This season’s Emmy category for outstanding visual effects in a series or movie (which until 2021 was called “outstanding special visual effects”) might just be the most epic and competitive in memory, with five contenders from iconic sci-fi properties.
The nominees include season one of HBO’s House of the Dragon, the prequel series to Game of Thrones, which during its run nabbed six VFX Emmys, and the third season of Disney+’s Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, whose previous two seasons won VFX Emmys in 2020 and 2021. (A year ago, another series set in the Star Wars universe, The Book of Boba Fett, won the category.)
This year, another VFX nominee, Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power — set in Middle-earth thousands of years before the events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — claimed the Visual Effects Society’s top TV prize, the award for VFX in a photoreal episode.
Rounding out the Emmy noms in the category are two new series: Andor, a Star Wars prequel that follows Rebel Cassian Andor; and HBO’s The Last of Us, a postapocalyptic drama based on the popular video game of the same name.
For The Last of Us — which contained more than 3,000 VFX shots, largely completed by VFX companies DNEG and Weta FX — production VFX supervisor Alex Wang said during a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show that the team aimed to do as much in camera as possible and augment it with effects, in collaboration with the various departments. That included the dystopian world where a pandemic has destroyed life as we know it. “I wanted to use as little bluescreen as possible and embrace locations,” said Wang. “We went down to the detail of how the vines would grow and the destruction of the buildings. Everything had to feel real.”
For the infected humans, this involved collaboration with the prosthetics team led by Barrie Gower (see page 28). Wang says that to further showcase the brutality of “bloaters,” characters who are in the most advanced stage of infection, “[we ended up] scanning [the prosthetic suit], re-creating it and redesigning it a little bit with the team at Weta. They did a phenomenal job with the animation.”
Andor‘s first season contains 3,853 VFX shots that involved plenty of unique environments set on a range of planets. Perhaps most challenging was a new planet: the dry, barren Ferrix, which, in all, involved a combination of techniques including sets with extensions, CG and compositing. “That was a new environment for Star Wars, so there was a major design component. We didn’t want it to be another desert planet like Tatooine,” explains Industrial Light & Magic VFX supervisor Scott Pritchard. “We filmed helicopter footage in the Canary Islands [with] this amazing black and red soil, which looks otherworldly. We used that as a reference for textural details of the ground and surrounding hills.” ILM’s LED virtual production wall was used behind sets to create the Mon Mothma embassy on Coruscant.
The Mandalorian involved completing nearly 5,000 shots in its third season, for which world building spanned eight planets and 100 unique environments. ILM VFX supervisor Grady Cofer says the most challenging planet was Mandalore, which included storm clouds shrouding the planet, a trinitite-crusted landscape, the ruins of Sundari and the Living Waters. As with the preceding season, the production again leaned into ILM’s virtual production techniques to create much of the world.
On the character side of the equation, the animated Zeb involved a stunt double for filming and the facial performance of voice actor Steve Blum. In addition to ILM, Important Looking Pirates, Image Engine, Hybride and Ghost VFX were among the VFX companies that contributed their skills to the season.
Extensive VFX was also crucial in bringing to the screen House of Dragon‘s fantasy world of Westeros and Rings of Power‘s Middle-earth — all complete with creatures such as dragons and huge battles.
“To be nominated alongside those other series — what an honor,” sums up Andor‘s Pritchard. “The breadth and quality of VFX work in TV series is incredible.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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