‘Doctor Who’: 12 New Rules (and 4 Suggestions) for the Twelfth Doctor

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This August, the “new,” revamped Doctor Who returns for its eighth series (or 34th series, if you count the entire show as a whole). Peter Capaldi took over the lead role from Matt Smith in the final moments of the last Christmas Special, and Whovians are excited to see what the man who played Lucius Caecilius Iucundus and John Frobisher will do with the role, apart from gesticulate wildly and talk about his kidneys.

Unfortunately, Doctor Who has run a bit off the rails since show runner Steven Moffat took over from Russell T. Davies in 2010. Moffat wrote all the best episodes of the RTD era; but under his tenure, let’s just say the overall storylines and plotlines have been less than satisfactory. Not terrible, mind you; but it hasn’t been the greatest era in Doctor Who history. There have been problems.

Sure, they’ve pretty much wrapped up shooting the 12 episodes that the BBC magnanimously permitted to be produced for the eighth series. But that doesn’t mean I can’t lay down some new ground rules for the show, which Moffat will be required to follow under the International Treaty for Bloggers to Have Absolute Control of the Things They Love signed in Berne, Switzerland in 1979.

Spoiler alert, by the way. Sweetie.

Rule #1: The Doctor Does Not Wear a Costume

fuckwit_800x800Yes, the Doctor has always worn a series of recognizable outfits, ever since he first tottered out of the TARDIS in 1963. But there is a clear, thick, glowing blue line between “recognizable outfit” and “costume.”

The first three Doctors wore mostly fashionable but anachronistic menswear, to visually underline the whole “time traveler” thing. The Fourth Doctor dressed like a hippie; he walked right up to the “costume” line, but did not cross it.

The Fifth Doctor was the first to wear a costume, and the next two doctors followed suit. And they looked ridiculous. These outfits were costumes primarily because they bore embroidered “question mark” symbols. They were not clothes the Doctor could have pulled off a rack; he had to have them specially tailored, and the last thing the Doctor would ever care about is having his clothing tailored. The Fifth Doctor was an ice cream truck driver with a celery fetish; the Seventh was that weird semi-homeless guy who sells Bible tracts for cash on Venice beach. (Or, he was just Sylvester McCoy — that seems to be how McCoy really dresses.)

And the Sixth Doctor, well, that outfit was just a complete shitshow. Please allow me to quote what I wrote on a thread on Reddit, where someone who clearly hates Doctor Who was defending that outfit:

Unfortunately, it is canon that the Sixth Doctor chose that outfit, as it appeared onscreen. It is also canon that the Eighth Doctor is half-human. It is also canon that the Second Doctor never regenerated. It is also canon that the Daleks were “created” by Davros, even though they were really merely humanoid Kaleds mutated in a nuclear war. It is canon that the Doctor’s full name is “Doctor Who.” These may be canon, but they were mistakes. Mistakes made by people who did not understand the show they were working on. Mistakes by people who did not care about continuity. Mistakes made on a show that has been going on for five decades.

Now, you can argue that a shitty costume is not a continuity error. But it is. Because, while the Doctor’s personality varies a bit across regenerations, he is still fundamentally the same person. A person who would not dress like a circus clown. A dandy, yes. But not a clown. The Doctor relies on the force of his personality and his appearance to get things done. He can’t get anything done if he is an object of derision. Even the Fourth Doctor, the most eccentric of all Doctors, would not dress in that outfit.

But there is one Doctor who especially would not dress that way. (Actually, two — could you imagine Nine in such an outfit, for any reason?) And this is the most important point of all: THE SIXTH DOCTOR WOULD NOT WEAR THAT OUTFIT.

As written, the Sixth Doctor would not be caught dead in such a getup. Yet it’s the first thing he does. This is just bad writing. Inconsistent. A decision made by a man who hated the show, and wanted it to fail.

Sabotage.

I feel compelled to point out that Colin Baker hated that outfit, too. Lots of things were wrong with the Sixth Doctor era, but none of them appear to be the actor’s fault.

Which brings us to Eight. The Eighth Doctor’s original outfit was based on Doctors One through Three, and it was fine. By the time he finally returned for the 50th Anniversary, he was wearing an Eleventh Doctor style of outfit, anachronistic but with modern lines.

The War Doctor dressed like the bastard love child of Eight and Nine, with some Four-ish flourishes —which made sense. And while we’re on the “extra” Doctors, David Morrissey’s “Next Doctor” dressed like one of the first three, so as to play on audience expectations.

Nine was completely different from every other Doctor, likely because Christopher Eccleston was so ambivalent about the role. While he had one specific outfit he always wore, he looked like any guy on the street. Logically, the Doctor would wear ordinary clothes, so he wouldn’t be noticed (at least in modern Britain, where he spends most of his time for some unclear reason). But it’s well established that he dresses eccentrically because he’s eccentric, and this was a jarring change.

Ten was a sex symbol, so he dressed like one — modern, fashionable clothing, but with enough of a traditional or anachronistic feel to match the character. Eleven started out in the same kind of outfit, but over time he reverted to a First Three Doctors kind of retro thing, albeit cut in a modern style.

Which brings us to Twelve. So far, the only pic we’ve seen of P-Cap in costume makes him look like a stage magician. It doesn’t feature any obvious question marks, thank no god, but it seems to cross the line from clothes to costume. Please, Moffat, don’t do this. Let Capaldi own the role; don’t make him subordinate to a frock coat.

Rule #2: Clara Oswald Is a Fully Realized Human Being

Someone created a meme of the various nu-Who companions. I added the titles.

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There is a problem with Clara Oswald. It is not a problem we’ve seen before with primary companions on the new show (primary as opposed to side characters who are also companions, like Jack, River, Mickey, and the Paternoster Gang). Rose was great; Martha was underwritten, but Freema Agyeman nailed it; and Donna was the Single Greatest Companion of All Time (sorry, Sarah Jane). Amy was fine, although hardly epic; her side companion Rory was actually the more compelling character.

But Clara. Apart from her very first, totally memorable appearance as “Oswin” in “Asylum of the Daleks,” poor Clara just hasn’t had anything good to do. Yes, she’s the “Impossible Girl” who saves every incarnation of the Doctor from the Great Intelligence, which I guess was supposed to be the whole point. We’ve had the Bad Wolf, the Girl Who Walked the Earth, the Bride, the Girl Who Waited — Clara is The Girl Who Saved Every Incarnation of the Doctor Even Though She Doesn’t Actually Appear Until 2012. Whatever.

The problem is, we barely saw her do this. The composite scenes where she interacts with the other Doctors, particularly the one where she directs the First Doctor to the “right” TARDIS, are super-cool. But we don’t get enough of this to justify the whole character.

None of this is Jenna Coleman’s fault. She’s fine. She needs more to do, more character development. In particular, she needs more development that doesn’t have anything to do with her relationship to the Doctor. River Song was ruined by this, by the way — a great, compelling, independent character every bit a match for the Doctor, until we learn that her whole life, her very existence, are dependent entirely on the Doctor. This diminished her. Don’t do the same thing to Clara. Don’t make the Doctor the meaning of her existence. Please, however:

Rule #3: We Don’t Care About the Companions’ Families and Home Lives

ten_jackie_mickey_800x800In the beginning, this was brilliant. Rose Tyler didn’t just disappear one day, have adventures in time and space, and then pop home to spend the rest of her life pining for the Doctor (sorry, Sarah Jane). Her disappearances had consequences, for her, her family, and her erstwhile boyfriend Mickey. Everyone, including Mickey and Rose’s Mom, and even her dead father, ended up having their lives irreparably altered because of the Doctor.

But then we met Martha’s family. And Donna’s. (Wilfred Mott was a great character played by a great actor, but still.) And Amy’s (her fiancé and best friend, specifically).

Enough families. It’s done. We don’t care. And speaking of companions:

Rule #4: No More 21st Century London Companions for a While

leela_800x800What do Leela, Romana, Adric, Nyssa, K-9 and Kamelion, River Song, and Jack Harkness have in common?

They’re all companions, and they are either not human beings, or they are human beings from a time or place that is not modern Earth. The Doctor’s very first companion, Susan Foreman, was not really named “Susan Foreman,” and was not a human and not from Earth.

We need more of these. Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, and the current incarnation of Clara were all from modern London. Yaaaawwwwn. Please, please tell me Danny Pink is a half-cyborg alien symbiote from the 5000th Century.

Rule #5: More Companion Sass

oy_spaceman_800x800If there was a problem with Martha Jones as written, it was that her job was to follow the Doctor around and pine for him. Fortunately, her character had an arc, and she grew out of that.

But the best companions — Donna, River, Jack, Romana, Ian & Barbara — don’t accept the Doctor as some all-knowing, godlike figure. They talk back, call him on his bullshit, and demand better of him. They are, as people if not intellectually or educationally, his equals.

We need more of this. So far, Clara has been Martha Part 2. Change this.

Rule #6: The Sonic Screwdriver Does Not Have Magical Powers

war_doctor_sonic_800x800The sonic screwdriver is a tool, used to repair or alter technological devices and open non-wooden locks. THAT’S IT. THAT’S ALL.

It is not a tricorder, a medical device, a weapon, a psionic energy device, a universal translator, a portable computer (although it has an onboard computer, obviously), or a sex toy. It is not there to get the Doctor out of situations when the writer can’t think of any other way.

Moffat has written lots of jokes about the sonic, and how it’s not a weapon. Yet Eleven abused the sonic as often as Ten did. Listen to the War Doctor, Steven — you put the words in his mouth. “They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!”

Also, let’s briefly discuss “regeneration energy.” This is what Time Lords use to regenerate. NOT to reproduce asexually like tapeworms. NOT to destroy Dalek base ships. Jesus.

Rule #7: Every Villainous Species in the Universe Does Not All Show Up at Once

pandorica_baddies_800x800This is very much an Eleventh Doctor problem, and therefore a Steven Moffat problem. In “The Pandorica Opens,” every alien species that ever hated the Doctor — Daleks, Sontarans, Slitheen, Cybermen, everybody — shows up at Roman Era Earth to unite against the Doctor. It was a bit much to think these groups would cooperate (Battle of Canary Wharf, anyone?), but okay, sure, whatever.

And then… in The “Time of the Doctor,” the exact same thing happens again, except this time the Silence are on the Doctor’s side. Really, Steven? Enough. It was cool once, dull twice. Three times, and you’re gonna lose us.

Also, stop saying “The Doctor definitely, historically dies at this time and place, and it’s unavoidable.” You’ve done this twice. You lied both times. When the Doctor lies, it’s charming. When Moffat lies, it’s infuriating.

Rule #8: Scarier Daleks

last_dalek_800x800Russell T. Davies spent several series introducing us to a number of lame, human-hybrid quasi-Daleks, because he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He introduced the great plot line concerning the Time War; and in “Dalek,” the best episode of the Ninth Doctor Era, the last Time Lord faces off against the Last Dalek. Excellent.

But it ain’t Doctor Who sans Daleks, so we were subjected to a variety of fake Daleks. It was Moffat who had the sense to just bring the real Daleks back. Yes, in a perfect world, from a storytelling perspective, the Daleks should have stayed dead. But I get that Daleks are as central to Doctor Who as the TARDIS, the sonic, and the Doctor himself.

But they’re not scary.

The only time since 2005 I have felt the Daleks were the least bit menacing, apart from “Dalek,” was when the companions teamed up in “The Stolen Earth.” When they learn that the aliens that stole the Earth were the Daleks, Sarah Jane is terrified for her son’s life, and Captain Jack tearfully apologizes to the Torchwood team that this time, he can’t save them. The actors really sell their terror, and as a result, the audience feels it too.

Then, for the million billionth time, the Doctor faces the Daleks, and they inexplicably don’t just shoot him dead.

There have been some great Dalek moments in nu-Who (“We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek!”), but they’re rarely frightening. They’re mostly just hapless. I mean, c’mon, Eleven held off the Daleks with a Jammie Dodger. With a fucking cookie. Please fix this.

Rule #9: Don’t Erase Major Plot Points

gallifrey_falls_800x800Steven Moffat, you are genuinely, honestly, completely non-sarcastically, a genius at writing television. Coupling and Jekyll were brilliant; you wrote all the best RTD episodes of Doctor Who; and Sherlock is one of the ten best TV shows ever produced.

So you shouldn’t need basic writing tips from me. But it seems you do.

Writing good fiction is all about making the reader/viewer genuinely care about what happens to the characters. Because of this, what happens to the characters, and the choices they make, are important. Actions have to have consequences, whether they lead to success for the characters, or disaster.

When The Uncanny X-Men concluded the Dark Phoenix Saga by having Jean Grey kill herself, it was shocking, upsetting, and perfect — since any other, happier conclusion would have been cheating. It was the greatest storyline in any superhero comic not written by Alan Moore, ever. And, a few years later, when they brought Jean Grey back from the dead, I stopped reading Marvel comics forever. It was an unbelievable betrayal. If anything that has happened in the story can be undone, if actions don’t matter and consequences can be erased, then who cares about the story? Who cares about the characters? The writers don’t, so why should the audience?

And now, Doctor Who has had its Dark Phoenix moment. The Time War was one of the most important bits of back story in nu-Who. It defined the Ninth Doctor, and directly impacted the story arc of the Tenth. It was compelling, and memorable. The various references to the war (the Nightmare Child, the Skaro Degradations, the Army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres, the Could’ve Been King, the Horde of Travesties) all had a Tolkienesque kind of mystery and coolness.

And now, after the 50th Anniversary Special, it’s all undone. Gallifrey falls no more. Which is okay, taken out of context. But it’s disastrous from a story perspective. If the Doctor can go back and undo every tragedy, then nothing matters. There are no tragedies, no consequences. The Doctor is a god. And gods are boring.

Yes, in time travel stories, you can go back and change history, sure. Doctor Who always goes on about “fixed points in time” to try to get around this loophole; but the only time the Doctor can change a fixed in time is never ever, unless he really feels like it. Ask Lucius. Or Pete Tyler.

But this isn’t about the capabilities of time travel, it’s about good storytelling. This is not good storytelling.

Rule #10: Less Timey Wimey, More Logically Wogically

blink_800x800The most famous quote from the nu-Who era is this one:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.”

A Mr. S. Moffat wrote that line, and it’s great. Also, he’s been using it to excuse poor writing for three series.

Logic and internal consistency are more important in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, than they are in non-genre drama, not less. In order to suspend disbelief and care about what happens in a fantastical world, events must be comprehensible, the rules of the advanced tech or magic reliable. When you establish a rule, you have to stick with it.

But when the Doctor alters a fixed point in time or crosses his own timeline, and there are no demon creatures or other consequences? Timey wimey. Can’t rescue Rory and Amy from Manhattan? Timey Wimey. Clara shows up in the Eleventh Doctor’s timeline, but none of the others? Timey Wimey. Mels could have gone to Amy and Rory’s wedding to kill the Doctor, but doesn’t? Timey Wimey. Somebody’s building a TARDIS, but the storyline gets dropped? Timey wimey. The Doctor MUST die at Lake Silencio, I mean he MUST die at Trenzalore, I mean never mind? Timey Wimey.

Yeah, I get it, it’s impossible to consistently juggle every plotline and established fact presented in every episode since 1963. Fine. But could you be consistent within nu-Who, Steven? Consistent within your own set of series? Please?

Rule #11: No More Love Stories Involving the Doctor

metacrisis_doctor_and_rose_800x800Between 1963 and 2005, the Doctor was pretty aggressively asexual. We know he once had a family, which implied he once had a wife — but this was an avenue the writers never explored. And companions might have been attracted to the Doctor, but the Doctor was never attracted to them (that I’m aware of).

Russell T. Davies changed all that. The Doctor fell head-over-heels for his teenaged companion, Rose Tyler. This could have been icky, but it was handled very well, both by the writers, by Billie Piper, and by Eccleston and Tennant. It was a bizarrely (but appropriately for a family show) chaste love affair, but it was a love affair. And if Rose and the Doctor ever did “do” it, late one night in the Medusa Cascade while the TARDIS was recharging, well, there are plenty of rooms in there to do it in. (Of course there’s sex in the TARDIS, River Song was conceived there.)

And then there’s River, the Doctor’s fait accompli second (?) wife. We never see anything there, but come on. You know River’s a freak, right? And she’s from the 50th Century, where Jack Harkness is considered a prude.

Okay, fine. That’s enough. We get it. Time to move on. Let’s have an asexual Doctor for a while.

Also, let’s quit it with the puppy love from companions. Martha pined for the Doctor, and Amy tried to jump his bones. Let’s just put the Doctor’s “other” sonic screwdriver away for a series. Or ten.

Rule #12: No More “Doctor Who???”

doctor_whooooo_800x800Yeah, Moffat, we get it. You broke the fourth wall, and turned the series title into a plot point. “The First Question, the oldest question in the universe, that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight.” Blah blah blah.

Enough. Retire this.

Those are my new rules. Here are some suggestions, that  personally think would improve the show.

 

Suggestion #1: Bring Captain Jack Harkness Back — as a Villain

captain_jack_harkness_600x600Captain Jack is without a doubt the most popular character from nu-Who who isn’t the Doctor himself. He even got his own spin-off series. We, Whovians, love him, and we want him back.

At the end of Children of Earth, Jack Harkness murdered his own grandson to save every other child on Earth. He was, to put it mildly, upset about this. When he returned in Miracle Day, he appeared to be over it. This was disappointing.

Put the Captain back in the Doctor’s life, post-Children, as a villain. He started out as a charming rogue, breaking time law, and only the Doctor was able to make an honest man out of him. He was a part of the quasi-villainous Torchwood for a hundred years before Gwen Cooper compelled him to reform the organization. Villainy’s in his blood, when he doesn’t have friends around to keep him honest.

Have him doing something to save a bunch of people, but something terrible, a la Children of Earth. Make the Twelfth Doctor choose between stopping Jack, or letting disaster happen. Then have the Doctor refuse to do either, and save the day for everyone.

Or, you know who could arrive from the future to stop Jack? Far Future Jack, who is half-transformed into the Face of Boe. Okay, no, that’s a terrible idea. Seriously, Steven, DO NOT DO THAT.

Suggestion #2: Bring Back the Eighth Doctor

physician_heal_thyself_600x600The only actor from Classic Who that could still portray the Doctor, because he’s not too old or fat, is Paul McGann. His eight minutes as the Doctor for the 50th Anniversary were brilliant, and should have been included in the actual episode (they could have cut all the flying TARDIS nonsense from the beginning).

The 1996 TV movie was disappointing, just as that other British-US coproduction, Miracle Day, was disappointing. (Seriously, BBC, keep it in the UK, okay? We Americans can’t be trusted with Doctor Who.) But McGann was great. Between 1996 and 2005, McGann kept Doctor Who an ongoing concern, doing tons of non-canonical audio stuff.

McGann is a great actor, and he’s committed to the role. (Ahem. I’m looking at you, Eccleston.) So use him.

This has worked before, obviously. Peter Davison was adorable in his brief, jokey appearance. Tennant and Smith were cute together in the 50th, although the story really needed Eccleston to work. And of course, Doctor Who has a long tradition, going back to 1972, of multi-Doctor episodes.

Bring back Paul McGann again.

Suggestion #3: Mention Miracle Day

frobisher_600x600With the possible exception of the events of “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” Torchwood: Miracle Day presents the most history-changing global event in the Whoniverse. There is no way those events would not have consequences that would present themselves as story points on Doctor Who.

Miracle Day mentioned the Doctor; the Doctor needs to mention Miracle Day. And the 456 invasion from Children of Earth. “Hey Doctor,” Clara asks, “where were you when Earth’s children were being kidnapped to use as human bongs?” “Um, with River, in 13th Century Angkor Wat, attending an orgy.”

We know you love fan service, Moffat, and that’s great. This fan service would serve a purpose, by tying together the various Who-related shows. It’s also a cool story opportunity (bringing back the 456, or doing something with that silly immortality ribbon running through the Earth’s core). Use it.

Last Suggestion: Keep River Song Dead

eleven_river_600x600Look, unlike some so-called Whovians, and despite my criticisms above of how you wrote her, Steven, I love River Song. She’s a great character, and Alex Kingston was perfect. And I hated to see River Song go.

But that farewell scene between Eleven and the holographic River from the Library, on Trenzalore with the Paternosters looking on and wondering what the hell’s happening, was great. Obviously, what the fans really wanted  was for the Doctor and River’s last meeting to be a mirror of their first — the Doctor recognizes River, but River has never met him before. You took that away from us, Steven.

But the goodbye you wrote was fine. So let’s leave it there. We have closure. We’re good.

However, you know who we don’t have closure with? Donna Noble. Please, please, OH NO GOD PLEASE, fix her. Donna Noble CAN NOT spend the rest of her life a flighty, trivial former temp who won the lottery. She needs and deserves a better fate. You know what I said about actions having consequences? FUCK THAT. FIX DONNA NOBLE.

Ugly Elves & Inflatable Orcs: Rankin/Bass’ 1977 ‘The Hobbit’ Reviewed

On Periannath.com: a review of the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit.

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Author JRR Tolkien believed that we each have a great sacrifice to make, for the betterment of all humanity. Frodo bore the Ring, for the sake of The Shire; Aragorn walked the Paths of the Dead, for the sake of the Free Peoples; and I watched Rankin/Bass Productions’ 1977 animated television production of The Hobbit, for you, my readers.

You’re welcome. Do I get to sail to Tol Eressëa now?

Read Ugly Elves & Inflatable Orcs: Rankin/Bass’ 1977 ‘The Hobbit’ Reviewed on Periannath.com.

Zoic Presents: The Creatures of ‘Fringe’ – Part 1

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/22/09.

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Part 2 of this post is now available.

Now in its second season, the Fox Network’s science fiction drama Fringe tells the story of three paranormal investigators for the FBI’s “Fringe Division” in Boston. Created by veteran television producer and feature film director JJ Abrams (Felicity, Alias, Lost; Star Trek), the cult favorite features a variety of bizarre and otherworldly creatures, many created with the help of Zoic studios.

Zoic senior compositor Johnathan R. Banta sat down with IDYE to discuss the creation of some of these monsters. His previous credits include Quarantine, The X Files: I Want to Believe, John Adams and V.

The Heartbug (from episode 1:07, “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”)

johnathanbanta_300x400In this episode, a strange, other-worldly parasite mysteriously attaches itself to the internal organs of an FBI agent. The creature wraps itself around the man’s heart, and surgery must be performed to attempt to remove it.

Banta says, “We received artwork from production, done by a very good illustrator; and I set about making a maquette of the creature for two reasons. One, because it would help us understand what the form was — it was hard to figure it out from all the drawings, because in the multiple views we didn’t quite see how it meshed together at first. And secondly, it was fun. I just wanted to sculpt something and this seemed to be a prime opportunity for it.

“A couple of people did versions of it, one in [Luxology] modo, one in [Pixologic] ZBrush, just to kind of play around — they weren’t actually anything we used. The final model was made by [Zoic artist] Mike Kirylo.”

A great deal of work was done to allow the creature to move along with the beating heart. Scans of an actual beating human heart, provided by Zygote Media as a morph sequence, were used. “Mike had to figure out how to attach this creature to the heart,” Banta says, “and as it pulsated he would have a ‘softness’ in-between each of the hard shell [segments]. So there’s the hard carapace of the creature, and the soft squishy connective bits. Mike said he was able to find a way to make the bones between the different sections scale as the heart was beating. That way it stayed connected without being stretched.”

Everything we see inside the man’s chest is CG. “They had a prop on set that was over the top of an actor. Oddly enough, it was not in the place where the heart would actually be accessed. So for a wide shot we actually had to cut the actor down by a third of his original height, so that the hole would be in the appropriate spot to get to his heart. But for the close-ups it didn’t really matter. It was a piece of foam rubber with green paint inside of it, and we keyed that out and continued it into the cavity; and put in CG guts and an odd-shaped little bug.”

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The Virus Slug (from episode 1:11, “Bound”)

In a lecture hall at Boston College, a biology professor gives a lecture about pathogens. In mid-sentence, he begins to choke and falls over. While his teaching assistant watches in horror, the professor’s throat becomes enlarged, and what looks like a massive slug crawls out of his open mouth. As the slimy creature slithers across the floor, students flee the hall in a panic.

Banta explains: “It’s a super-sized cold virus – a giant squishy slug with little cilia across its surface. This thing pulled itself out of his mouth, flopped onto the floor and squished away as quick as it could. It’s quite disgusting, and was played for dinnertime theater.

“It was a fairly simple model – a slug with a couple of things sticking out of it. But it had to maintain its volume and look like it was a rubbery object moving around, so there was a lot of finessing in the animation. We didn’t use any form of volume-preserving algorithms — other than Mike Kirylo — so it was all based on a really good animator.

“But the [professor’s] face was the interesting portion of it. This slug is rather large, and begins to distend his throat and pull his face into contorted positions that it wasn’t in originally, as the actor just basically laid there and flopped his head over to the side.

“We had to do an exact match move of the actor. We used our performance transfer system; projected the footage frame-for-frame onto our digital actor; and then we had the ability to push him around anywhere we needed to. Add a little bit of clever compositing, and next thing you know there’s a creature coming out of this man’s mouth.

“His movements were not tracked on stage — no tracking markers on him. They were tracked in post and match moved. Basically, we used every bit of detail that was available on his skin. Unfortunately, most actors don’t have very bad complexions.

“That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of, actually — digital makeup [for Fringe]. That all plays into what we’re doing with the creatures, because most of the time they are interacting directly with humans. They’re not just in the room walking around; they are becoming, or coming out of, or in some way touching people, for the most part.”

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Porcuman (from episode 1:13, “The Transformation”)

In an airliner bathroom, a man shudders in pain as a hideous transformation begins. His teeth start falling out — then he screams in agony as giant quills pierce through the back of his shirt. The passengers on the plane react when the bathroom door splinters and a hideous, inhuman beast bursts into the cabin.

Banta: “This man on an airplane should learn not to experiment on himself; as a result he turns into a giant porcupine creature which brings the airplane down.

“It was in very few shots. It is originally modeled in ZBrush and Maya; we import the model, and it is rigged by our animation department and put through its paces. We run the standard passes that you would expect – diffuse, specular, ambient occlusion, fill passes, indirect lighting, those kinds of things, so that we can integrate it in the composite.

“A lot of times we’ll do what is called ‘RGB lighting,’ where every three lights will be either a prime red, a prime green, or a prime blue; and that way we have a lighting matte in every single render that we can use to do some tweaks in the composite. Also, since we’re getting normals rendered from our passes, we can use a plug-in from RE:Vision Effects to re-light the object. Whatever lighting passes that the CG department was not able to get to can be generated at the end.”

Banta notes that because of the nature of the effect, very little of the transformation involves practical, on-set elements. “This is all post at this point. They shoot it as if the creature were there — they just shoot it very naturally.

“Now that [Fringe has] a make-up crew that is known for doing creature work, there is a lot more practical stuff being done. But we have to exactly, precisely match with the practical elements when we do the CG. There are things that practical does so much better than we can do, and vice versa. It’s an all-in equation for me, because whatever works best, works best. There’s something about having a light bouncing off of a card onto a person on set holding this thing, which just gives it a sense of reality that we have to try to recreate.

“Porcuman was a combination of digital makeup with practical elements. It was a close interaction. During the transformation scene, we have a medium shot of the back, and then cut to a tight close-up of the shirt ripping as these giant porcupine spines come through it. They had an inflatable balloon on the back of the actor for the shirt; so we tracked that inflatable balloon; used our performance transfer to get that onto the back of the creature; and then animated spines coming out, and composited that underneath his shirt, which had a greenscreen on it.

“We had to do some warping of the cloth to get it to line up to the actual geometry of the creature. Then for the close-up of the shirt, instead of using the photography directly, we went with a cloth simulation of the shirt, and animated the spines. But we took sections of the torn cloth from the actual photography, and used those to sell that the tear is ripping a piece of fabric. This is a good example where something done practically pays off in spades, because we could just grab that tearing fabric and place it on each of the individual spines, and save ourselves a lot of simulation time.

Read Part 2!

The 50 Laws of Science Fiction Physics

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Inspired by such mainstays of geek humor as The Laws of Cartoon Physics and The Laws of Anime Physics, I have assembled the following 50 Laws of Science Fiction Physics.

This list was in part inspired by my previous post, Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired.

Law of Selective Gravitation: All artificial bodies in space generate an internal gravitational field, equal to one gee, with “down” defined as the “bottom” of the body; this gravitational field somehow terminates exactly at the outer hull of the body, even if it is irregularly shaped.

First Law of Gravitational Irrelevance: a spacecraft may travel from a planet’s surface into space in the same manner in which an airplane gains altitude, ignoring the need to achieve escape velocity.

Second Law of Gravitational Irrelevance: a spacecraft may fly directly towards or away from a planet or other large celestial body, ignoring the fact that objects in space must describe elliptical orbits about each other.

Law of Inertial Dampening: No matter how much kinetic energy is directed at an inhabited body (in space or on a planet), the resulting disruption will be enough to jostle the inhabitants and cause minor structural damage – nothing more or less.

Law of User Interface Equivalence: When a spacecraft or space station takes damage to any structural component, the computer screen or workstation used to monitor that structure from the bridge or engineering center will explode.

Law of Ethical Xenopolymorphism: While malevolent aliens come in many forms, beneficent aliens are always humanoid.

Law of Sexual Xenopolymorphism: Humanoid alien females will always have mammalian secondary sexual characteristics (breasts, wide hips, full sensual lips), even if they are non-mammalian (lizard, avian, piscine, insectoid, etc.).

Newton’s Fourth Law of Motion: In space, constant thrust equals constant velocity.

Kubrick’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: all motion in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment will take place at 22% of the speed it would occur at sea level; this applies to animate persons as well as inanimate objects.

Exception to Kubrick’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: persons in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment may speak at normal speed.

Allen’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: objects freely floating in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment will behave as if suspended from a transparent thread within a full gravity environment.

Law of Sound in a Vacuum: Despite the lack of a medium for transmission, sound will travel in a vacuum, with precisely the same properties as in the Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.

First Law of Combustibility: Anything important – spaceships, planets, robots – explodes when it is critically damaged, whether any combustible material is present or not.

Second Law of Combustibility: When anything explodes, the mass of the resulting ejecta will be less than 2% of the object’s original mass; the remainder of the mass ceases to exist.

Third Law of Combustibility: When objects explode in space, all matter that makes up the object comes to a complete stop relative to the observer, whatever its previous velocity. The explosion will then expand in an equal sphere away from the point where the object stopped.

Fourth Law of Combustibility: All objects that explode in space produce a discrete ring that expands ahead of the main shock wave; this is a fundamental principle of Aesthetic Physics.

Fifth Law of Combustibility: The shock wave of an explosion is confined to the visible fiery ball of the explosion; and both will move at 98% of the speed of anyone attempting to fly, drive or run from the explosion. After a certain distance, the speed of the shock wave will quickly drop off for no apparent reason.

Sixth Law of Combustibility: The destructive force of a nuclear warhead, and the resulting deadly radiation, cannot penetrate the skin of a typical 1950s consumer-grade kitchen refrigerator.

First Law of Practical Stellar Physics: as an observer approaches a star, the brightness of the visible light it gives off diminishes proportionally.

Second Law of Practical Stellar Physics: a star will produce no radiation except for (1) visible light and (2) a variety of heat that behaves identically to heat convection in an atmosphere, despite the lack of a transmission medium.

Third Law of Practical Stellar Physics: the dangerous or destructive region of a stellar body ends abruptly at the outer termination of its photosphere, except for the heat and light described in the Second Law.

Law of Teleportation: the amount of energy produced when converting matter to energy for the purpose of teleporting that matter to a distant location is an insignificant fraction of the amount predicted by Einstein’s mass–energy equivalence equation; this is a fundamental principle of Convenience Physics.

Law of Technological Complexity: No matter how advanced a technology, anyone who needs to use it will be able to deduce its basic functioning within a few minutes – even if the person belongs to an alien or less-developed culture, or comes from the distant past.

First Law of Aerodynamic Irrelevance: Objects designed to travel solely in space may nonetheless be designed with aerodynamic properties.

Second Law of Aerodynamic Irrelevance: objects designed to travel in solely in space, and which therefore are highly non-aerodynamic, may still travel in an atmosphere as if they were perfectly aerodynamic.

Corollary to the Laws of Aerodynamic Irrelevance (The O’Brien Rule): any object in space that is not designed to alter its velocity, vector or location, such as a space station, may alter its velocity, vector or location through a minor, previously unrealized engineering trick.

First Corollary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity may be ignored at any time, for any reason; this is a fundamental principle of Convenience Physics.

Second Corollary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: when light, or any form of electromagnetic radiation, is employed as a weapon (such as with a laser or blaster), its speed is reduced to approximately 35 miles per hour.

Personal Equivalency Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: alternate universes and timelines do not follow the standard laws of contingency – rather, the same individuals will be born in the alternate universe as are born in ours, although their life paths may diverge; this is irrespective of any other changes, major or minor, to historical outcomes.

Ethical Determinism Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: alternate universes and timelines do not follow the standard laws of contingency – rather, historical outcomes are determined by the moral choices of the identical version of the visitor from our universe.

Abrams’ Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: in an alternate universe or timeline, events will conspire to place equivalent persons into the same social groups they occupy in our universe.

The McFly Rule: If a time traveler prevents a key historical event from occurring, he or she has one week to arrange an equivalent event that will restore the timeline.

First Law of Convergent Evolution: any alien species, regardless of the environment in which it evolved, will morphologically resemble an extant Earth species, albeit with changes in size, color, bodily features and level of intelligence; aliens may also resemble chimera of multiple Earth morphologies.

Second Law of Convergent Evolution: despite the fact that closely-related species from the same planet cannot produce viable offspring, any two humanoid species from different worlds may produce viable offspring that will bear blended traits from both species.

Law of Convergent Visemes: when a technological device is used to translate the speech of a humanoid alien, that alien’s lips and mouth movements will nonetheless appear to match the English speech of the translation.

Omegan Law of Convergent Social Evolution: a humanoid species on a distant planet is likely to pass through exactly the same historical eras, and evolve precisely the same social institutions, as the human civilizations of Earth.

Law of Extraterrestrial Euhemerism: any primitive human superstition is the result of contact with advanced alien technology; this includes psychic powers, magicians, ghosts, angels, fairies, vampires, werewolves, demons, dragons, messiahs and gods.

Law of Technological Trajectory: the more hyper-advanced an alien or future technological artifact, the more likely that it will resemble a large, illuminated crystal.

Law of Irradiated Macrofauna: due to mutations triggered by artificial radiation, animals may grow to enormous sizes normally ruled out by the surface-area-to-volume ratio.

Corollary to the Law of Irradiated Macrofauna: irradiated macrofauna will invariably seek out large human population centers and battle each other.

Influence/Malevolence Relationship in Science: the greater a scientific or technological achievement, the greater the probability that the scientist responsible for it suffers from a mental illness and/or ethical deficit.

Diamond’s Law: an advanced spacefaring species will always oppress, absorb or destroy any less advanced, non-spacefaring species with which it makes contact.

Anthropocentric Exception to Diamond’s Law: an advanced spacefaring species will always oppress, absorb or destroy any less advanced, non-spacefaring species with which it makes contact, unless that species is humanity.

Roddenberry’s Law of Cybernetic Omniscience: any sufficiently advanced computer system will contain the sum all of human knowledge down to the most inconsequential detail, even if the computer was constructed by and for aliens.

Gill’s Law of Alien Impressionability: any humanoid alien species will, upon being introduced to some detail of human history or culture, reconfigure its entire society based solely upon the human example; also known as the Iotian Law.

Law of Atmospheric Inexhaustibility: on a spacecraft, space station or other artificial habitat in a vacuum or near-vacuum, no matter how much air is lost when an airlock is opened or the hull is breached, after the air loss is terminated there will still be sufficient atmosphere to comfortably support the survivors.

Doctrine of Human Psychological Infortitude: any human gifted with transhuman abilities by an alien or future intelligence will initially attempt to perform good works with his or her new-found powers, but will be eventually driven insane and commit destructive acts; also known as the Mitchell Effect.

Doctrine of Hostile Alien Tourism: when technologically advanced spacefaring aliens initiate a war or invasion against the Earth, their first strategic maneuver will be to destroy a number of famous human landmarks, usually ones with no strategic or defensive value.

The ForbinCameronWachowski Corollary to Turing’s Test of Machine Intelligence: it is possible to demonstrate that a machine has achieved genuine intelligence or sentience, as its first act upon gaining self-awareness will be to attempt the annihilation of humanity.

The Lucas-Asimov-Herbert Model of Human Galactic Societal Development: any vast, galaxy-spanning interstellar human civilization will resemble in many or all respects the empires of the species’ ancient pre-technological past.

And… number 51:

Even’s Revision to Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from lazy writing.

Feel free to add your own Laws of Sci-Fi Physics in the comments below.

Zoic Stops Time, Creates Historic ‘Frozen Moment’ Sequence for ‘CSI’ Premiere

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 10/6/09.

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On September 24th, CBS broadcast the premiere episode of the 10th season of its venerable crime procedural drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation . The episode cold opened with a lengthy, two-and-a-half minute long “frozen moment” sequence, showing us a single moment in a robbery attempt involving the main characters. This sequence, which made broadcast television history, and was created by Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios.

The camera starts in the morgue, flying through a water spray over a number of corpses on gurneys. The environment is in total disarray, with bodies falling out of the coolers, and smoke and debris floating in midair. We travel past a coroner screaming into a phone and around a corner, to find Doc Robbins (Robert David Hall, Starship Troopers) in mid-leap as he whacks one of the robbers in the head, sending the man’s weapon flying. The camera swoops through floating medical instruments past the first tableau and up into the ceiling. One floor up, we find the same chaos in the Lab, with the CSIs and lab techs frozen in mid-motion.

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The camera continues past a book case tipping over, with falling curios, books and antiques suspended in shattered glass. Panning right and heading into the DNA Lab, the camera flies past one of the lab techs with a bullet exploding out of her shoulder, as she crashes through plate glass while suspended three feet off the ground. Wiping past her into the Lab proper, the camera finds Dr. Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix, Pee Wee’s Playhouse) kicking a second robber Morpheus-style through plate glass, while several rounds of ammunition leave trails of disturbed air in their wakes.

Flying smoothly past Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger, Species, Species II) and over an exploding lab experiment, the camera continues down the hall past David Hodges (Wallace Langham, Weird Science) and Wendy Simms (Liz Vassey, The Tick), who hang suspended horizontally in midair as they leap to avoid gunfire, and into the muzzle flash of the gun of another robber.

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We transition from the muzzle flash to the glare of a flashlight held by yet another robber, and the camera trucks backwards out of a van with bullet holes and impact sparks all around. Pulling back the camera passes a robber firing at our last two CSIs, Nicholas Stokes (George Eads, ER) and Sara Grissom (Jorja Fox, ER, The West Wing), who fire back attempting to stop the theft of a body. The sequence finishes with the camera panning around to reveal Nick and Sara’s faces.

Naren Shankar, CSI’s executive producer, was impressed by a short film released in April, 2009 to promote Philips Cinema 21:9 LCD televisions. The short, entitled Carousel and produced by Adam Berg and London’s Stink Digital, was a two-minute, 19-second frozen moment sequence of police battling bank robbers dressed as scary clowns.

At CSI’s season nine wrap party, Shankar approached Zoic visual effects supervisor Rik Shorten, and asked if a similar scene could be created for the show. Shorten replied, “you write it, I’ll shoot it.”

The sequence was created as the cold open for the show’s 10th season premiere episode, “Family Affair.” Zoic had produced frozen moment shots for CSI before, but never a sequence of such complexity and length (it clocks in at two minutes, 17 seconds). The sequence was three script pages long, and required three full days of shooting on the main first unit stages, involving the primary cast members. Add to that a prep day, and an additional half-day to shoot the van tableau. The Philips spot had much greater resources – but CSI had an entire season of television to shoot. Shorten says that the producers provided Zoic with all the time, resources and support that could possibly be spared.

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The main three-day shoot employed four main motion control setups. A great deal of expense and effort went toward keeping the actors comfortable, and minimizing the time that talent would spend holding still will suspended in harness rigs.

The first portion to be shot, on days one and two, was the sequence in the DNA Lab. It was the largest and most complex set piece. Shorten and the Zoic team wrote and mapped out the shots on the prep day, giving them time to experiment on the day of the shoot, with blocking, track placement, lenses, the placement of practical elements and extras, etc. What the team learned on the first day was instrumental in making sure the rest of the sequence could be completed in the remaining days allowed.

The morgue tableau and hallway sequence were shot on day three. The hallway tableau featured Doc Robbins attacking a robber (called an “MIB” on set). Actor Hall was propped up on apple boxes and suspended by wires, while the camera moved slowly past on a track. While this one tableau sequence makes up about 20 seconds of the final product, the camera move took about three minutes to shoot.

For each shot, Shorten and his people wrote and planned out the shot with stand-ins; consulted with and got approval from the episode’s director, executive producer Kenneth Fink; ran a test shot on video; and then brought in the actors to shoot the real footage.

Some actors, like Helgenberger and Fishburne, only had to spend 10- to 15 minutes rigged up for their sequences. Other actors spend as long as a half hour held up by wires, stunt harnesses, boxes, greenscreen stands and articulated pads. Shorten says these rigs are never comfortable; and of course it’s not easy to hold perfectly still for minutes at a time. But everything possible was done to keep the actors in the rig for as brief a time as possible.

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The final tableau, of Nick and Sara firing on the van, was shot separately, taking a half a day. This scene was the most difficult and time-consuming to produce, as it was shot without motion control – no track, just a crane shot, and no clean plates. The paint-out and stilling of the actors for this sequence was an incredible amount of work. In fact, dozens of still photos of actors Eads and Fox were taken, and blended and morphed together to create motionless 3D elements of the two actors. These elements were then composited into the shot.

Shorten says that he is immensely proud of the work that he and Zoic did to create this unique and amazing sequence. “This could not have been accomplished without the incredible talents of every department on the show. Our production crew really came through, exceeding my expectations. Our excellent team of artists here at Zoic gave up their summer to create this fantastic sequence.

“I’m so grateful to everyone for their contributions. Most importantly, the show and the network are thrilled with the sequence, and the fan websites are still discussing the premier two months later – that’s the best compliment we could get!”

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More info: CSI on CBS.com ; Zoic Studios website; CSI on Hulu.

Zoic Brings Visitors to Earth for ABC’s ‘V’

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 10/2/09.

v-screencap-manhattanship_630x354A Visitor mothership hovers over Manhattan.

Tomorrow evening (11/3/09), ABC will broadcast the premiere episode of its highly anticipated new sci-fi series V, which updates and re-imagines the original 1983 miniseries of the same name. The visual effects for the new V were created by Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios, known for providing VFX for a number of well-loved science fiction franchises.

Scott Peters, creator of The 4400, brings fans a modern take on the classic V that pays loving homage to its 80s inspiration. Written by Peters and directed by Yves Simoneau, the pilot episode stars Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Morris Chestnut (Kung Fu Panda 2), Joel Gretsch (The 4400, Taken); and Firefly alumni Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk.

The remake hews closely to the story of the original: mile-wide alien motherships appear above the major cities of the Earth. The aliens call themselves “The Visitors,” and appear to be identical to humans. They claim to come in peace, seeking to trade advanced technology for resources. But the Visitors are not what they seem, and hide sinister intentions. While much of humanity welcomes the Visitors, a resistance movement begins to form.

Four episodes will air this month; the show will return from hiatus after the 2010 Olympics.

Visual effects and digital production

Zoic is handling all of the visual effects for V, under the oversight of creative director and VFX supervisor Andrew Orloff (FlashForward, Fringe, CSI) and visual effects producer Karen Czukerberg (Eleventh Hour). Work on the pilot was split between Zoic’s Vancouver studio, which handled greenscreen and virtual sets, and the Los Angeles studio, where the motherships and other effects were created.

Zoic began work in February 2009 on the pilot, which featured about 240 effects shots, 125 of which involved live actors shot on greenscreen in Vancouver where the series is filmed. Another three episodes now in post-production have some 400 effects shots overall, half of which involve digital compositing of actors on greenscreen.

v-screencap-mothership_630x354A more detailed view of a Visitor mothership.

Orloff worked in collaboration with the show’s creators – Peters, Simoneau, and executive producers Steve Pearlman and Jace Hall – to design the motherships. The enormous, saucer-shaped Visitor mothership is one of the original V’s iconic images (along with a certain hamster), and visually represents the Visitors’ technological superiority and their domination over humanity. In addition, Orloff says, the creators were dedicated to realism and internal consistency and logic in the design of the alien technology and culture.

Orloff created the mothership on his laptop, working through numerous iterations with input from Peters and Simoneau. He wanted a design that was “freaky and menacing,” and would be emotionally impactful when it made its first momentous appearance onscreen.

v-screencap-mothership2_630x354The underside of a Visitor mothership begins its transformation. Buildings in Vancouver were supplemented with 3D models of real Manhattan skyscrapers from Zoic’s library.

Because the mothership itself is enormous, the 3D model used to represent it is huge and highly detailed. Zoic CG supervisor Chris Zapara (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Pathfinder) modeled the “transformation” effect, in which the ventral surface of the ship changes, causing the frightened humans below to fear an imminent attack. In fact, the ship is deploying an enormous video screen, displaying the greeting message of Visitor leader Anna (Baccarin). After many rounds of pre-visualizations, a design was chosen with large, movable panels and a grid of smaller panels arranged in a snakeskin pattern. The mothership was created in NewTek’s Lightwave 3D.

v-screencap-snakeskin_630x354The “snakeskin” panels underneath the mothership flip over to reveal a video projection surface.

Digital artist Steve Graves (Fringe, Sarah Connor Chronicles) was responsible for filling in the copious detail that gives the mothership the impression of immense scale. After the pilot was picked up by ABC, the dorsal surface was remodeled to add photorealism. The model initially was detailed only from the angles at which it was shown in the pilot, due to the many hours of work necessary. As shots were created for the second through fourth episodes, Graves created detail from new angles, and now the mothership model is complete.

v-screencap-reflection_630x354Our first view of the alien mothership, reflected in the glass of a skyscraper.

The mothership design was not the only way the Visitors’ arrival was made to seem momentous and frightening. As businessman Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) looks to the skies for an explanation of various alarming occurrences, he first sees the mothership reflected in the glass windows of a skyscraper. Although a relatively simple effect (Zoic took shots of real buildings in Vancouver, skinned them with glass textures, and then put the reflected image on the glass), the effect on the viewer is chilling.

v-screencap-shipinterior_630x354Visitor leader Anna (Baccarin, seated left) is interviewed by Chad Decker (Scott Wolf, seated right) on board the Manhattan mothership. The “set” was created virtually, with the actors shot on a greenscreen stage.

Because the motherships are enormous, it only makes sense that they would feature enormous interior spaces. These sets would be too large to build, so half the effects shots on V involve actors filmed on a greenscreen stage with tracking markers. These virtual sets, based on Google Sketch-Up files from V‘s production designers (Ian Thomas (Fringe, The 4400) for the pilot; Stephen Geaghan (Journey to the Center of the Earth, The 4400) for later episodes), were created at Zoic’s Vancouver studio in Autodesk Maya and rendered in mental images’ mental ray.

The ship interiors were created before the related greenscreen shots were filmed. For the episodes shot after the pilot, Zoic provided the production with its new, cutting edge proprietary Zeus system, which allows filmmakers to see actors on a real-time rendered virtual set, right on the greenscreen stage. The technology is of immeasurable aid to the director of photography, crew, and especially the actors, who can see themselves interacting with the virtual set and can adjust their performances accordingly. Zeus incorporates Lightcraft Technology’s pre-visualization system.

After actors are filmed on the Vancouver greenscreen set and the show creators are happy with the pre-visualized scenes in Zeus, the data is sent south to Zoic’s Los Angeles studio, where the scenes are laid out in 3D. Then the data goes back up to Zoic in Vancouver, where the virtual set backgrounds are rendered in HD.

v-screencap-london_630x354An alien mothership inserted into a stock shot of London.

v-screencap-riodejaneiro_630x354A mothership composited into a stock shot of Rio de Janeiro, with matched lighting and atmospheric effects.

Other alien technology was created for the series, including shuttlecraft and a “seek & destroy” weapon used to target a resistance meeting.

v-screencap-shuttle_630x354A Visitor shuttle docks with a mothership.

The alien shuttle and the shuttle docking bays were created in Los Angeles by visual effects artist Michael Cliett (Fringe, Serenity), digital compositor Chris Irving and freelance artist James Ford.

v-screencap-atrium_630x354The “Atrium,” a city in the interior of a Visitor mothership.

The “Atrium,” a massive interior space inside the mothership, was created for Zoic by David R. Morton (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Serenity). The complex 3D model served essentially as a matte painting. It was incorporated into a complex composited shot, with actors on the greenscreen stage inserted into virtual sets of a corridor and balcony by the Vancouver studio; the camera pulls out to reveal the Atrium, which was created in LA. Extras in Visitor uniforms were shot on greenscreen and composited into the Atrium itself.

v-screencap-f16crash_630x354An F-16 fighter, its electronics disrupted by a Visitor mothership, crashes onto a city street.

An F-16 fighter crash, featured in the first few minutes of the pilot, was done by the Los Angeles studio. The airplane, automobiles, taxis, and Manhattan buildings in the background, and of course the explosion, smoke and particles, are all digital. All the components came from Zoic’s library. The actor was shot on a Vancouver street.

v-screencap-eye_630x354FBI Agent Erica Evans (Mitchell) examines a wounded Visitor and makes an alarming discovery.

A scene involving an injured Visitor, which gives the viewer one of the first clues to the aliens’ true nature, was shot entirely with practical effects (including the blinking eye). But Zoic used CG to enhance the wound, merge human skin with reptile skin, and add veins and other subcutaneous effects.

v-zoomout_469x630Visitor leader Anna looks out over her new dominion.

According to Czukerberg, one of the more difficult shots to pull off was the final scene in the pilot. It involves the alien leader, Anna (actress Morena Baccarin on the greenscreen stage), in an observation lounge on the mothership (virtual set); the camera pulls out (practical camera move) past the mothership windows to reveal the entire ship hovering over Manhattan (CG mothership over an original shot of the real Manhattan created for this production). The shot required cooperation between the LA and BC studios, and took a great deal of time and effort – “it was crazy,” Czukerberg said, but she adds that everyone involved is tremendously satisfied with the finished product.

Zoic Studios looks forward to doing more work when V returns next year, and helping the series become a ratings and critical success. “Rarely do you get an opportunity to redefine a classic series,” Orloff said. “Everyone at Zoic put their heart and soul into this show, and it shows on the screen.”

For more information: V on ABC; the first nine minutes of the pilot on Hulu; original series fan site.

Quiz: Can You Identify These Geek Icons?

Originally posted in 9/06. Images restored 9/14/09.

Can you identify all 12 of these sci-fi, fantasy and geek-culture-related symbols? Anime, comics, gaming and computers have not been overlooked.

Some of them are very easy — others, I hope, are pretty hard. If you’re unfortunate enough to be using Internet Explorer, you can mouse-over the pics for a hint.

Answers follow. Good luck!

Hint:  Kaneda! Tetsuo! Hint: John Smallberries!
1. ____________ 2. ____________ 3. ____________
Hint: Can you form some sort of rudimentary lathe? Hint: Don't say the P-word. Hint: 64.
4. ____________ 5. ____________ 6. ____________
Hint: Waaagh! Hint: Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me. Hint: JRRT
7. ____________ 8. ____________ 9. ____________
Hint: I'd like A Better Tomorrow on VHS, please. Hint: In space, no one can hear you scream. Hint: First great graphic novel?
10. ____________ 11. ____________ 12. ____________

Select the following invisible text for the answers:

1. The design on the back of Kaneda’s jacket, “Akira” (1988). 2. Sheeta’s necklace bearing the Laputa crest, Miyazaki Hayao’s “Laputa” aka “Castle in the Sky” (1986). 3. The symbol on the side of Buckaroo Banzai’s jet car, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984). 4. The logo of the NSEA Protector, “Galaxy Quest” (1999). 5. The logo for Network 23, Edison Carter’s evil employer, “Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future” (1985). 6. The Commodore Business Machines “chickenhead” logo; Commodore manufactured the PET and Commodore 64 personal computers. 7. The banner of the Imperium of Man from Games Workshops’ “Warhammer 40,000” series of science-fantasy tabletop wargames, RPGs, and computer games. 8. Logo of the evil Blue Sun Corporation from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western “Firefly” (2002-03). 9. Runic symbol devised by fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien as a form of signature; formed from the letters “JRRT.” 10. Logo of Tai Seng Video Marketing, major distributors of East Asian cinema in the United States; brought the films of Chow-Yun Fat, John Woo, Jackie Chan and Jet Li to the U.S. 11. Logo patch of the USCSS Nostromo, “Alien” (1979). 12. Blood-spattered “happy-face” pin of the murdered Comedian, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” (1986-87).