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March 26
2019

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

DEADLY CLASS Goes on a Trip with VFX and Animation

By IAN FAILES

Student assassins enter Las Vegas on an acid trip.

The SYFY series Deadly Class, developed by Rick Remender and Miles Orion Feldsott, is about a private academy where students train to become assassins. That premise gives rise to plenty of extraordinary imagery throughout the show, including a drug-filled assassination journey to Las Vegas during episode 5, “Saudade.” It’s here that the characters experience a full-blown acid trip, represented onscreen by a host of weird and wonderful imagery.

That imagery was crafted via a mix of visual effects, 3D animation and 2D anima-tion. VFX Voice talked to some of the key contributors to find out how the trippy sequence was crafted.

Watch the Las Vegas acid trip in this clip.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS…IS CRAZY

The arrival in Las Vegas begins with a car journey past classic neon signs that blend into a swirl of playing cards, poker chips, floating bubbles, a leaping leprechaun and plenty of other psychedelic imagery. Inspiration came from the Deadly Class comics (written by Remender) and the script (also written by Remender).

“With Rick’s and director Adam Kane’s input, we employed FuseFX here in Vancouver to work on concept art in what became scene 15, the drive along the Vegas strip,” details Deadly Class Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela. “Rick writes very specifically – things like, ‘Vegas starts to melt’ and ‘kaleidoscope,’ and he also wrote about the leprechaun who turned into Ronald Reagan.”

The dazzling array of imagery included playing cards and poker chips.

“[Show co-creator] Rick [Remender] writes very specifically – things like, ‘Vegas starts to melt’ and ‘kaleidoscope,’ and he also wrote about the leprechaun who turned into Ronald Reagan.”

—Mark Savela, Visual Effects Supervisor

“We said to the artists,” adds Savela, “‘Come up with the wackiest, craziest stuff that you can, and it probably won’t be far enough.’ And a lot of times people were coming up with weird, trippy drug imagery and we would get it and go, ‘Okay, cool, let’s move further with that.’ It became a thing where we wanted to really challenge the artists and really let them play in their medium. And a lot of stuff that came back was amazing right from the get-go.”

While that acid trip arrival into Vegas is the centerpiece, the entire episode included a number of visual effects sequences –198 shots in total – that would be shared between FuseFX, CVDVFX, Zoic and One. Six One Eight. “We sent the work out for bidding early,” relates Deadly Class Visual Effects Producer Kerrington Harper. “People started turning over versions of the shots quite quickly, which was really helpful.”

A leprechaun was one of the CG creations made for the sequence.

“We said to the artists, ‘Come up with the wackiest, craziest stuff that you can, and it probably won’t be far enough.’ And a lot of times people were coming up with weird, trippy drug imagery and we would get it and go, ‘Okay, cool, let’s move further with that.’ It became a thing where we wanted to really challenge the artists and really let them play in their medium. And a lot of stuff that came back was amazing right from the get-go.”

—Mark Savela, Visual Effects Supervisor

Vancouver stood in for Las Vegas for the live-action plates in the episode. Shooting in October meant there was a high risk of constant rain in the British Columbia city. “But,” says Savela, “we got so lucky on the shoot, and it was actually uncharacteristically sunny for the whole time we shot. Then we finished the last outdoor shoot, and we went into the studio, and the minute we loaded into the studio it started raining, and I don’t think it stopped raining for the next three weeks!”

 

ANIMATION TRIP

In addition to visual effects imagery for the Vegas acid trip, animation studio Polyester was brought on board to deliver a sequence of 2D and 3D animation representing what the characters were hallucinating about. Polyester started with the script and broke the sequence down into eight sections.

The first animated segment was CG and represented the car passengers.

“The script itself was so crazy that we really almost put the script on steroids and had to decide how weird can we make this weird script,” adds Dimmock. “We’d say, ‘Well, what happens if the kids were not just blindfolded but they’re missing teeth and then what happens if we go through the mouths of the kids?’ and we just kept kind of pushing it as far as we could.”

—Jeremy Dimmock, Creative Director, Polyester

“From that,” explains Polyester Creative Director Jeremy Dimmock, “we started researching different styles for each section. We put together a massive amount of mood boards for each section and then bounced those off the show creators and the producers to see what was working for them and what wasn’t working. It also allowed us to bounce possible color palettes for each scene off them. And it gave us kind of a road map for establishing the look as we went forward into production.

“The script itself was so crazy that we really almost put the script on steroids and had to decide how weird can we make this weird script,” adds Dimmock. “We’d say, ‘Well, what happens if the kids were not just blindfolded, but they’re missing teeth, and then what happens if we go through the mouths of the kids?’ and we just kept kind of pushing it as far as we could.”

Psychedelic 2D animation helped tell the acid trip story.

“Everybody was just so excited to have such creative freedom on this.”

—Robyn Smale, Producer, Polyester

Polyester had five or so months to work on the animation. “Everybody was just so excited to have such creative freedom on this,” states Polyester producer Robyn Smale. “Everybody was really pretty great with staying on target and doing what they needed to do because everybody was so excited to see it come together. There is such an enormous amount of talent from the team we had working on this, and they each brought something so awesome to the table.”

Those separate sections utilized different animation and textural techniques, with each scene using a different tool. “That’s really what gives it a very different style and look for each scene,” says Dimmock. “The first scene is pretty much traditional Maya for animation and then rendered in Redshift with some modelling in ZBrush. The second scene was straight Toon Boom style animation. The third one is cel animation before we went back into 3D with Cinema4D. Scene six combined C4D with cel animation. I mean, there was everything. Every shot and every scene was totally different, and every palette was different, and that was kind of the overall instruction – to change as much as we could in between each of the scenes.”

Part of the darker playground section of the animated sequence.

One of Dimmock’s most memorable sections involved the playground scene, a scene that has a 2D noir style but was crafted in 3D. “We had just done a couple of scenes in 2D, so we took a stab on 3D, and it really captures the mood. At that point in the trip it goes dark – super dark – really quick. We were impressed that we could actually capture how emotional, heavy, dark and eerie the trip would be.”


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