Who would ever guess that this cheery image would become the poster-child for one of Battlestar Galactica’s finest moments? Now that the mid-season finale has been unleashed, fans across the internets have been closely examining the above image, scouring it for clues and hoping to unlock the secrets of what is to come. Well, I have good news for you! There are indeed secrets to be had and if you’d like to know the truth behind that image, click forward to read more. Go on, I dare you…
“Where exactly is it!?” is the big question. Fans have been guessing everything from New York to Sydney to Alpha Centauri. The real answer may shock you… Are you ready? It’s Vancouver, of course! I’m surprised more people haven’t figured it out, I mean everyone knows the show is shot in Vancouver, so why all the guesswork about where the last scene takes place? Ok, ok, maybe I’m not being totally fair, since we did have to add a few teensy bits of urban carnage to the original live action. Here’s what the final shot in “Revelations” looked like before the visual effects team stepped in:
I guess there is a slight difference, maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised people didn’t immediately recognize it as Vancouver. Tried as they did, the location scouts couldn’t quite find the perfect post-apocalyptic city to film, so they figured we could just “add it in later.”
Set decorators have gotten so lazy!
Of course, I kid. The construction crew actually did a great job of creating the ruins our characters walk through during that long, final shot leading up to the reveal of the full ruins. Modeler Pierre Drolet spent several weeks building the wreckage across the water in Lightwave (and if you compare the two images, you’ll notice a lot of extra debris was also added to the foreground). 3D artist Rob Bonchune helped put together the final layout and set up the lighting scheme for the nearly five-million polygon model. Here is a test of the wreckage, prior to final tweaks:
All the final elements were put together and comped into the live-action plate by composite artist Derek Ledbetter; his biggest challenge was properly matching the camera movement on the real footage to the CGI of the city, a process known as “tracking.” Usually, if we know there will be elements added later to the live-action, small reference dots called “tracking markers” are placed on set; this helps our computers analyze the footage and re-create the motion (the brightly colored dots are removed from the footage later). However, there simply weren’t any convenient places to put tracking markers several miles across the water, so Derek had to do most of the tracking by hand.
For almost three thousand frames.
Someone get that man a beer! [personally, I think Effects Supervisor Gary Hutzel just wanted Derek to feel the angst and hopelessness of the main characters, but this has yet to be proven.]
Fortunately, just before everyone on the show experienced Ron Moore’s infamous end-of-season “punch in the gut,” our Colonial brothers and sisters were allowed to enjoy a few moments of happiness. Here’s a still from the previz of what I called the “helicopter shot” of The Fleet, just before they jump to earth:
Originally, the script called for a standard, run-of-the-mill establishing shot of the fleet. I got a few minutes into it when a little voice at the back of my head said “WATCH THE CUT, STUPID.” What the voice was trying to tell me was that I should watch the rough cut of the episode, because often the dramatic flavor of the live-action differs from how you interpret it on the page.
That little voice is always right! Watching the cut transformed my perception of the scene; not only did the performances bring it to life, but the temp music conveyed a sort of melancholy as everyone prepares for “the final jump” to earth.
Suddenly, I knew what this “simple establishing shot” had to be – one last, long, wistful look at the entire fleet, floating together in space; a shot that might make the audience sit back and reflect on what this family has been through and how proud we are that they’re about to cross the finish line.
So how do you convey all that in an establisher? I knew it had to be a moving camera shot, since moving the camera always has far more punch than a simple pan. To open on a poetic note, I began the shot on a starfield, and one by one small ships begin to come into frame and you realize it’s the fleet (the first few seconds of the shot were truncated on the air, but you can see the whole shot in the video below). Finally, we see Galactica, bathed in warm, golden sunlight and, as we come around, the whole feel is silhouetted against the amber rays. Here is the previz on which the final shot was based:
It’s almost a “god’s eye view” shot, very different from our usual style, but I felt the moment called for something special. The only thing I was worried about was the length; usually, establishing shots were 3 or 4 seconds, but this behemoth weighed in at 500 frames (and, of course, this episode was already running too long (they always do)). Gary thought the shot worked well, so he was willing to take a chance on it and send it to the producers.
Because of the length, I never thought it was going to make the final cut, but Ron Moore responded favorably and felt the shot was just right for the scene. It’s moments like that which make working on this show such a pleasure – everyone “gets it” and people are rewarded – not chastised – for thinking outside the box and trying something different.
LET’S ESTABLISH SOMETHING
Speaking of establishing shots, “Revelations” features a very subtle homage to the 1978 Battlestar Galactica in a re-creation of the original series’ most famous shot: zooming in on the flight pod’s nameplate:
Image “A” is the updated version of the 1978 version “B.” The fleet ships were not part of the original shot, but we like to keep the fleet “alive” by always including at least a few rag-tag ships with the Galactica (but in reverence to the spirit of the shot, I only used ships that appeared in another original series establishing shot, seen in parts “C” and “D”).
Have there been any other “shot homages” in the new Galactica? Ok, twist my arm, here’s another “secret” revealed here for the first time:
The scene on the right was used as the backdrop for the opening credits of every episode of the original series, so the angle is one of the most recognizable on the ship. As we began the third season, the producers asked us for a bunch of new establishing shots, so I thought it would be fun to do a callback to that famous angle.
Did anyone pick up on it? Here’s a video to take you down establishing-shot memory lane:
That about wraps it up for “Revelations.” I’m going to start working my way backwards through the season and post FX stories about all the shows that have aired, so look for “The Hub” next.
Got any questions? Post ’em in the comments.