board as decisions are made about the nuances of each creature: What kind of planet are they from? How do they move? Are they relatable or scary? How do they interact with the other creatures and characters? All of these key decisions shape both how the creatures will look and move in the series.

Once the design and models are completed, it’s on to production. After that, the editors are provided with simple models of the characters so they are able to manipulate the characters throughout the edit. This allows the editors to have a better idea of what they want in the frame so they are able to create the final shots before the actual animations are completed.

During animation, the CG characters crafted by Zoic essentially serve as actors. At this time, the team focuses on creating and implementing the performances of these characters to seamlessly integrate them into the storyline. The characters are crafted in a photorealistic manner using a 360 panorama to get proper lighting and reflection in all of the animations. These final and precise touches are essential to making the creatures look as realistic as possible. With Zoic’s Vancouver location, the team is able to work face-to-face with the production and creative teams, allowing the Falling Skies team to work directly with the artists to provide feedback and craft the overall look in the earliest production phases.

To create the wide array of extraterrestrial creatures on Falling Skies, the Zoic team pulls from a palette of visual effects techniques. To craft the six-legged Skitters, MastersFX creates highly detailed puppets to be used in close-up shots. For wider shots or extreme physical performances, Zoic creates full CG versions of the skitters to exactly match the practical ones. For the more stately Mechs, animators manipulate the creators through animation techniques on the computer. To create the stately Overlords, motion capture is utilized to capture an actor’s performance digitally to later be applied to the CG version of the character.

For Season 3 of Falling Skies, the post-apocalyptic world of the series has been expanded with more creatures, environments and technologies all coming to play in a much more involved manner. A new Mech character is brought on board as well as a new race of rebel Skitters, adding a whole new realm of visual and physical capabilities for the alien creatures.

“We are always refining and pushing forward on the creative. It is very much a building process. It’s about taking the tools and characters that we’ve already built and moving them to the next level,” said Zoic Executive Creative Director Andrew Orloff.

Additionally, with an ever-increasing amount of interaction between the actors and the digitally created characters, the task of crafting emotive qualities in all of the creatures is now more vital than ever.

Adding, “The fact that the creatures are interacting a lot more is challenging because we want to ensure that we give the actors a good emotional performance to match. We want to be certain that the characters we create can carry the emotional impact of the scene equally.”

As Season 3 pushes forward and the 2nd  Mass’ struggle against the advancing alien forces continues, the sky is the limit on where these visual effects will go next.

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Felix Kay Entertainment Columnist for Vancity Buzz
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