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FireflyA Browncoats Exclusive - Q&A with Serenity VFX Supervisor Loni Peristere !
Sunday 3 July 2005, by Webmaster
Zoic’s Loni Peristere, Visual Effects Supervisor on Serenity (and Emmy-winner for Firefly), has answered a few questions about his long-time working relationship with Joss Whedon.
How long have you been collaborating with Joss, and how did you first meet?
Joss and I have been working together for eight years. We met in 1997 at his office for an official review of Digital Magic’s first Visual Effect for "Buffy", a vampire dusting. He had notes and ideas which we built into the effect, which continued to evolve over the course of the "Buffy" and "Angel" series. We bonded over a mutual affection for comic books, musicals, and old movies. Over the years we developed a shorthand using these references in our shot design.
How would your characterize your collaboration with Joss?
Joss is very careful when choosing collaborators. It takes time, hard work, and consistent passion to earn his trust. I love what we do together and rarely tire of our creative process. We have a unique partnership, where years of short hand have empowered him to say little and communicate a great deal. His scripts are very clear, and usually play out as the instruction manual.
How much of the effects and models creative for “Firefly” is evident in “Serenity?”
Quite a bit. Serenity is still Serenity, with a better paint job for the 60 ft screen. Our cinematic language has stayed relatively the same. The handheld cameras, the lens flares, and the zooms are all in the movie. As well as a few new surprises.
What is the ratio of digital to practical effects in the film?
We tried to put as much of the FX work in camera as possible, obviously this is a space movie, so we have a few all-digital shots. But...our actors are the actors at all times. We shot them green screen and placed them on 3D cards into the 3D scenes, thereby avoiding all the traps of the complex world of digital doubles.
Here, Loni breaks down Zoic’s visual effects process when working with Joss:
First Look After reviewing the script, Joss and I get together and talk about the sequences. Our conversations are short. He’ll describe anything that isn’t outlined in the draft, which usually isn’t much. Then I’ll get together with the storyboard artists for a first pass visually. When complete, the storyboard artists and I will present this pass and get his feedback. Usually, one more round gets us to the shot design, and we publish the boards for the crew.
Pre-Viz Once published, we meet with each department to review responsibilities. Joss refines what he expects from principal photography...meanwhile back at Zoic we begin the animation process. The boards are scanned in and kicked off with a team of animators, where we discuss what is to be shot, and what is to be generated. We color code and key the animation to delineate this allocation and render out the scenes accordingly. This pre-visualization (or “pre-viz”) becomes the working guide for principal photography. This process, like the boards, is directed by Joss. The animators present their interpretation of the boards, Joss gives them feedback, and they change the animation accordingly. Once animation has been approved by Joss, it is published and distributed to department heads. The pre-viz is used as a guide to help the team make a more educated plan for photography. On "Serenity” we used the pre-viz to help choose locations, build rigs for camera and effects, and determine building requirements for the art department.
In Production During production our relationship is immediate. While Zoic is busy building the digital sets, the production VFX team (myself, producer Juliette Yeager, and coordinator Susie Gublet) spends every day with Joss on the set making sure the plan we laid out in prep happens, and when it doesn’t, we are there to help Joss troubleshoot on the spot for our department. This is very important for a director, as they must have the whole picture in mind at all times. We are focused on our part. It is our job to present solutions to challenges in our department as they fall to us. Because what we do is complicated and expensive, small mistakes or unforeseen time constraints can affect the schedule and budget enormously. As each day progresses and scenes are committed to film, our plan for the finish evolves. Joss’s editor Lisa Lassek plays a big part in this process, as the movie evolves and forms almost daily.
The Final Lap Upon completion, Joss takes the time he needs with Lisa to look back on the form of his plan. Once he’s had a pass at the film, he invites us back into the room. This is another great period for us, as we often find gems in the edit, which no one anticipated. Joss reviews his expectations for the final result from a story point for every shot in the movie, and he tunes our shots to the result he ultimately had in mind when he first conceived them. In the past, this was the shortest part of our process. On "Serenity" it has been the longest. As a result, Joss has had the opportunity to refine his vision, and the time has ultimately benefited the finished product.
How does working on the television effects differ from the feature film process?
Time and budget. With a longer schedule and a bit more money, we have been able to say yes to and execute more complex work. We have also been able to dress up the ships and the FX work behind them. Another big benefit of working in film is the studio support. Universal Pictures’ experience and processes allows us to work more efficiently and more effectively. It is a good place to be.
Zoic Studio’s Loni Peristere is Visual Effects Supervisor and Second Unit Director on Serenity. Zoic was awarded the Emmy in 2003 for Special Visual Effects in a Television Series for its contribution to “Firefly” and was nominated for its work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. In addition to Serenity, Zoic is also creating visual effects for “Battlestar Galactica,” “CSI: Miami,” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” www.zoicstudios.com.