BSG VFX: “Guess What’s (not) Coming To Dinner”

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of working on Battlestar Galactica  is the creative freedom we’re given; Ron Moore encourages his team to go the extra mile by always being open to new ideas and concepts.  Many writer/producers expect to see their script produced verbatim on screen,  while Ron sees the entire film making process as very fluid.  In a sense, the final draft of the script  becomes the first draft of the show; on stage, contributions from the cast and director begin to evolve the process, while the editing suite becomes Ron’s typewriter for the final draft of the episode.

At first glance, visual effects’ job may be seen as simply to spruce up Ron’s final product with cool eye candy, but, like any other aspect of production (be it cinematography, music or sound effects), ultimately our work is judged by how well we tell the story.  As a previz artist (short for previsualization), my job is to do just that – translate words on a page into something that tells the story visually.  When I’m reading a script, I’ll often have ideas that may change a shot, or add entirely new ones; thanks to the “elastic” approach of our show, we’re generally encouraged by Gary [Hutzel, VFX Supervisor] to go wild and let Ron pick what he thinks works best.

And go wild we do.  As the episode takes form, effects shots are changed, added and even (sniff) cut out, all depending on how they affect the flow of the show.  We’ve had entire sequences pared down to a single shot because that’s all that was needed to tell the story, and other times we’ve turned two shots into ten because it just worked.

It should therefore come as no surprise that when the dust settles after an episode is finished, in addition to the live-action casualties of war (also known as “deleted scenes”) there are also visual effects shots that never see the light of day; sometimes they’re early versions of shots that were redefined, sometimes they’re cut from a sequence that got a little, shall we say, “overindulgent” (when we get excited we tend to go overboard) and sometimes they get trimmed out of a show that’s running too long – but one thing they all  have in common is that no one ever gets to see them!

Until now, that is.


For “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” I tackled the sequence where the Baseship jumps into the fleet, nearly getting blasted before our heroes realize it’s friendly.  There’s one shot in particular which didn’t make the final cut that I absolutely had fallen in love with, so I’m going through the monumental effort of writing this entire piece and providing you with a deconstruction of the effects sequence just so it can finally be seen.  How’s that  for ego?

Here are annotated stills from this part of the sequence that explain how it all came together, followed by early video of the scene [NOTE: these are all previzualization shots – “rough drafts” of effects shots which use low resolution models; this saves time when developing a sequence and final touches are only added when the shot is approved]. 



 This was the first version of the Baseship jumping in; I wanted to start with a standard establishing shot of the fleet, something very normal and familiar to viewers, and then completely turn it on it’s ear with a Baseship jumping in!  However, after the zoom-in, it just looked too close, so we went with an angle from the Baseship’s point of view. 



 The idea of the Basehship getting in the way of Fleet traffic was not scripted.  As I began working on the “jump in” shot, I was trying to find an “empty spot” in the Fleet where the Baseship would not be in the path of incoming ships; I soon realized that it would be just too convenient for this to happen and far more dramatic if the civilian ships were now on a collision course!  Because this wasn’t in the script and required adding a few shots, I talked it over with Gary; he agreed it would add a nice extra element of jeopardy to a scene in which all hell is supposed to be breaking loose.  The image you see above is from the first of three shots we cooked up to sell the idea (ultimately is was cut for time).



 We originally had an insert shot of Vipers launching to meet the Baseship, but it was cut for two reasons: first and foremost, time!  Our shows always dance on the limits of running time, so anything not essential to the story usually winds up before a firing squad.  Also, this shot came early in the sequence, with a lot of time passing before we finally saw the Vipers close in on the Baseship; we didn’t want viewers to wonder “what the frak took those Vipers so long to get there?” so we opted to include the launching fighters at the tail end of a later shot where Galactica comes about.



This was the “money shot,” in which we witness the pandemonium of civilian ships wildly flying to avoid hitting the Baseship.  It was designed specifically to end with the cargo ship Prometheus on a collision course with the arm so we could cut to the shot I really wanted…



… the view from inside  the Prometheus  as it barely manages to fly up and over the Baseship.  This would be a rare point of view from one of the Fleet ships and really give us a sense of just how big the Baseship is.  In addition, putting the viewer on  the ship about to get smacked would really heighten the sense of danger (for the final shot, we had planned to put people helplessly watching and backing away from the maw of the ship).   Here’s a video of the previz sequence cut together, after which I’ll divulge the fate of my beloved shot:



When Gary came to give me the news that the “open maw” shot had been cut to make time for a taco commercial, he had three burly men wrestle me to the ground, just in case I took the news badly (although I’m not sure if you really can committ seppuku  with a Master Replicas Lightsaber).  I think I only cried for a few minutes.

Ultimately, we ended up with only one of the three shots of the careening fleet – the “money” shot.   Ron saw them all and liked the idea, but as cool as the other ones are, the shot he picked was the only one needed to tell the story.  Am I still sad?  Am I bitter?  Do I have a rag doll of Ron Moore filled with pins?  Are you kidding?  I came up with an idea for my favorite show and it made it on the air! 

So now, dear reader, you have a tiny glimpse of what goes on behind the locked doors and barbed wire fence of Battlestar Galactica Visual Effects  (and believe me, that barbed wire isn’t to keep you out, it’s to keep us in – do you think we could finish the season if they let us go home?). 

There are many more tales to tell, so stay tuned – a few might slip out.


[CLICK HERE to read the previous BSG VFX  post]




ATTENTION WEBMASTERS: I’d take it as a personal favor that if you plan to link to this story, please let the video stay here.  If you’d like additional content to make your story about this post stand out, get in touch with me on the “about me” page and we’ll talk!        – Mojo





43 Responses to “BSG VFX: “Guess What’s (not) Coming To Dinner””

  1. May 21, 2008 at 4:49 am


    *enters geek mode*
    AHHHHH that was so cool! Sweet thinking to add in the collision aspect! The second shot with the passenger liner swerving to avoid the Baseship looked great (I have a crush on that ship, takes me back to Thunderbirds). Shame you didn’t get to keep the whole sequence in. Even so, there was a massive amount of Jump scenes in that ep <3

    Every Tuesday night when a new episode airs myself and 5 friends get together to watch it. I’m a total sci-fi geek so naturally love all these ship shots etc, however my friends wouldn’t normally touch sci-fi with a bargepole (I had to strap them down two years ago to actually watch the miniseries,) so they generally don’t have the same enthusiasm for ship shots etc like I do.

    I gotta say though, now they get just as exited as myself at all the crazy space shots! At the first commercial break there was a few moments silence followed by en explosion of ‘that was so cool!!’ over all the mad jumping shots. The Taco advert got none of our attention.

    Its really a testament to your work and BSG in general that it can excite so many people who normally wouldn’t bat an eyelid at this sort of thing. The effects are so well done, not just in terms of how real they look, but the way it links in with and expands on the story adding a new level of tension or awe. The story and effects really build on each other rather then feeling very separate from one another like on most TV shows. Thinking of the collision aspect shows you go that extra mile. Keep it up!

    Question~ I don’t know if you have anything to do with this in particular, buuuut; Spinny Ship occasionally doesn’t spin in fleet shots, is there a reason? D:

  2. May 21, 2008 at 5:35 am

    I wish I wasn’t every single season behind in BSG just so I could watch it and say “I know (online) the guy who helped make that shot!”

  3. May 21, 2008 at 6:16 am

    Oh wow, thanks for sharing this…that “maw” shot is indeed great. Another casualty of cuts for length, sigh. I will say, even though I’ve only watched that ep one time yet, that the sense of other ships scrambling to get out of the basestar’s way is still very clear in the final cut.

  4. 4 Geoff
    May 21, 2008 at 6:26 am

    Aw, man! I was wondering if you worked on that sequence — as it is it’s a still a work of art.

  5. May 21, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Great post! Thanks for the look behind the scenes, dvd extras can never give this kind of personal insight!

    I loved the collision course scene when I saw it, it really made the whole scene.

  6. May 21, 2008 at 6:51 am

    That’s really cool, except I can’t play the video. Everytime I try to click it a picture pops up. :(

  7. 7 Captain Otter
    May 21, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Awesome stuff! I’m hoping that all the whole sequence winds up on the DVDs.

  8. 8 Francis
    May 21, 2008 at 8:06 am

    That’s amazing. Keep that stuff around, you never know what will make it into the dvd ;-)

  9. 9 ety3
    May 21, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Very sweet.

    It’s no wonder you were sad to lose the Prometheus’ shot.

    Has there ever been talk of “special extended editions” of certain episodes where you guys could add more effects? “Resurrection Ship” and “Exodus” spring to mind.

    Mind you, I’m not talking about anything on the level of having Adama shoot Boomer first.

  10. 10 Stefan
    May 21, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Oh that is awesome! I ran across your blog when it got linked for the old-school Cylon articles on one of the forums I frequent, and absolutely love it. It’s very cool to see the pre-viz and behind the scenes stuff, and that shot would’ve been awesome to see.

    While I love the show of course, I love scrutinizing every single fleet shot to pick out new ships in the background, like Rising Star when it was just a little blob in S1. Seeing her and the other new ships like Demetrius and that odd girder ship that was in the Ionian Nebula battle and I think the episode before this one has just been a treat. You and the rest of the team do amazing work and give something for the rest of us geeks out here to aspire to.


  11. May 21, 2008 at 11:40 am

    This is awesome, although the vid wouldn’t play for me. (Fortunately, it works on io9’s version. Safari incompatibility, perhaps?)

    @Millionsknives: I’m guessing that the repairs to the damaged spinny ship would be easier if it wasn’t spinning.

  12. 12 Paul
    May 21, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I’m also hoping for some extended or deleted scenes on the DVDs that show more of these great fleet shots. As an aside, those pre-vis models are still fairly detailed. Do you guys use meshes with lower polygon counts for the pre-vis, or do you just forgo the textures? One of the things that’s always impressed me the most about BSG is how photorealistic all of the materials look, all the time. I know a lot of that is the amount of horsepower you can through at a scene, but the textures and lighting are spot on! I often find myself trying to spot what’s geometry and what’s painted on, but to no avail.

  13. May 21, 2008 at 11:58 am

    That sucks that in short this piece hit the (so called) cutting room floor. It would have been a much better meal deal to see that on screen than some Taco dog.

  14. May 21, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Wow. What a shot that is. I can understand being a bit upset. That was a great sequence. One of my favorite shots (that is probably not a big deal at all but I like what it signified) was of the Galactica coming about, ready to bring her guns to bear. I actually said “Uh oh.” aloud when that shot came up. Plus I think you can see ships in the background jumping away. Great sequence. Of course, the pre-credit sequence that gets the gold so far is the one in the season premiere. WOW.

  15. May 21, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Slightly OT, but in the aired version of this sequence, I noticed that Galactica’s big guns are manned. Have we seen that before, or is that new detail?

  16. 16 Adam N. Rorabaugh
    May 21, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    It would have been a very intense sequence if it began with the shot inside of the Prometheus’ cargo bay. Normal operations, the audience slightly confused why we’re getting this as a fleet shot and then *BAM!* the baseship jumps in and it’s on a collision course.

  17. 17 darthmojo
    May 21, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    – Yes, the guns are manned, nice catch! A shot we’ve been wanting to do for a while is from INSIDE the turret control bubble, watching these giant cannons blast unholy hell into the distance. I bet the sound guys would have fun with that too. We’ll see!

    – We have actually finished effects for extended DVD episodes, most notably a few shots for “Uninished Business,” on the 3rd Season set (we’re also planning to do the same for at least one extended episode on the Season 4 set).

    It’s important for everyone to remember that even the coolest shots get cut for a reason! If every shot we loved were left in the show, it would be ten minutes too long and a million over budget :-) I’m sure Ron and the editors have cried their fair share of tears over incredible live-action scenes that had to be cut either due to time or simply just not fitting into the story. Thank goodness we have DVD!

  18. 18 Kraig
    May 21, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Good lord I love this blog. Great job

  19. 19 ElHombre
    May 21, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    That was a great shot. I can feel the pilot of the Prometheus halfway between outright disbelief and trying to avert disaster. Next time try asking the live action part of the crew to suck a bit so they get the cut.

  20. 20 Erik
    May 21, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Found this randomly, I am huge BSG fan. Amazing effects work in what was without a doubt, the best episode this season.

  21. 21 Corey
    May 22, 2008 at 5:51 am

    I gotta tell you, first thing I said to my GF while watching this particular espisode of BSG, was- DAMN! They jumped right into fleet traffic! How cool is that!

    Very, very nice work. Thanks for your work on my favorite show in over a decade.

  22. May 22, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Hi Darthmojo after watching this episode ive noticed (to great delight) that the viper 7 cgi has been returned to its origional design from the 1st two seasons. I would like to ask a question though. Why was the viper 7’s cgi designed changed in the first place in the episode maelstorm? Perhaps some of this cgi could be shown beside the normal viper 7s and be called a new type of viper that pegasus had onboard?

    By the way i really loved these sceens that were shown in this, the vipers flying over civilian ships towards teh basestar looked great.

  23. 23 ScbyPwr
    May 22, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    The opening sequence was by far the coolest part of this episode. I still get chills everytime I see the Bucket closing on the basestar with all weapons set to fire…

    Now if you guys could only include more action sequences for the rest of the season…it will help me forget the boring screen play and backstory up to this point. Damn holiday…make us wait for two weeks…I’ll initiate the Seppuku for you…jk

  24. 24 Peach
    May 23, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Very cool information and I loved the video. The shot from inside the Prometheus was very cool. I hope some of these extended sequences do indeed make it onto the season 4 dvd. I’ve wondered for a while how every jump seems to land the ships in empty space.

  25. 25 Chad N.
    May 24, 2008 at 12:23 am

    A scene from inside the turrets!?

    I’ve been waiting for that shot since the mini!

    Those gunners play a vital role in the safely of the Fleet, but all the show focuses on is the pilots. It’s time to give the turret gunners some credit! :D

    Great scene breakdown. The Prometheus was cool to see again. It would have been awesome to have that interior shot, and people reacting. (Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the people on all those ships.)

    A big thumbs up to whomever is responsible (you?) for all of the Space Park shots in recent episodes. I love that ship!

  26. 26 darthmojo
    May 24, 2008 at 2:11 am

    The “space park” ship is the Agro Ship, one of the vessels from the original BSG. It was in the miniseries but was lost as one of the ships that didn’t have FTL.

    During the second season, I loaded the model just to have another look at it and remembered what a nice design it is. I created a new self-lighting kit to give the ship more scale and, by pure cooincidence, Ron Moore came to visit the FX dept that day. He saw the render on my screen and I asked him if there was any chance we could bring it back. “Sure,” he said. “But it was destroyed in the mini” I reminded him. “Well, THAT one was destroyed,” he replied with a smile.

    Ever since then, it’s been back and yes, it’s a great looking ship. We feature it as often as we can.

  27. 27 Sonny
    May 24, 2008 at 4:03 am

    This website is great! You guys should include these behind-the-scenes VFX stories in the Season 4 DVD!! Perhaps a video diary would be cool…
    You can see why BSG is so succesful: because everybody who works on it just loves what they are doing and are good at it!

  28. 28 Chad N.
    May 24, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Actually, I was referring to the ringed vessel that took some heat in the Ionian Nebula: http://en.battlestarwiki.org/wiki/Space_Park

    But I was noticed the Agro Ship/Botanical Cruiser in this episode and thought, “Didn’t those ships not have FTL engines?” ;)

    It’s cool that you brought it back; it is a great looking ship!

  29. May 24, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I really wish we had a “recognition guide” in hardcopy to go with the BattlestarWiki…

  30. 30 starbirdcanada
    May 24, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Why don’t they include these shots in the DVD releases?

  31. 31 Q
    May 24, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    That is a cool sequence but I still think you guys are banking the camera WAY TOO MUCH. I know it’s moot at this point as it is now “the look” but Christ-on-a-pancake, tone it down for the next “whatever” please!

  32. 32 Nostromo
    May 24, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Only one word. A M A Z I N G! The cut sfx sequence is giving me heart palpitations. And I’ve got to re-watch the episode to see the manned guns. Thanks for doing this. Nostromo, Ottawa Canada.

  33. 33 Cameron B
    May 24, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Very cool! I suspect someone has asked this question before, but just in case it hasn’t been, here goes:

    Listening to you, others involved in BSG, and even Ron himself, it seems that often cool shots/scenes have to be cut for time (rather than artistic) reasons.

    Given that, why isn’t it more strongly considered to make the DVD release more true “director’s cuts” that DO include (not as out-takes or ‘extras’ but left in-line) any scenes that were deleted just for (network) time concerns. It would seem this would ensure even stronger than ever DVD sales as people like myself would love to see another 5-10 minutes of extra footage as it would have appeared if there were not time constraints.

    Do you happen to know Ron’s take on this?

  34. 34 Anastashia
    May 25, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Most definitely the maw shot would have been exciting. The shot that did make it though that I throughly enjoyed was the Vipers scattering all over the place to avoid hitting the Demetrius. Really loved that.

  35. May 27, 2008 at 4:40 am

    You have probably THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD…fantastic work Mojo!
    I bloody love this blog!


  36. 36 ety3
    May 27, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Mojo, what’s the history of the agro ship?

    I know it’s derived from the Valley Forge, a nature preservation vessel in “Silent Running,” which was directed by Douglas Trumbull. Trumbull later worked on OG BSG with Jon Dykstra.

    Was the agro ship in that RTF the exact same model as the Valley Forge? And did you do any viewing of “Silent Running” before creating the new agro ship?

  37. 37 Lee Stringer
    May 27, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    The ‘new’ agroship was originally built for Richard Hatch’s “2nd Coming” trailer by James Betteridge. It was insipred by the Valley Forge from Silent Runing, but not the same. In the original BSG series they used some stock shots from Silent Running to show the Agroships. When work started on the mini-series in 2003 I contacted James to rebuild a much more detailed version. That was used to show the ship that didn’t make the FTL jump. During the first season I chose not to use the new agro ships in the fleet, but ‘others’ reappeared in later seasons.

    (CG Sup on the miniseries and first season)

  38. 38 cyberghost
    May 27, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I would like to see the deleted scenes given the option of being put back into the episode, like a directors cut, not just separate scenes only to be seen in the deleted scenes area of the DVD. The episode would be longer and more detailed, is that possible?

  39. May 27, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Just wanted to post and say THANKS for all the hard work, and great shots.. it would seem to me that all the exterior shots this season, are better than any season before. I wondered if you all were using some new software or hardware to render your imagery.. just looks that much better.
    An incredible show, with some incredible CGI thanks again !

  40. 40 Richard Knapp
    May 28, 2008 at 10:22 am

    I also wanted to say thanks for a great show and for showing us these bits of what goes on in the background. Are there any FX heavy sequences in any of the remaining 3 episodes for this season? Any cool space battles?

    Great work and thanks!

  41. September 10, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

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May 2008

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