“This was by far, the most ambitious made-for-TV project that I have ever been involved with in my 26+ years in visual effects."
-Tommy Tran, VFX Supervisor at FuseFX
Changsoo Eun, 3D Generalist at FuseFX gives us a look at what it was like to work on Seth MacFarlane’s hit space adventure series, The Orville.
Since its pilot episode, our team at FuseFX has been working with The Orville team.
All previs and assets were previously developed in Maya, so we had to create a seamless system to ingest these Maya assets and prep them for final VFX shot work in 3ds Max. The episodic TV schedule is extremely fast-paced, so it was critical that we create a repeatable process that allowed the VFX artists to hit the ground running with prepped assets and proper scene setup. When we received the previz files for episode 209 – an 8 minute fully CG space battle sequence – we had a little more than two months to complete it. Not only did we have to ingest the previz, we determined that it would be most efficient to match any retime, blowups, or post modifications in the 3D scene so that renders would be plug and play in the comp process. The system we developed worked out great and allowed the artists to create a truly ground-breaking space battle sequence.
The Orville meets with a Union ship under duress from Kaylon control. FuseFX provided lighting and asset enhancements (with the use of models provided by Pixomondo). Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox TV.
New features make all the difference: 3ds Max’s Alembic
The alembic feature of 3ds Max was a critical component of the ingestion process. FuseFX has been heavily utilizing alembic since its introduction in 3ds Max 2016. We’ve worked very closely with 3ds Max developers, providing a lot of feedback and making enhancement requests – most of which have been implemented. The best thing about 3ds Max’s alembic implementation is that it brings each object in as a separate 3ds Max object with its hierarchy and animation. Having baked-in animation in the Alembic file also means that we can easily retime the entire scene.
“The best thing about 3ds Max’s alembic implementation is that it brings each object in as a separate 3ds Max object with its hierarchy and animation.”
With a couple of lines of Maxscript, we were able to sync all time curves of alembic objects and controllers and retime the whole scene with one curve. We were also fortunate to have 3ds Max 2019.3 just prior to starting work on this episode. It had significant improvements in alembic transformation loading performance, and without this improvement, we're not sure we would have been able to achieve this level of results.
The previs ingestion tool: you can see the ingestion status, ingest the Alembic file and publish the ingested data. It also has a few utilities to help ingestion.
After all Maya scenes were ingested, and the unnecessary data was cleaned up, we had to load and connect our production assets to the animation from Alembic. When we started to ingest all previz, many of the assets were still a work-in-progress (that’s the nature of VFX!). It’s rarely a linear process, and you have to be working on each step of the process in tandem, all the while building systems that will help artists keep their assets up to date.
“It’s rarely a linear process, and you have to be working on each step of the process in tandem, all the while building systems that will help artists keep their assets up to date.”
The primary goal of our asset publishing is to allow the artist to update assets at any time in the process. This allows specific departments like lighters and animators to work alongside one another and push updates as their work progresses. Some of the shots we worked on required hundreds of spaceships in it; we built a custom solution that allowed artists to load all of these assets very quickly into their scenes with just a few clicks.
Kaylon Spheres fire back as an Interceptor takes hit from a Union ship blaster. To add realism to this action, FuseFX developed custom laser effects and pyro simulations for damage to the ships. Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox TV.
Custom 3ds Max workflows for 3D generalists
For scene assembly, we usually use ObjectXref for geometry. We have delivered thousands of shots with ObjectXref: for this sequence, we loaded almost all our assets as ObjectXref and instanced it as much as possible. For many assets, we didn’t have time to make a proxy version because it was still in development at other studios. We primarily used the full resolution of assets and let 3ds Max deal with it. One of 3ds Max scenes had 271,723,758 million polys, 187,366,108 verts and 12805 objects – the scene was still playing at 8fps. When we finished the ingestion and the initial scene assembly, we had less than eight weeks to deliver.
Many of the artists at FuseFX are seasoned CG generalists that can tackle multiple aspects of any given shot. From asset creation, lighting, and animation, our artists can do it all. Even our DFX supervisor, Matt von Brock, tackled many shots by himself. He said, “The FuseFX custom-developed workflow supports a generalist approach for much of the work we do. We have developed an intuitive scene management system that allows a generalist to thrive in one environment inside of 3ds Max. For Orville, we can manage multiple shots within one single setup and submit renders for these multiple shots with the click of a single button. Our fast pace requires at times for the layout and lighting team to make changes to models, animation or rigging without going back to their respective departments. Allowing the 3D generalists to keep all of their tasks inside of 3ds Max enabled them to iterate quickly and render at a breakneck pace that allowed us to deliver an almost eight-minute space battle in just about eight weeks.
The Orville and several Union ships are at the dock for repairs. A custom model space station orbiting Earth was built from scratch by FuseFX. Artists also created custom models of small robot ships, with animators adding life by showing the damaged ships under repair. Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox TV.
Tommy Tran, VFX Supervisor at FuseFX, says, “This was by far the most ambitious made-for-TV project that I have ever been involved with in my 26+ years in visual effects. In the end, it turned out to be one of the highlights of my career, not only for the beauty of the final product but also for the amazing team effort that was involved in delivering the episode. I will be proud to have been a part of this endeavor for quite some time – we all should feel proud here at FuseFX."
“3ds Max proved once again to be a fast and robust tool that allowed our company to deliver on time with stunning results."
"When we got our first look at the battle sequence, I have to admit that we were slightly terrified at the sheer amount of shots and complexity of the battle," Tran continues. "But after a few meetings with Changsoo Eun, our 3ds Max Pipeline Developer, we knew the task was possible with just a few tweaks to our 3ds Max ingestion and asset tracking pipeline. 3ds Max proved once again to be a fast and robust tool that allowed our company to deliver on time with stunning results."
About "The Orville"
Seth MacFarlane’s hit space adventure series, The Orville, is set 400 years in the future, the series follows The U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploratory spaceship. Its crew, both human and alien, face the wonders and dangers of outer space, while also dealing with the problems of everyday life.
The ensemble series stars MacFarlane as the ship’s Captain, Ed Mercer, and Adrianne Palicki as his ex-wife, who’s assigned as his First Officer. Additional cast members include Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J Lee, Mark Jackson, Chad L. Coleman, and Jessica Szohr.
The Orville is produced by 20th Century Fox Television. The series was created and written by Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, and Jon Cassar serve as executive producers on the series.
FuseFX is an award-winning Visual Effects Studio providing visual effects services for episodic television, feature films, commercials, and VR productions. FuseFX founded in 2006, employs 300+ personnel across three studio locations: our flagship office in Los Angeles, CA, New York City, and Vancouver, BC.