Julian Parry is no stranger to being nominated for his visual effects work. He’s been previously nominated for a BAFTA, along with his visual effects team, for work on the docudrama Ancient Egyptians. And earlier this year, he was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, for his work in Camelot.
Now comes his first Primetime Emmy nomination, shared with VFX co-supervisor Dennis Berardi and his team at Mr. X, for outstanding special visual effects in a supporting role. The accolade comes for work on the History Channel series Vikings, for the episode “Dispossessed.”
As with Camelot, the series follows the adventures of a seemingly mythical king – who may have been partially real – lost now in the mists of time, except for his written exploits. In the case of Vikings, that king is Ragnar Lodbrok. Conqueror of much of the north, infamous for marrying infamous queens, Lodbrok survives in lore and legend, and also survives as the mascot of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
Parry cited Camelot and another series, about the building of a certain notorious ship, Titanic: Blood and Steel, as great helps. “Without sounding like a cliche, I am trying to get the visuals to blend seamlessly with the surrounding context and content,” he said.
Titanic: Blood and Steel, you might think, would provide some context or rendering experience for water – and those Vikings spend a lot of their time on it. However, according to Parry, “CGI water, regardless of its leaps and bounds since the 1997 film Titanic, is still not really in the budget range of a TV series. Then there is all of the production time and resources attached with filming this often complex and time consuming bluescreen photography. We try to keep the ocean water working as real as possible. However, when this becomes impossible, the work is handled by the dedicated CGI teams at Mr. X, the Canadian visual effects house.”
Parry can gauge the differences between working a series and in features, because he’s done both himself, also overseeing effects for films like House of Wax, and producing them in The Marine.
Of the difference between movies and TV, he says he doesn’t necessarily see the gap between the two. “I treat all VFX work with the same attention to detail regardless of the screen size,” Parry said. “If there is a difference I’d say TV work simply moves much faster. We get two weeks per episode and that’s about it – there is no time for testing or rehearsals. We, like most departments, are pushed for resources, but somehow we make it happen. “
But those other departments and key heads prove to be a resource themselves. “Without the collaboration of the other departments, my life would be made much more complex and at times impossible,” he said. “I also believe it adds greatly to the final visual effects results.”
“Behind the scenes there’s is a constant collaboration, from the key conceptual realization of VFX in set design and digital CGI, to orchestrating something as simple as before-and-after blood and costumes with the wardrobe and SFX teams. Working with the stunt and prosthetic teams can often make a difference between just a great stunt and something amazing. And then there are the more specific technical requests for bigger VFX set pieces, which require the cinematographer’s knowledge and cinematic composition. Collaboration is the key.”
Indeed, it was collaboration with Mr. X that brought him his co-supervisor. “Early in season one pre-production, Dennis Berardi and his team at Mr. X were selected to be the key visual effects house. Bill Halliday, the show’s visual effects producer, and myself would have what we call ‘Episodic Block’ VFX discussions on approach and methodologies. This would evolve as the photography progressed, but in essence, shots were discussed ahead of visual effects photography and therefore editorial turnover. This collaboration continued through postproduction, where I would then review shots right up until VFX delivery.”
Collaboration also comes from the landscape itself, as the wonderful locations – verdant, fog-strewn, bosky and redolent – were, according to Parry, almost 50-70 percent shot in Ireland. However, the set extensions fjords are real footage shot in Scandinavia.
Parry oversees other meldings of the real and the digital. “The Village and other set extensions vary from 100 percent digital build in a landscape, to again 50 percent real, 50 percent digital. I’d say we are 1/3 set extensions, CGI builds, buildings and ships, 1/3 set pieces specials like Valkyries and gore augmentation and finally 1/3 21st Century landscape clean-up.”
You can’t, after all, have a plausibly mythical 9th century king, if he’s traipsing past cell phone towers while raiding a village. Still, though, the 21st century does have its rewards, including, perhaps, an Emmy for work recreating all that blood and tide, from all those ones and zeroes.