02
Jul
08

BSG VFX: REVELATIONS

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.]

 

GOOD TIMES

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.

 

 

 


47 Responses to “BSG VFX: REVELATIONS”


  1. July 2, 2008 at 4:00 am

    Great work as ever on that grim vista. Do we get to see the out-take of Adama on his knees, shouting at a half-buried Statue of Liberty?

  2. 2 Lee
    July 2, 2008 at 4:37 am

    Thanks M., that was really interesting. Can’t help but notice that you managed to avoid showing TOO much of that bridge, so we don’t get to see how much it does/doesn’t (*delete as applicable) look like the Brooklyn Bridge!

  3. July 2, 2008 at 5:08 am

    Very jazzed reading this piece and seeing the clips like that. You do great work.

  4. July 2, 2008 at 6:36 am

    So you saying that the final apocalyptic shot was made in Vancouver…of Vancouver – but that it actually is SUPPOSED to be Vancouver? Because a lot of fan speculation has been that the Earth they’ve found is not really our Earth. A number of theories abound… if you’re confirming that the Colonists are standing near the ruins of modern-day Vancouver, that would answer a lot of plot speculation…

  5. July 2, 2008 at 6:43 am

    Very good work! Those last few moments were pretty awesome, I was really hoping that they wouldn’t find Earth in the 1980s…of course, if this is even Earth…

    Are you still going to do the Cylon sounds post? That’d be awesome! I’ve been looking forward to it.

  6. July 2, 2008 at 7:00 am

    Friggin’ awesome stuff as always Mojo!

  7. July 2, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Man… that clip just before the jump to Earth is great! Congratulations!!!

    I almost fell off my sofa…. It’s like you started seeing all those scenes since the miniseries and then you realize it’s getting to the final moments… kinda sad, too…

    Again.. Congrats!

  8. July 2, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Very interesting read. I do think that the establishing shot of the fleet is too long, but i liked the cut on the episode, very beautiful (the soundtrack also helped).

  9. 9 Locutus
    July 2, 2008 at 8:34 am

    I love the helicopter shot of the fleet just before it jumps to Earth.
    The shot of Galactica with the sun would make a lovley wallpaper..hint hint ;-)

  10. 10 kraig
    July 2, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Sweet homages.. Couple harder questions. Can you discuss why the nukes resembled blinking toys (on the Cylon ships). This isnt meant to be derogatory, but I would be interested to hear the production design decisions behind that.

  11. July 2, 2008 at 8:55 am

    red how in the original series the effects team was able to establish a real sense of ‘depth of field’ in the famous shot of Galactica from the back for the title screen. Maybe it was all that light pouring out of the back of her against the star field but that shot always really looked like it really was video of a large ship actually traveling through space. Thanks for including it on the new series because it is a very welcome touch.

  12. July 2, 2008 at 9:49 am

    How can anyone not know it’s Vancouver. Centennial Beach at Boundary Bay Regional Park to be specific. :)

  13. 13 Wilhelm Scream
    July 2, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Thanks very much! I’ve only recently discovered your blog, but I’ve loved every post. “Revelations” was, well, a Revelation. Fantastic episode all round (acting, music, writing, VFX), and I love getting the inside scoop like this.

    I’ve seen my share of radiocative slagheaps, and you certainly made the prettiesdt I’ve seen.

  14. 14 Ryan "StarForge"
    July 2, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Who would have thought? Vancouver? Hehe

    Awesome post as usual mate, keep ’em coming!

  15. 15 Cap'n Schwartz
    July 2, 2008 at 10:25 am

    So just how cool was this breakdown!?!?! Your site was posted over on PopCritics, so had to definitley check this out. Very cool stuff!! thanks for the explanations and walk throughs =)

  16. 16 Aaron
    July 2, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I do not believe that most of the people who were wondering the location of that scene meant it in a literal sense. People were not really as interested in where the scene was physically filmed as they were about the in-series location of the landing party. Clearly, the place that they landed, despite it being filmed in Vancouver, could not be the same site that the scene was filmed at. Additional landmass is there that doesn’t actually exist in Vancouver. Therefore, the in-series landing party must be at some other place. Whether that place is meant to be a factual, post-apocalyptic city in the world today or an unnamed city that the viewers will never learn about is another story entirely though.

  17. 17 Ridgerunner
    July 2, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Not a question, but first, kudos to some of the most amazing work. Being old enough to have watched the original in my mid-teens, I particularly enjoyed these homages (sp?) to the old show. Also fun was watching that footage of the rear-angle shot of Galactica from ToS, and seeing for the first time, that if you watch the star field below the ship, you can see the posts holding up the model as they pass & “blank out” the stars!

  18. July 2, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Between the visuals you produce and the magic that Bear puts out I am constantly and consistently enthtralled. Once again, great work and excellent writing, thanks for letting us peek behind the curtain.

  19. 19 darthmojo
    July 2, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Glad you guys like the write up!

    Bayyr & Aaron: Please place fresh batteries into your sarcasm detector, I was being very tongue-in-cheek when I suggested that viewers were trying to figure out where the shot was filmed. Obviously fans are wanting to know where it takes place in a diagetic sense, but I’m sure no one expects people associated with the show to spill the beans.

    If you want to take my post literally and assume the wrecked city is actually Vancouver, be my guest – it’s as good as any other guess that’s been made!

    Kraig: If you’d like to know why the production designers put blinking lights on the Cylon nukes, you’ll have to ask THEM! I’ll wager it’s because it looks cool. Besides, blinking red lights are usually synonymous with something bad, so I think it’s a good idea to have them on a nuke – this way kids won’t pick it up and play with it.

  20. 20 Loco
    July 2, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks, DarthMojo for sharing this and for the fantastic job you guys do on BSG! That final shot of the fleet before the jump to Earth gives me chills every time. Does it make me a geek that I screamed “hey, that’s the sun!!”? :D

  21. July 2, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Wow! I only just discovered your blog and this post…and I love BSG! Thanks for all the information and great graphics. I love the artistry you display.

  22. July 2, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Mojo, thanks! That establishing shot was one I took special notice of. The Bucket never looked better.

  23. 23 ColonialMarine
    July 2, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Great wrap-up. I came across it at GalacticaSitRep & added your Blog to my RSS feed. I love behind the scene tech stuff.

  24. 24 kraig
    July 2, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Hey Mojo,

    I thought that maybe since you probably put those bad boys together, maybe you had the conversation with them. At any rate, I’m glad that’s clarified, because I was juggling these blinking red things in the office just the other day — now they’re safely in the hands of the nuclear protection agency.

    Mojo: Have you ever done a breakdown of the FX in the New Caprica breakout early in Season 3?

  25. July 2, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I caught the new TOS-style shot in “Revelations” (though my mind played tricks on me and I was sure the original had the Colonial Movers and Mining Ship there, too), though I never picked up on the one from season 3 (though, to be fair, I hadn’t seen any of the original series at the point).

    I thought the big sweeping shot of the fleet at the end was absolutely perfect, as were the shots of the fleet above Earth. They captured that early space-program feel of seeing the world for the first time and being awestruck at its beauty. Most of the time in science fiction, the Earth is just plopped in so you know where you are.

    But I did have a question, though it doesn’t just apply to this episode. I’ve noticed throughout season four (and possibly the tail end of season 3, I can’t quite remember) the Galactica hasn’t been retracting her flight pods in all the way and I think it looks kind of silly. Is there any particular reason why that’s been happening?

  26. 26 ety3
    July 2, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Beautiful stuff, yet again, as always.

    One of my favorite shots of that ep was the gathering of ship silhouettes in orbit of Earth with a sunrise in the background. That plus Bear’s music had me all choked up.

  27. 27 Ein Staunender
    July 2, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you so much for this blog, it’s always a pleasure to read all this artistical background staff about BSG.

    And I want to repeat what Jake Behrens has written:

    »Are you still going to do the Cylon sounds post? That’d be awesome! I’ve been looking forward to it.«

    ¿By your Command?

  28. 28 RScottus
    July 2, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Fascinating stuff. What you do nowadays blows my mind. Thanks for sharing the inside aspect.

    2 quick questions. Regarding homages and such.

    1) I read somewhere there was a small clip of a Trek ship early in the series as part of the RTF. True? No?

    2) Was it my imagination, but the only other capital ship (I have not gone to season 2 for when it originated)in the fleet was the one above Galactica as they came out of their jump over Earth? Is it dysfuntional as a warship?

    Again, thanks for all of your sharing.

    RScottus

  29. 29 Romantique
    July 2, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing all the behind-the-scenes stuff on the amazing space porn on this show…can’t wait to see your other blogs for this half-season! This is the perfect visual complement to Bear McCreary’s blog. I wonder if any of the visual effects…including that last establishing shot of the fleet in “Revelations” was inspired at all by his “Oratorio Diaspora” piece…or was the temp music totally different-sounding?

  30. 30 TighFighter
    July 2, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Great stuff Mojo. I love the TOS shout outs. I’ve noticed quite a few this season. Besides the previous scenes you’ve discussed in the blog I noticed that the scenes with Elosha in “The Hub” were a homage to to the Beings of Light dimension we see in War of the Gods part 2. If anyone is interested I have the shot comparisons posted on a forum. Another VFX shot that caught my eye is the scene where we see the ships landing on Earth. The shot of the ship with the three propulsion engines and the Raptors flying around it made me think of the scene in Galactia 1980 when the crew land on earth for the first time. In Galactica 1980 they touch down in a shuttle and nearly crash into a plane. I’m dieing to know was that another homage shot or am I just crazy?

  31. 31 adallahq
    July 2, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Darth Mojo,

    First of all let me say just how much I enjoy your blog and these insights you give us about the VFX on BSG. It is of special interest to me because I try to reproduce BSG shots myself, so thank you so much for sharing the behind the scenes stuff. Your posts are very well done and you can tell you put effort into them. Thank you.

    As for Revelations, I loved all VFX shots. My favorite was the fleet approaching the planet with the sun in the distance. Truly memorable shot. I actually was expecting more shots of that nature for these colossal moments in the show. I must say my favorite shot in the episode was the close up of the front end of the galactica, and then all the raptors and transports descending onto the planet.

    I also did like a lot the shot during the execution of what seemed like a deckhand (orange suit) and you had 3 raiders on patrol, two of the Base Star arms in view, and between those arms, you see the Galactica at a slight roll angle. It gave a sense of the proximity of the Base Ship to the Galactica, considering they had nukes pointed at each other.

    I dont have any questions specifically for this episode, but if I may ask 2 other questions I have burning in my mind. The first is, do you guys have seperate high poly models for the Landing Bay and Launch Tubes, or are those landing and launch shots done on the main Galactica model, which has all that detail on it? So would you render the entire galactica for one of those landing shots?

    My other question is do you composite live action plate of the actors in full scale vipers, along with CG of the Vipers? So basically you zoom into the Viper, which has a CG pilot model, and after a certain point, you switch to live action and composite that in? I’m curious about the cockpit shots of the Vipers, like during episode 403, you see a lot of shots inside Anders’ Viper. I’m wondering if those are CG cockpits or real cockpits. Because for the podcast for The Hub, Ron Moore says the Raptor cockpit was entirely CG, which is shocking, cause I would have never known unless somebody told me.

    Sorry for writing a book. Thanx again for these great blog posts. We really do appreciate it a lot.

    Adalla

  32. 32 Boris
    July 2, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    The first picture needs the usual nerdy caption. I propose:

    “NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

  33. July 2, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Awesome! And what a tease to have the statue in the middle of the water like that! I agree though, it is definitely NOT the SoL. It was destroyed by the Cloverfield monster…

  34. 34 Captain Otter
    July 3, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Mojo- you have once again made my morning! Thanks!

  35. 35 darthmojo
    July 3, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    KRAIG: Haven’t done anything from season 3 yet.

    DAVID: The pods don’t retract ALL THE WAY inside the ship, they always stick out just a little.

    ERIN/JAKE: Yes I plan to get to the post about re-creating the Cylon voices.

    RSCOTTUS: I think the BSG Wiki has info about that “Trek” incident… and as to your second question, I don’t really follow. The Galactica is the only “capital” ship in the fleet. The Ring Ship is very big, but it’s a passenger liner.

    ROMANTIQUE: I’m not sure what piece of music was in the rough cut that inspired me… however Bear’s music has played a roll in our work before… in episode 305, Bear’s “Basestar Sonata” was a strong motif throughout the show, so I requested it to listen to while I designed the Basestar shots in the episode. His music definitely helped set the tone.

    TIGH: I guarantee you my establishing shot was the only homage to the original series in the episode; any similarities between the scenes with Elosha to “War of the Gods” is most likely cooincidental. As far as homages to “Galactica 1980,” I can’t comment on that because I am not aware of this series’ existance.

    ADALLA: The launch tubes are indeed a seperate model – it would be a huge waste of resources to have that much detail deep inside the regular Galactica model! The Viper pilots are generally a mix of CG and live-action actors. Pretty much if we’re close, it’s the real actor. I don’t think there have been too many (if any) shots where we needed to transition between a CG and live action pilot. And yes, that shot of Adama’s POV in the Raptor was all-CG, I was wondering if and when anyone would figure that out. I guess with Ron’s podcast the cat is out of the bag! Look for more about that shot in my next BSG VFX post.

  36. 36 _pole
    July 4, 2008 at 4:31 am

    Mojo… I love you! :D

    Thanks for sharing all your awesome work!

  37. 37 RScottus
    July 4, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Darth,: No, I was referring to the Defender ship. I stumbled onto it looking for Galactica models, and they referenced it to the series. It is definitely not “The Ring Ship”. Once I brought it up, many Skiffy posters said it was brought up around the Pegasus episode. I just thought as an insider, you would be able to shed light. Granted, only a model site, it got me intrigued and got me asking questions on Skiffy. nothttp://www.fantastic-plastic.com/ColonialDefenderCataloguePage.htm I could have sworn that was was the last ship coming out of FTL above the Galactica.

  38. July 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Vancouver? Wait – was this before or after the 2010 Games? All kidding aside, I wanted to add my appreciation in your sharing how this process was done. In fact, I have one question about it – in the first previz establishing shot of the fleet, I noticed that the camera velocity was pretty much consistent throughout the shot until we neared the front of the Galactica at which point it appeared to decelerate. Was this movement change intentional to create a static shot to allow for the FTL warp-out effect? Or was this an unintentional artifact of keying the sequence?

  39. July 5, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Again an other amazing presentation. Your work clearly speaks for itself. Glad your able to spend the time telling us your inside stories about the work behind the show.

  40. July 6, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Well, no, the pods never went in all the way, but the arms used to go in far enough to be flush with the main part of the hull, with only the side of the pod extending out from the side, like in these two pictures.

    http://galacticabbs.com/index.php?autocom=gallery&req=si&img=10966

    Recently, though, they haven’t been flush, but have stopped a little early, so the struts stick out a little instead of being flush.

    http://galacticabbs.com/index.php?autocom=gallery&req=si&img=111260
    http://galacticabbs.com/index.php?autocom=gallery&req=si&img=149204

    It just bugged me when I first noticed it.

  41. 41 Sam StarEagle
    July 7, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Love all the homage shots of the RTF…especially the fact that so many of the ships are the originals brought back to life… Just for a count, how many of the civi ships in the fleet are from TOS, and how many were made for the RDM version?

    And the last shot still leaves me going “HUH?” instead of “Oh noes!!!” I’m left with no idea where they really are, so I can’t feel bad for them if I just think they landed on the wrong planet…lol

  42. 42 klytus7
    July 9, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Did I miss something, because if I am not mistaken, we never saw our Moon. Did anyone see it or did I blink and miss it?End of line.

  43. July 11, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Great post Mojo. I was wondering if there is any chance we can get “helicopter shot” of The Fleet, just before they jump to earth in a bigger size? I would love to use that as a wallpaper.

    Thanks

  44. July 14, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    This is really cool. While you are doing the “helicopter” shot of the fleet, id there any way to do a “Money shot” of the fleet as well…? Oh, wait…. hehehe… wrong genre. (But I’d definitely use it as a Wallpaper!)

  45. 45 Go
    November 1, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Just wanted to say you do smart, great-looking work!

  46. January 18, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I know it’s a little late, but I thought it was cool that your helicopter shot of the fleet before the jump to earth was lengthened on the DVD version of the episode. I double checked the version on Hulu to make sure. I’m not certain I would’ve noticed consciously but for the fact that the rebel Baseship was in the long one but not in the broadcast cut.

    Congratulations on that. Offhand, I can’t remember any shot being just casually expanded on the DVD unless it’s part of some big extended cut.

  47. 47 darthmojo
    January 19, 2009 at 4:03 am

    David, thanks for the heads up about that shot! This is the first I’d heard about the DVD having a longer version.

    Since that shot is the beginning of the act, it’s possible that Sci-Fi channel simply faded up on the action a second or two late, but the master tape has the complete shot from the very first frame.

    In any case, thanks for lettting us know!


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