Volker Engel and Marc Weigert are more than just visual effects supervisors. They are also producers, lending the expertise of their company Uncharted Territory only to projects they produce or coproduce. The latter was the case in their Emmy-nominated work on the Sci Fi Channel miniseries The Triangle.“The good thing about being producers is it gives you a certain flexibility,” says Engel. “The other production companies that usually approach us with a project know that we have the same interest that they have in delivering on time and on budget and not coming in with huge overages.”For The Triangle, this was essential as its executive producers were working on other time-intensive projects simultaneously, with Bryan Singer directing Superman Returns and Dean Devlin—with whom both men had worked as far back as Independence Day—producing Flyboys.With a tight schedule of 65 shooting days that was constantly in flux, Uncharted Territory had to adapt to the job as it went. Engel says the original estimate of a little less than 600 effects shots and three months of postproduction evolved to more than 800 shots and only two months of post. There were practically no storyboards and very little time for previz. Weigert says they never had a clear idea of how many shots were needed and they used the screenplay as a general guide.Most shots for the miniseries were achieved with CG effects, such as the opening shots of Christopher Columbus’ ships, submarine sequences and the destruction of a whaling vessel. The show also used miniature effects for the underwater graveyard and the Boeing 747 scene. Those sequences were supervised by Weigert and shot at the principal photography location in Cape Town, South Africa.There were significant challenges to working in South Africa and under so tight a schedule. Weigert says they were unsure how much footage of the underwater graveyard would be needed, especially with a scene showing the shot on three monitors that each required a different angle. “We literally had to shoot the hell out of those models in three days and try to find different angles on the few models that we had,” he says.Both Weigert and Engel say they were pleased to find the model builders and crew in South Africa up to the challenge of working the show. Weigert says one crewmember built a special hydraulic rig for shooting the models that ended up costing less than bringing in a motion-control camera from England. They also had no access to bluescreen or greenscreen and had to mix paint to create their own.Digital effects included a lot of water work and set extensions. Engel says water remains a challenge for digital effects. “There’s no out-of-the-box software,” he says. “There’s always stuff that has to be tweaked and you have to do a lot of work in compositing to make it look real.”Collaboration was key. The company set up 25 digital artists in one large room and had frequent meetings in which each artist would describe quickly what he or she was working on and could get instant feedback from the group.Most of the work was done with eyeon Software’s Digital Fusion, Adobe After Effects and Autodesk 3-D Studio Max. Water effects were created with Real Flow and some plug ins. Maya was used on a few effects.Weigert cites the company’s custom-automated project management database as essential to the project. A finished shot version can be instantly routed to the correct folders for auto rendering and loaded into Apple Final Cut Pro for review. Alarms notify managers that cuts are ready for review and their comments are instantly routed back to the artist.“We would put comments in and 15 minutes later we’d have a new shot to view and could approve it,” Weigert says.1997: Engel won Best Visual Effects Oscar for Independence Day.
Written by Tom McLean