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VFX/Animation News & Developments for April 2016
Sean McClintock
McClintock Joins Aardman Nathan Love

Animation entertainment studio Aardman Nathan Love has brought Sean McClintock aboard its directorial roster. His 20 years of experience spans design, directing, illustration and animation.

The Brooklyn, NY-based McClintock has a filmography fashioned at such studios as Psyop, Brand New School, The Mill, HUSH and Buck, working with brands including Nike, Google, Twitter, Coke Zero and Viacom.

Aardman Nathan Love owner/executive creative director Joe Burrascano said of McClintock, “Our studio has always been known for high-end character work, but Sean brings a level of sophistication that expands our reach further into the world of design. His experience with the top studios in advertising, combined with his strong and refined sensibilities are sure to bring new and exciting opportunities.”

After being courted by various notable studios over the course of several months, McClintock—who’s inspired by diverse innovators from Tex Avery and Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi to designers like Raoul Marks and Kyle Cooper—finally found kinship with Aardman Nathan Love. “I’ve been a fan of both Aardman and Nathan Love for years,” he related. “Both studios have some of the best animators, character designers and storytellers in the business. And on top of that, they have a great sense of humor that comes across in their work.”

Smoke & Mirrors Extends Reach To Bangkok
Smoke & Mirrors has launched a joint venture with Oriental Post, a subsidiary of Thai entertainment company, Kantana Group, yielding the newly formed Smoke & Mirrors Bangkok. This complements Smoke & Mirrors ongoing studios in London, New York, Sao Palo, Chennai and Shanghai.

Smoke & Mirrors Bangkok is a full service post facility offering on-set supervision, color grading, online compositing and finishing, CG/3D animation and a comprehensive visual effects department, employing leading creative talent from around the world.

Smoke & Mirrors’ global managing director Gary Szabo, who lists Rolls Royce, Land Rover, Sony, Nike, Coca Cola, Unilever, P&G and Amazon as clients, said, “Our clients have long been asking us for a more significant presence in the Asian region so this new operation will create a strong platform to support existing clients as well as bring new business into Thailand. Oriental Post and Kantana were the perfect partners to make this happen due to their incredible experience and unparalleled reputation in the region. Using our existing global network of contacts, we believe we can encourage greater numbers of companies to use Thailand as their hub for shoots and postproduction.”

Smoke & Mirrors will gain a natural head start in South East Asia by capitalizing on Oriental Post’s experience in the region and clientele, having close ties with many leading advertising agencies from Singapore and around the region, as well as major global brands such as Unilever, P&G, Emirates Airlines, Thai Airways, Toyota, Chevrolet, L’Oreal, Pepsico and Nestle.

Matthew Szabo, managing director of the new company, said “Oriental Post is Thailand’s longest established postproduction company and we have had a close working relationship with Smoke & Mirrors for many years, so we are delighted to be formalizing our partnership with this venture. We are putting into place several new concepts that will bring something fresh and exciting to the market.”

Kantana Post Production’s CEO Surachedh Assawaruenganun sees a positive future. “Bangkok offers world class postproduction standards with significant cost savings over our regional competitors, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and as such we are an attractive option for major regional brands. Although the industry is more competitive these days, our regional partners value our professionalism and high standards. Major regional campaigns need special care and have more comprehensive requirements that only the more experienced houses can meet. There is room for incredible growth in Southeast Asia and with the leverage that the Smoke & Mirrors partnership gives us, we believe that the potential for further growth is enormous.”

FuseFX Takes TURN for AMC
AMC’s critically acclaimed Revolutionary War drama TURN: Washington’s Spies transports viewers back to the cities, villages, plantations and battlefields of colonial America. Ensuring that all those locations, their buildings and geographic features are historically accurate, that the ships, flags and musket shots are correctly represented, is the result of careful research and clever work on the part of the show’s production team and visual effects artists from Burbank-based visual effects studio FuseFX.

Having just completed production of its third season, TURN was developed by Craig Silverstein, is executive produced by Silverstein, Barry Josephson and Michael Taylor, and is based on Alexander Rose’s book “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.” It centers on an unlikely group of espionage agents based in the small town of Setauket, New York, who help turn the tide of the war.

The show is shot on location, using Williamsburg, Virginia as a stand-in for Philadelphia and Petersburg, Virginia for New York. Setauket scenes are shot on a location-built set. Much of the work for the visual effects team centers on adding details in the form of set extensions, matte paintings, water and other elements to make the real-world locations conform to the historic sites.

“Our job is to create things that are either too expensive or too large to build,” explains production visual effects supervisor Terry Windell. “We aim for feature quality in the visual effects, but we are working with deadlines and budgets that are not what you get on a feature, so we have to be very efficient and smart.”

FuseFX’s work for TURN involves close collaboration with production staff, including Windell, the executive producers, the show’s directors, production designer Caroline Hanania, cinematographer Martin V. Rush and co-executive producer/unit production manager Henry Bronchtein. Hanania’s set designs and drawings, for example, serve as the starting point for set extensions and matte paintings.

In crafting its contributions to these historical illusions, FuseFX relies on Hanania’s extensive research and conducts additional research of its own. “Many of our building references come from photos of Dutch buildings that used to be in New York,” recalled FuseFX VFX supervisor Jon Massey. “Since nearly all of those are gone, we look at European buildings from that same time period, for instance from the Dutch Quarter of Potsdam, Germany.”

The matte paintings used to turn Williamsburg into colonial Philadelphia and Petersburg into New York also feature digital representations of iconic structures such as Independence Hall and Trinity Church. Additionally, the VFX crew is responsible for removing any modern elements, wires and telephone poles, captured in the production footage, and for adding musket smoke and blood wounds that production is not able to capture.

Careful research also goes into the creation of CG ships. “The HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s flagship, which dates from the same era, still exists in England and there is a lot of good reference related to it,” noted Massey. “That has been very valuable to us.” He adds that the attention to detail extends to the flags flown by the ships. “The flag used by the British Navy in North America at that time was the Red Ensign, where the Union Jack appears in an upper corner against a red field. It was the precursor to the flag of the United States.”

One of the biggest challenges for the VFX team is water. The real-world Setauket is a harbor town on the Atlantic, but the set representing it is inland. Waterfront views therefore need to be added to most exteriors. Convincing CG water effects can be time-consuming to produce, but FuseFX has developed a hybrid approach where CG and practical elements are combined.

“Ten years ago, you couldn’t have done CG water for an episodic television show, but our technology has come a long way,” explained Massey. “Now you can get 80 percent of the way there using the existing software tools we have at FuseFX. Still, it’s the last 20 percent, where you are fine-tuning and integrating practical waves, foam and swells, that takes the most care and effort.”

“We chose to work with FuseFX because of their ability to create water effects and what they’ve been able to accomplish on a television time-frame is amazing,” said Windell. “Their matte paintings and recreation of iconic buildings and ships add production value.”

TURN: Washington’s Spies premieres its third season on Monday, April 25th at 10 p.m. ET/PT.