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July 16
2019

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

Haunting Images – A Trademark of the VFX of Netflix’s CHAMBERS

By IAN FAILES

A breakdown of FuseFX’s work for Chambers.

A warning to readers: some of the visual effects imagery featured in this article about the Netflix show Chambers is a little confronting, but that was exactly the intention of the VFX team at FuseFX behind the work.

This is because the studio was called upon to realize particular visions that one of the show’s characters, Sasha, has after receiving a heart transplant, as she develops a strange connection to the original donor, Becky, even transforming into her. The result was a mix of bizarre and fantastical happenings that FuseFX helped craft to support the eerie side of the show.

Sasha forces herself into Becky’s world. The shots were completed by FuseFX with several optical effects as the characters’ lives blur together.

 

“We created imagery that helped push the narrative of Sasha spinning out of control during her transformation into Becky. This imagery was comprised of supernatural elements based on the landscape and desert environment of the Southwest.”

—Brian Kubovcik, Visual Effects Supervisor, FuseFX

 

“I think the VFX of Chambers Season 1 really helped visually reinforce the internal terror felt by Sasha and Becky,” FuseFX Visual Effects Supervisor Brian Kubovcik told VFX Voice. “We created imagery that helped push the narrative of Sasha spinning out of control during her transformation into Becky. This imagery was comprised of supernatural elements based on the landscape and desert environment of the Southwest.”

The Sasha transformation effects shots, in particular, were envisioned as double exposures where Sasha and Becky’s figures drift in and out of one another. “On set,” explains Kubovcik, “plates were shot of Sasha and Becky in the same position, from the same camera positions. We extensively repositioned, retimed and, on rare occasions, warped Becky’s image. Each shot was a case-by-case basis on how closely their facial features were to align. It was a really great way to reinforce the transformation throughout the season.”

The pursuing shadow – a teaser for FuseFX’s fully animated Shadow character – is seen in a hospital hallway.

 

“On set, plates were shot of [main characters] Sasha and Becky in the same position, from the same camera positions. We extensively repositioned, retimed and, on rare occasions, warped Becky’s image. Each shot was a case-by-case basis on how closely their facial features were to align. It was a really great way to reinforce the transformation throughout the season.”

—Brian Kubovcik, Visual Effects Supervisor, FuseFX

 

A more gruesome approach to visual effects was required for a chest cavity scene in which Becky’s chest is seen to be opened up as if being operated on, with hundreds of mice emerging from it. The shot was comprised of three elements: a base plate of the actress clean of any prosthetic piece; then a prosthetic chest piece that opened to reveal practical mice crawling around the open chest cavity; and finally CG mice that crawl out of the cavity.

“In CG,” details Kubovcik, “we modeled the geometry of the prosthetic piece to allow our CG mice to interact with the surfaces accurately. Also, this geometry allowed us to properly light our CG mice as they emerge from the chest. A character matchmove was used to get our prosthetic chest and track the CG mice to our hero actress. Additional soft tracking for skin deformation was completed in 2D to match the subtle muscle movements.

The chest cavity shot begins with Becky.

“The large bulk of the CG mice were hand animated to give us the latitude to create moments where mice cling to the edge of the chest cavity, push up against one another, and fall at slightly different speeds. We supplemented our hand-animated mice with particle-system mice to fill out the volume.”

—Brian Kubovcik, Visual Effects Supervisor, FuseFX

The cavity opens, a mix of practical elements and CG mice.

“Before the chest cavity reveal, we used one of the production plates of the mice moving on the floor to drive the deformation of our actress’ skin. This gave the appearance that mice were crawling around underneath her skin, leading up to the snap open [of the chest cavity].”

—Brian Kubovcik, Visual Effects Supervisor, FuseFX

Close-up on the chest cavity and the mice that emerge.

“The large bulk of the CG mice were hand animated to give us the latitude to create moments where mice cling to the edge of the chest cavity, push up against one another, and fall at slightly different speeds,” continues Kubovcik. “We supplemented our hand-animated mice with particle-system mice to fill out the volume. Then, in 2D, we removed the prosthetic rigging, enhanced the prosthetic textures, and adjusted the animation of the cavity opening to appear to snap open, as opposed to the gentle slower opening that was shot. Before the chest cavity reveal, we used one of the production plates of the mice moving on the floor to drive the deformation of our actress’ skin. This gave the appearance that mice were crawling around underneath her skin, leading up to the snap open.”

Sasha encounters the Shadow monster, a fully CG creation by FuseFX.

 

“The creative concept required we suggest a subtle human form while still feeling turbulent. Taking inspiration from nature, we created a form akin to the dust devils of the Southwest using a combination of FumeFX, Pflow and Thinking Particles in 3DS Max. Thinking Particles were key in developing the birthing moment of our CG Shadow.”

—Brian Kubovcik, Visual Effects Supervisor, FuseFX

 

This strange connection between Sasha and Becky continues throughout the season, including when Sasha comes face to face with the physical embodiment of her donor’s worst fears. This is referred to as the ‘Rose-Colored Shadow.’ Initially, a practical creature was imagined for the effect, but later digital VFX were used by FuseFX to make it even more intimidating.

“The creative concept required we suggest a subtle human form while still feeling turbulent,” notes Kubovcik. “Taking inspiration from nature, we created a form akin to the dust devils of the Southwest using a combination of FumeFX, Pflow and Thinking Particles in 3DS Max. Thinking Particles were key in developing the birthing moment of our CG Shadow. As the sequence progressed, we used a character rig setup to drive our Shadow’s movement based on the matchmove of the stand-in. A multi-grid approach was utilized to create a primary-body simulation, a lower-body groundswell, and a wider environmental dust simulation was created based on our Shadow’s dynamics to fill out the scene.”

Additional VFX work by FuseFX included a floating CG house that was modeled to match to a practical one used for the show.

 

“The look of our Shadow came together by developing a dark core while maintaining the lighter, wispy elements on the outer edges. In certain shots, the positioning of our creature required we relight our hero actress, and the final grades were applied in the final color session. The rose color required that we keep in constant contact with the post team regarding final grade so that our creature felt balanced with the one light color correct.”

—Brian Kubovcik, Visual Effects Supervisor, FuseFX

 

The Shadow work also involved a heavy 2D side, starting with the generation of clean plates to remove the practical stand-in before compositing the CG creature. Adds Kubovcik: “We added environmental interaction using a procedural deformation of the plants as well as additional dust elements. The look of our Shadow came together by developing a dark core while maintaining the lighter, wispy elements on the outer edges. In certain shots, the positioning of our creature required we relight our hero actress, and the final grades were applied in the final color session. The rose color required that we keep in constant contact with the post team regarding final grade so that our creature felt balanced with the one light color correct.”

Throughout the series, the image of a mask is a recurring thematic element, and this was also the case in the ‘Rose-Colored Shadow’ sequence where a rigid body mask was incorporated deep inside FuseFX’s smoke simulation to suggest the anonymity of the creature.

“We employed photogrammetry to scan the practical mask and retopologized the mask to create accurate holes for our CG smoke simulation to pass through the mask seamlessly,” outlines Kubovcik. “2D was integral to incorporating the mask as the lighting needed to be subtle enough to settle into the figure while remaining readable. Overall, the sequence proved to be extremely effective in conveying the internal turmoil the character was experiencing. VFX was a huge contributing factor in that success.”


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