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PP-Post supervisor series-Battlestar Galactica

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Sci-fi has had a long, often troubled history on television, where producing visual effects that deliver on thrills without breaking the bank is a constant struggle.Add to that the creative ambitions on display in Sci-Fi Channel’s critically acclaimed and popular re-imagining of the classic 1978–79 ABC series Battlestar Galactica, and saving humanity from swarms of robotic Cylons seems like a cakewalk in comparison.Overseeing postproduction on the series is associate producer Paul Leonard, who said the show thrives on an open and creative approach that encourages crewmembers at every level to contribute to its success. That attitude starts at the top with executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. “They’re open to the best idea in the room,” Leonard said.On set, actors are encouraged to get into the story and experiment. Leonard said it’s not unusual for scenes written as a half-page of script to run as long as three minutes in the finished show. Similarly, scenes move around, sometimes as much as from act four to act one. Occasionally, a show planned as a single episode will expand to two parts.Episodes are shot on HD in Vancouver over eight days. The result is a lot of material to deal with in postproduction, with as much as 30 to 50 hours of dailies. First cuts can be long as 78 minutes and have to be whittled down to the standard 43 minutes. The show has three editors, three assistant editors and one visual effects editor, all working on Avid Meridian stations with input coming from the director, Eick and Moore, and Sci-Fi parent company NBC-Universal.“I play referee to try to get them to agree,” Leonard said. “It’s what you can live without.”Visual effects are vital for a show like Galactica, which debuted as a miniseries in December 2003, but they must be melded into its documentary, handheld look. To that end, visual effects supervisor Gary Hutzel had to design ships that move realistically, and all camera angles for space scenes were to be designed as if the audience was watching footage from real cameras mounted on the exterior of ships or pointed out the windows of ships.“Oftentimes in the visual effects meeting, Ron will say ‘I don’t think there would be a camera there. I don’t believe the shot,’” Leonard said.The number of visual effects shots in each individual episode can vary from 20 to 70, but the count has gone as high as 100. The effects crew usually asks for six weeks to complete the shots. Hutzel reads the story outlines and advises producers on what can be done how quickly, with shows that require more effects hopefully staggered between those that require fewer effects, Leonard said.Since each episode of Galactica airs in high def, the effects work has to be of feature-film quality. The show benefits from the work done on the original miniseries, for which all the ships in the Galactica fleet were fully modeled and rendered, in anticipation of the show going to series.But visual effects are expensive. Leonard said it’s “uncommon for a shot to cost less than $6,000.” The most expensive shots have cost between $18,000 and $22,000, he said. One shot in the episode “Scattered,” which opened the second season, was about a minute long.The quality of the show’s effects has not gone unnoticed. The show earned two of the five nomination slots for the best visual effects in a series Emmy last year. It also received two of the nomination slots for outstanding animated character in this year’s Visual Effects Society Awards, winning for its work on the Cylons.The documentary look extends to the cinematography and sound design as well. HD video has a huge depth of field, said Leonard, allowing cinematographer Stephen McNutt to shoot with such low lights on the set that it’s hard to tell it’s lit at all. This helps give the show the look of film after it goes through a cleanup and color pass.Leonard said the same attention to detail that visual effects are held to apply to the sound design. Sound designer Daniel Colman plays off the idea that the film should sound like a submarine movie, with interior scenes being very loud and space sequences having a muffled effect similar to being underwater. The muffled sound is a compromise because while there is no sound at all in space, it would be hard for audiences used to explosive space battles to get used to silence, Leonard said.The music is a radical departure from the norm for a sci-fi show. The original TV series had a rich symphonic score composed by Stu Phillips, but the re-imagining went for a new sound that is exotic and organic. Richard Gibb scored the miniseries with drums and reedy instruments that evoked a Middle East flavor. Gibb was unavailable for the series, and Bear McCreary stepped in. Leonard said they feel their way through the music, often eliminating sounds that are too familiar.Joining the crew for season two are sound re-recording mixers Mike Olman and Ken Kobett, who won the sound mixing Emmy the past two years for 24. Leonard said the show is lucky they were able to squeeze Battlestar into their schedule, which also includes Desperate Housewives.As with the visual effects, the sound has to live up to HD standards. The result is a complicated show that requires a lot of meticulous planning and hard work to make airdates without compromising quality. “Sometimes I have to pull things away or we’re not going to make it to air,” said Leonard, who puts in 50 weeks a year on the show but said the end result is worth it.“I love the show. It works on so many levels,” he said. “It aspires to a level you don’t find on TV, especially cable TV.”

Written by Tom McLean

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