Montreal-based Oblique FX was recently nominated for a 2013 Canadian Screen Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television for best visual effects in television for its work on a second-season episode of the SyFy television series Being Human entitled, “The Ties That Blind.” The awards launched this year combining what used to be the Geminis (for television) and the Genies (for film).
Starting from scratch, Oblique FX built the elements that became the supernatural and magical characters in Being Human, which include a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire living together in a house in Boston. In total, Oblique FX delivered 382 shots for the second season of the series, including set extensions, greenscreen work, digital morphs and enhancements, as well as being in charge of on-set VFX supervision.
“The Ties That Blind” is replete with paranormal phenomena that required extensive VFX work. A poltergeist splits a staircase in half as Sally, the ghost, runs frantically backwards to escape the unseen force. Later, the ghost of her ex-boyfriend is shredded and sent into limbo by the Reaper, a swirling amorphous character. Possibly the most remarkable scenes involve werewolves and culminate in a night fight in the woods between a pair of vampires and four werewolves, who have just transformed from their human shapes.
“The werewolves have always been our most interesting challenge on this project,” said Pierre-Simon Lebrun-Chaput, VFX supervisor for Oblique FX. “Each one is a complex character with emotions and individual traits that we need to convey convincingly. They get a lot of screen time and it’s crucial that we integrate them believably into their environments.”
The fight in the woods is the most VFX-heavy sequence of the series to date. There are 15 werewolf shots during the night hunt, accounting for over a minute of CG. Every element was hand-built in Softimage, lit and rendered with Arnold and composited in Nuke. Extensive rotoscopy was used to place the werewolves seamlessly among the leaves and trees of the forest.
CG assets of the werewolves were built from designs that were sketched early in the first season of Being Human. Oblique FX then used these elements to depict the human transformation into the very different anatomy of the werewolves. In the case of a facial morph of werewolf twins, the camera was close up, with a large part of the transformation happening on screen. This sequence involved a painstaking 3D recreation of the actors’ faces and bodies. The 3D recreations were match-moved and then distorted to depict gradually sharpening teeth and extending bones, and subsequently, used to add growing CG hair and to animate changes in the color and texture of the skin. Oblique started with shots of the actors wearing prosthetic teeth, then animated the plates. Hair was added to the face next. A prosthetic chest mimicked the expansion of the torso. Once the werewolf transformations were complete the creatures were animated to continue the action sequence.
“It was easy to fall into in-between shapes that looked weird, like a raccoon or a rat,” Lebrun-Chaput explained. “We overcame this by redrawing the details of the face to make it more wolf-like and realistic. Because we were playing with the details of a human face, even a small error would have been immediately obvious to the audience.”
“We love doing TV work,” said Benoît Brière, president of Oblique FX. “With Being Human, we’re involved in the creative process from the beginning, creating concepts and storyboards. We have latitude to present ideas and design assets to the director. With Being Human all of our artists get to pitch in.”
Produced by Muse Entertainment Enterprises and shown on Space in Canada and SyFy in the U.S., Being Human stars Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington as a trio of supernatural beings who live together in Boston. Oblique FX is currently working on VFX for the third season of the series.