CGI that creates the past, not the future (and on the cheap!)

16Sep10

I wrote a fun item for the current issue of Wired about the company that creates “invisible effects” for HBO’s awesome looking, Martin-Scorsese-produced new series about Atlantic City bootleggers, Boardwalk Empire.

The show has feature-film-caliber production design, which literally wouldn’t have been possible on a TV budget without CG-ing a whole mess of it — otherwise, as series creator Terence Winter says, “we wouldn’t have had a boardwalk or an empire.”

Some interesting tidbits that didn’t make it into the article:

  • All the muzzle flashes from gunfire are CG’ed.
  • All of the blood-spatters (and there are a lot) are also CG’ed, because it’s easier to reset the period costumes for additional takes when you don’t have to sew up squib-holes and mop fake blood off them. (And in many cases, again for budget reasons, the wardrobe department didn’t have extra copiesĀ of the costumes to begin with!)
  • Scorsese is old-school, but really comfortable with this “fake” process — while setting up a shot in a boardwalk shop, he casually asked the CG guys (who were on set during the making of the pilot) to digitally move some signage in a window a little to the left “later” because he liked the framing better that way. (Again: much cheaper than having the art dept. spend an hour or two scouring off the paint and repainting it two feet to the left.)

Blockbuster-Quality Effects on a Small-Screen Budget | Wired

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4 Responses to “CGI that creates the past, not the future (and on the cheap!)”

  1. How did I read that in the print issue without knowing that you wrote it? Anyway, this blog post is even more interesting than the piece that ended up in the mag. Maybe ’cause I already read that piece and know the backstory, but still. I sometimes (often?) wish that the front of the book material in Wired were longer. That is, that the parts I find interesting were longer and that the rest of the claptrap (“how to destroy a beaver dam with nothing but a smartphone and a japanese schoolgirl,” or what have you) was just not there.

  2. I just tweeted that this is your “director’s cut.” Makes me wonder why they don’t do that for the web. Hell, they should have you blogging whatever else you care to on the subject.

  3. As you’ve helpfully pointed out to me in the past, there’s a fine line between free-posting “DVD extras” for one’s articles and wasting good stuff that one could resell elsewhere.

    But on Wired’s side, don’t they already do this to a degree with their “Storyboard” podcast? Would be fun to see it in text form online though… less of an energy-barrier to consumption (and traffic) that way.

    Then again, I can’t see a major media outlet paying the writer extra to generate those online “extras” for their own site, so would I/we actually want to do it gratis? Not sure. The subtle nonmonetary incentives would really have to line up.

  4. Christopher’s comments make me think of my experiences reading Wired on the iPad. Because the first issue gave equal weight to stories, no matter their length, it really drives home how much of the magazine ends up feeling like filler I don’t care about. I guess when you have a physical copy, it’s fast and easy to browse over a lot of that and end up at the meat.

    My solution was wondering whether it would be possible to get a version of Wired that only included the longer pieces, but I like Christopher’s solution more.



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