On the heels of the release of Season Three, Sebastien Bergeron, Founder and VFX Supervisor at Folks VFX, offers 12 facts about Syfy series, 12 Monkeys.
This story may contain spoilers for Season Three of "12 Monkeys."
This story may contain spoilers for Season Three of "12 Monkeys."
1/ The series is a perfect fit for us
We were brought on board last season, for Season Two of 12 Monkeys. They wanted a change in the visual effects department, and I had a previous relationship with one of the associate producers, Keri Young. The kind of pro-active collaboration they were looking for was perfect for Folks and the fact that the series revolves around time travel – what science fiction is all about in my mind – meant that the show was a great fit any way we looked at it.
2/ Season Three presented new scheduling demands
During Season Two, 12 Monkeys put us up against a very challenging weekly delivery of episodes but this year, for the first time, Syfy streamed the entire series over the course of one weekend. Naturally, we had to be finished with all of the episodes before the Season Three, Episode 1 was broadcast.
3/ The show offers a nice range of work
There's no standard number of VFX shots episode to episode, but if you average everything out over the course of one season, we complete an average of 60-75 shots per episode for 12 Monkeys. Some episodes are as high as 100-125 shots, while others can include as little as 30. The bulk of the work is creating unseen environments, but there’s a variety of other work, too: environment work, big futuristic cities, a time-traveling city, twinning of characters when they meet themselves in the past, destruction, explosions, all sorts of FX and particles – pretty much everything. There are also situations when we freeze the time, and then one character walks in the shot.
4/ And it inspires us to do the impossible
Our trademark in 12 Monkeys is impossible shots, shots that no-one would imagine we’d attempt with such a tight schedule. We know that when we combine the technology that we have with our artistic confidence, we can do epic shots on tight deadlines. For us, it’s always, ‘Okay, there are many ways to make this shot simple – and there's beauty in simple – but let’s push it and make something that will make people say, ‘Wow, they didn't cheap out on the movement, the length, the amount of detail.’ We try to inspire the writers with the shots we pull off so that they'll write even more creative scenes for us to tackle. We take their words and present them in the best possible way.
5/ It allows us to reimagine iconic locales
One of our toughest shots in Season Three centers on the hero, James Cole, time traveling using the Splinter Machine. This machine ventures to landmark buildings and streets across the world and in this shot, he arrives in future New York, in Times Square. We had to create that iconic view of Times Square that everybody is so familiar with, but at the same time, we had to add decay. We did a crane shot in a field with a blue screen where James Cole steps onto rusty, old bus on his side to finally discover an overgrown Time Square. This one was particularly challenging as everything in there was CG.
6/ And Titan City has never looked so good
Another challenging shot we handled is a flying camera shot toward Titan City at Magic Hour. There’s a sea of details: pipes, smokes, specific industrial building and structure, and of course the central tower called the citadel which borrows design cues from a post-medieval steampunk area. That central building is where Olivia, our villain character, lives. There's nothing in this shot that has been filmed – all of it comes from our studio in Montreal. Titan City, by the way, is a city that functions as a time machine, and it is entirely CG. It was introduced at the end of Season Two, but in Season Three, it plays a much bigger big role, so we made it much more hi-res with added detail to get the scale right. We totally upped our asset and rendering game to make it look awesome and real from all angles and at any time of day, and of course, Maya and Arnold helped us with that.
7/ Maya plays a leading role
Maya's our main package for modeling, animation, light, and rendering. We use every day to build, well, everything CG for in the series. Because we challenge ourselves to always go as big and epic as possible in the shortest amount of time, we need to work with software that’s reliable with a big workload, that can scale rapidly, and that’s very versatile and will give you as much flexibility and as many options as possible. In the case of Maya, it’s the proven VFX-industry package. There are plenty of freelancers using it as well, so that's help in a crunch where you need to scale up your team. You want a software that artists know how to use – and love to use it.
8/ And we rely heavily on Arnold, too
12 Monkeys also relies heavily on Arnold, we've been using it for years. We're big fans of the quality of the rendering and we’re happy to see it integrated into Maya. It seemed to us like a natural evolution, like, ‘Oh, okay, everything's falling into place,’ because it's one of those things that just makes sense for everybody. We feel good knowing that Solid Angle and Autodesk are working hand in hand on future development.
9/ We never let our work look cheap
I've been working in high-end VFX television since the early 2000's, and the gap between small screen work and feature work has narrowed quite a bit. Although some might say, "Oh, it's just television work so whatever, no big deal," but to me, it being a television project was and is never an excuse. Regardless of where it’s viewed, we don't want it to look cheap. We just do our best work and find a way to deal with the short deadline. We get creative!
10/ We're pushed creatively every day
I love the amount of creativity that television requires of VFX artists but when it comes to 12 Monkeys and other shows like it, it's a challenge for us not only just to get the work done on time but to try to do something exceptional within the timeframe we’re given. It’s in these situations that we ask ourselves, ‘What do we have inside of us? What can we bring to the show? With all the tools and of the technology that we have, we know that almost any problem can be solved, so the only limits we truly face are how fast we can develop our creativity. To be better and faster, we need to push ourselves every day, and television work is the best way to do this.
11/ We're proud of the show's film-quality VFX
We’re proud that the reviews of 12 Monkeys Season Two and Three comments on our film-quality VFX because we feel that the line between TV quality and film-quality effects is narrowing and should eventually just vanish. Everyone knows that television is attracting bigger directors and actors, and the same goes for visual effects artists. This is good news! Now that we’re dealing with 4K television where the resolution is even higher, the audience is even more critical of our work. They can pause a shot and watch it again and again so again, we’re always doing our best work knowing this.
12/ And best of all, we help to tell the story
In the case of 12 Monkeys and the case of TV series in general, there's never enough visual effects. There is a rapidly increasing amount of original content on a greater variety of platforms every year, so we’re being asked to work more and more projects and on more and more shots all the time. There is a need for VFX to not only make 'pretty' images but to augment the realities of the stories to convincingly tell them. Entertainment and VFX will always evolve, of course, but the main objective will always stay the same, and that’s to tell stories.