This season’s Emmy category for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Series or Movie (which until 2021 was called “Outstanding Special Visual Effects”) might be the most epic and competitive in living memory, with five contenders for iconic sci-fi properties.
Nominees include HBO’s first season dragon housethe prequel series game of Throneswhich during its career won six VFX Emmys, and the third season of Disney + Star Wars cleave the mandalorianwhose previous two seasons won VFX Emmys in 2020 and 2021. (A year ago, another series set in the Star Wars universe, Boba Fett’s bookwon the category.)
This year, another VFX nominee, Prime Video The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power — Set in Middle-earth thousands of years before the events in JRR Tolkien’s novel. The Hobbit and The Lord of the rings — claimed the Visual Effects Society’s top television award, the award for VFX in a Photorealistic Episode.
Rounding out the Emmy nominations in the category are two new series: Andorto Star Wars prequel that follows Rebel Cassian Andor; and from HBO The last of usa post-apocalyptic drama based on the popular video game of the same name.
For The last of us — containing more than 3,000 visual effects shots, much of it done by visual effects companies DNEG and Weta FX — production visual effects supervisor Alex Wang said during a panel at the National Association’s trade show of Announcers that the team aimed to do as much as possible on camera and augment with effects, in collaboration with the various departments. That included the dystopian world where a pandemic has destroyed life as we know it. “I wanted to use as little blue screen as possible and adopt locations,” Wang said. “We got down to the detail of how the vines would grow and the destruction of the buildings. Everything had to feel real.”
For infected humans, this involved collaboration with the prosthetics team led by Barrie Gower (see page 28). Wang says that to further showcase the brutality of the “bloaters,” characters who are in the most advanced stage of infection, “(we ended up) scanning (the prosthetic suit), recreating it, and redesigning it a bit with the team at Weta. They did a phenomenal job with the animation.”
AndorThe first season of contains 3,853 visual effects shots that involved many unique environments set on a variety of planets. Perhaps most challenging was a new planet: the dry and barren Ferrix, which, in all, involved a combination of techniques including stretch sets, CG, and compositing. “That was a new environment for Star Wars, so there was an important design component. We didn’t want it to be another desert planet like Tatooine,” explains Scott Pritchard, Industrial Light & Magic VFX Supervisor. “We filmed helicopter footage in the Canary Islands (with) this incredible black and red soil, it looks otherworldly. We use that as a reference for the texture details of the soil and the surrounding hills.” ILM’s LED virtual production wall was used behind the sets to create Mon Mothma’s embassy on Coruscant.
the mandalorian involved completing nearly 5,000 takes in its third season, for which the world-building spanned eight planets and 100 unique environments. ILM visual effects supervisor Grady Cofer says the most challenging planet was Mandalore, which included planet-enveloping storm clouds, a trinite-covered landscape, the ruins of Sundari, and Living Waters. As in the previous season, the production again relied on ILM’s virtual production techniques to create much of the world.
On the character side of the equation, the animated Zeb involved a stunt double for filming and facial acting by voice actor Steve Blum. In addition to ILM, Important Looking Pirates, Image Engine, Hybride, and Ghost VFX were among the VFX companies that contributed his skills to the season.
The extensive visual effects were also crucial to bring to the screen. dragon houseThe fantasy world of Westeros and rings of power‘s Middle Earth: all complete with creatures like dragons and great battles.
“To be nominated along with those other series, what an honor,” he sums up. Andorit’s Pritchard. “The breadth and quality of visual effects work on television series is incredible.”
This story first appeared in an independent August issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here for subscribe.