We’re Tom Mahoney and Michael Capton of CoSA VFX, situated in North Hollywood, California.
Our hardest shot so far in Gotham was the last shot in the final episode of Season Three. It marks the first time that we see Bruce Wayne go into Batman mode.
The shot starts in an alley, with a family being threatened by a mugger. Bruce Wayne suddenly drops out of nowhere, beats the mugger up, and scurries away. When next we next see him, he’s standing on a roof overlooking Gotham City. So really, we’re talking about two practical shots here: The moment of the mugging that we then bridge to a green screen shot of the actor who portrays Bruce Wayne standing on scaffolding. Our challenge was in joining the two shots together.
The details: Building Gotham
Tom Mahoney, Founder/Partner at CoSA VFX: We shot the green screen portion with Bruce Wayne standing on a scaffolding first, the alley splice later, and then we bridged the two shots together with a CG camera. We had to rebuild the majority of the alley geometry so that we could make the two shots marry into one another. There are three components: We start on the alley site, and we transition up to Bruce standing on the ledge, but then we pull back so that we can see all of Gotham in the background and there are multiple CG components along the way.
Michael Capton, Head of 3D/3D Supervisor on Gotham: It’s definitely a hero moment in a hero shot – and this is by far the biggest view so far of Gotham City we’ve ever done so it was a rather large undertaking.
Tom: As we said, we've been working on Gotham since the pilot, so we’re fortunate to be the stewards of the look and feel this show, at least when it comes to visual effect shots. We get our mandate from the director of the episode and then the Executive Producers fine tune it, but a lot of Gotham’s feeling comes from what we put together here at CoSA.
The team, the assets, the iterations
Michael: CG wise, there were 8-10 people that touched the shot. We built quite a few buildings from the alley to the rooftop, and then, of course, the vast cityscape, too.
Tom: And then when we factor in matte painting and compositing, that number grew to about 18 when all was said and done. We were on this for about four weeks, from the cradle to the grave. We created about a half a dozen assets, and we ended up on version 50 by the time we finished the shot. CG iterations were easily in the 30-somethings.
Michael: A lot of the subtleties that go into lighting something that's in the dark as opposed to daylight can be tricky, so we have a tendency, at least on the CG side, to work a little bit brighter than needed and then let comp crush it down. In this case, the challenge with lighting was in making sure it worked as we progressed from the alleyway to where Bruce was on the rooftop, and as we pull back.
Tom: The difference between daylight shots and night shots is that night shots are always lit, so you have to match practical lighting. Daytime shots, on the other hand, you're just dealing with daylight. Not that daylight hasn’t got an ephemeral quality that you have to duplicate, but you are at the mercy at how a director of photography lights his shot; you have to match it. What's interesting is that there are two different lighting setups. The director of photography lit the alley one way, and then he lit the green screen that Bruce was standing on another way. So, it wasn’t just about bridging two cameras, it was about bridging two lighting setups, too.
I would never want to live in the city of Gotham, but from a visual effects standpoint, it’s been a great place to work.
Tom: Maya was an integral part of our work here. Maya’s animation tools setup definitely helped with bridging the cameras in between the two shots. I've been a longtime Maya user, and those types of instances where you're playing from one camera to another are quite easy to handle.
Points of pride: An Emmy and creative freedom
Michael: I’m pretty sure this shot is the one that got us our recent Emmy nomination and win, so that makes me pretty proud of our work.
Tom: From early on, the creators of the show trusted us to be the stewards of the look of Gotham City and it’s a big responsibility because – well, the show is named Gotham. I would never want to live in the city of Gotham, but from a visual effects standpoint, it’s been a great place to work.