- Thursday, Jul. 28, 2016
There’s an adage that the best VFX are the ones you don’t notice--and that is inherently the case in the Emmy Awards category of Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role. Among this year’s nominated efforts is Hulu’s 11.22.63, a science fiction thriller/limited series based on the book of the same title by Stephen King. James Franco stars as an English teacher who stumbles upon a time portal and tries to prevent the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy which took place on Nov. 22, 1963.
Jay Worth served as a VFX supervisor on 11.22.63 and is nominated as part of an ensemble of artists which also includes VFX supervisor Brendan Taylor, VFX producer Ashley Mayse, compositing supervisor Winston Lee, compositors Rob Del Ciancio and Rob Greb, CG supervisor and artist Bruce Branit, compositing supervisor Dainel Mellitz and CG artist Dominic Cheung.
Worth’s 11.22.63 focus centered on the little details that go into achieving authenticity. “There are so many visible shots that wouldn’t necessarily make it on our reel but are so important--altered street lights, altered crosswalk signs and walkways. These are details that don’t look right anymore when you shoot the streets today--you need to make it look like 1963 so that the lights, the crosswalk markings, the street signs all look realistic for the time period. Almost all of the signs sticking off the buildings in Dallas were 3D. The signage is such an important element. Looking about the same today as in yesteryear in many cases, though, were the streetlights--except for the sensors on top of them. So we had to remove those sensors to make the scenes ring true.”
Also challenging was reenacting the famous Zapruder film (captured by private citizen Abraham Zapruder on a home-movie camera), which seems to contradict the findings of the Warren Commission on the JFK assassination. “The look of the original Zapruder film depends on which copy you might see on YouTube. We wanted to find something that was authentic, that looks like what we have in our heads,” noted Worth. “We shot on 16 millimeter film, using that to recreate the original film which was shot on Bell & Howell 8 millimeter. For this and everything across the board--like the look of the Dallas auditorium based on magazine photos from that era--there was a lot of research involved. Our crew was meticulous in using that research to the fullest.”
For 11.22.63, Worth earned his fifth career primetime Emmy nomination, the first coming in 2006 as a member of the VFX team on Lost, then in 2008 for Fringe, 2013 for Revolution and 2014 for Almost Human. While he’s personally gratified by his latest Emmy nod, Worth is most enthused over the fact that 11.22.63 represents the first nomination for several of his colleagues, including Mayse and Taylor. “There are many shows that are period pieces. To have your work recognized for its quality and specificness is quite an honor--particularly for first-time nominees who are so deserving.”
Worth garnered the opportunity to work on 11.22.63 based on his long-standing relationship with Bad Robot Productions (which produced the series in association with Warner Bros.). “I’ve had the privilege of working with Bad Robot for 11 years, ever since Fringe. I’ve been on every one of Bad Robot’s TV shows along the way--Alcatraz, Person of Interest, Undercovers, Roadies, Believe, Almost Human.”
11.22.63 entailed shooting in Dallas and Toronto (doubling for Dallas). “Amazingly enough Toronto played really well for 1950s and 1960s America,” observed Worth, citing the contributions of production designer Carol Spier. “It was a wonderful throwback to work with her again,” related Worth who collaborated with the production designer years earlier on the pilot for Fringe. Worth earned his second career Emmy nomination for Fringe, having served as visual effects coordinator on the pilot.
Fringe also landed Worth three Visual Effects Society (VES) Award nominations, including a win in 2009 for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program. He has additional VES noms for Alias in 2007, Undercovers in 2011, and Almost Human in 2014.
Composer Robert Duncan just landed his fourth career Emmy nomination. But unlike the first three--which were for Outstanding Music Composition for an Original Dramatic Series starting with Castle in 2009, then Missing in 2012 and Last Resort in 2013---his latest TV Academy nod is his first in Original Main Title Theme Music, coming for ABC’s The Whispers.
Breaking through in this category holds a special meaning for Duncan who recalled, “My first piece of sheet music as a child that I saved up to buy was the opening theme to Hill Street Blues. I always loved TV main titles, so it’s especially exciting to be recognized in this category. A few years ago there was some debate as to whether the category should continue as the Academy was looking to deal with overcrowding in terms of categories. I’m glad this category was preserved because I believe in it as an artistic, creative form. One of my favorite aspects of this job is coming in with a fresh identity for a TV project.”
Regarding what sparked his fresh identity for The Whispers, Duncan related, “I was initially sent some animated storyboard images. The animation looked on the surface like normal kids engaged in normal activities in normal settings. There was a kid drawing. Another kid was riding a bike. But there was something subtly creepy about it. Maybe it was the perspective. Some of the kids are frozen in frame while other things are moving around them. The imagery suggested another presence or factor in all these frames, the implication being that throughout the whole show there is an invisible character--an alien communicating with the kids. The two keywords I came up with when approaching this series were ‘innocence’ and ‘malevolence,’ to marry these two words and feelings in a haunting musical way. Soo Hugh, the show’s creator, asked me to try a music box as an element to convey innocence. I focused on melody and tried to make something pretty and haunting. When happy with it melodically, I added some grit and evil--that’s when I started layering all kinds of distorted elements like low sawtooth synthesizer sounds, some electric cello, elements that were grinding and nasty.”
As for what’s next, Duncan is working on Timeless, a new time travel primetime series created by Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Revolution) and Sean Ryan (The Shield, Last Resort) for NBC.
This is the 11th installment of a 15-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony on September 10 and 11, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 18.
Bridget Carpenter, writer, developed story for television.