Zoic Studio’s is an award winning visual effects organization with a resume that includes some of television’s most impressive series including Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Firefly, and Eureka just to name a few.
One of Zoic’s most exciting and challenging projects is the visual effects work required by J.J. Abrams’ new sci-fi series, Fringe. Each week the stories of Fringe push the boundaries for feature level effects and Zoic have certainly risen to the challenge. They recently won a VES (Visual Effects Society) award for ‘Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program’ for their work on Fringe to prove it.
Andrew Orloff, Zoic’s Creative Director and Visual Effects Supervisor, heads up their episodic television division. Andrew recently returned from the set of Fringe in Canada and kindly took the time to field a truck load of questions regarding Zoic Studio’s, it’s work on Fringe, and what we might be able to expect FX wise as the series unfolds.
Following is the audio of our conversation stitched together with more than 50 different images from Zoic’s VFX work. It runs for almost 30 minutes but if you’re a fan of Fringe, a fan of science fiction, or you’re interested in visual effects in any way, you’ll find what Andrew has to say to be well worth a listen.
Here are a couple of excerpts from different stages of the interview. It is only a partial transcription – for the whole conversation you’ll just have to watch/listen to the video above.
I’ve heard that Fringe is one of your favorite projects, is that right?
AO: Yeah definitely. It’s been a good one for us this season, we got to do a lot of different types of stuff. So yeah, I mean the pilot was really successful…we did a lot of work for that, and that’s the one we won the VES [Visual Effects Society] award for.
Yeah, last month.
AO: Yeah it’s been great. We did the pilot with Kevin Blank. As the visual effects supervisor I helped him on set for a couple of days out in Toronto and I think it’s been a really good thing for us, we did a lot of creature work and a lot of what we’re calling digital prosthetics which is enhancing, you know, what would normally be done with prosthetic makeup. We did a parasite in a human body, we did old age, teeth replacement, a lot of tracking of highly integrated 3D elements with real people and real makeup effects, which is what we did in the pilot for the invisible John stuff, which was really challenging.
One of the things I really love about the show is that you can’t really tell the difference between CG and that which is prosthetic.
AO: Yeah, yeah, definitely…and it’s mostly CG believe it or not.
From your personal perspective, what has been the most satisfying effect that you’ve done in Fringe so far?
AO: In Fringe so far the most difficult thing that we’ve done is for an episode that’s coming up…I’ll just keep it more vague…I’ll just say that the creature work that we’ve done for Fringe has been the most challenging.
So this would be the Chimera creature coming up in ‘Unleashed’?
AO: Yes, yes exactly. I mean that was definitely a challenge for us, but also the parasite that came out of the mouth and the porci man man that was on the airplane. You know these creatures are really super fantastical, they’re really out there, the anatomy and the biology of them is so wild and crazy, that it really takes a lot to make it look real in the scene and make it a part of the…the actors are reacting to these things – to get the audience to believe in it is kind of the biggest challenge we’ve faced on the show so far.
The previous episode that was aired was called ‘Ability’ and in that a lot of the storyline touched upon what I think seems to be a direction that Fringe is headed down that is possibly going to be more visual effects laden. Am I right about guessing that? Are you aware of where the story arc is heading and how that is going to impact on any extra work [Zoic] is going to have to do?
AO: I would assume that you know we’re fortunate that visual effects is a big part of the recipe for the success of the show. Of course there’s the performances, especially I think Walter is just great, when he interacts with our visual effects he’s just fantastic because we get such good reactions from him that it almost makes our job easy..or easier..you know we have a good reaction from a cast member to one of the visual effects that seems really real, that really helps us out. That being said, they do keep us quite in the dark about what’s coming up, you know in the far flung reaches. We know a couple episodes ahead, but of course if I knew anything I wouldn’t be able to tell you any spoilers, but I think it’s safe to say the visual effects will be getting more spectacular rather than toned down in future episodes.
In the pilot we saw a bionic arm, a very detailed bionic arm, is that something we’ll be seeing again?
AO: I would think so, I can’t say yes or no. But we have a main character there with a CG prosthetic. I would hope they would put that back in there, but I don’t know of any plans to see it in the future.
If I was to ask what you personal favorite special effect of all time is…
AO: I’ll break it up into two kind of things. For Zoic, there’s kind of two different things that I work on here. I kind of work on the softer shows, you know which is the ’squishy stuff’, and Fringe and the Fringe pilot specifically have been a really good experience for me you know with all that integration and really getting into having organic visual effects that just slide seamlessly on the show.
On the hardware side I was a really big fan of and was really pleased to work as a visual effects supervisor on Jericho, and the series finale for that show which was nominated for an Emmy and a VES award, which was ‘Patriots and Tyrants’, was an F16 fighter..kind of dogfight type sequence, with actors in the cockpits that were talking back and forth. I really had a blast doing that and I think it turned out really well and I think it was a big kind of personal highlight for me.
The kind of visual effects that I like…I mean I grew up in kind of the golden age of visual effects. I saw Star Wars in the movie theater and I have to say that, you know, Blade Runner with all the model work and brilliant matte paintings..just the tone of it was something that really spoke to me and kind of got me very interested in doing this. I think we kind of recaptured that in Children of Men, I mean as far as..in a more modern setting. As you can see I kind of gravitate towards these films that create a very highly realistic world of fantasy that you feel you could really sit in that really has an internal logic to it that kinds of…the visual effects kind of bring you into the film than just being something that’s cool to look at.
If you would like to learn more about Zoic Studio’s (and watch some of their very cool highlight reels), visit the Zoic Studio’s Website.
Fringe retuns April 7th on Fox.