DEADWOOD – THE MOVIE: Eric Hayden – VFX Supervisor – FuseFX

Eric Hayden has worked in visual effects for almost 10 years. He worked on films such as HELL ON WHEELS, AMERICAN HORROR STORY and AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. As VFX Supervisor at FuseFX, he took care of the effects of projects like QUICK DRAW and DESIGNATED SURVIVOR.

What is your background?
I started in the world of Practical Effects – building miniatures and specialty props and blowing them up. I did a lot of work in the world of creature effects as well, working with Stan Winston on A.I. and TERMINATOR 3, and Steve Johnson on SPIDER-MAN 2 (making Doc Ock’s tentacles and leading their performance on set). I transitioned into Visual Effects when I made my own film ASTRONAUT: THE LAST PUSH (Available on Amazon Prime!)

How did you and FuseFX get involved on this show?
Some might say that FuseFX was born in the muddy Thoroughfare of Deadwood. Back in 2003-2006, David Altenau, Tim Jacobsen and Jason Fotter did all of the visual effects in the series. That collaboration eventually led to the forming of FuseFX. When the movie officially began preparations for production, considerable effort was put forth by the producers – Gregg Feinberg, Scott Stevens, and Mark Toby to re-assemble as much of the original crew as possible. As David Altenau was not directly available to serve as set supervisor for production, I went in his stead.

How was the collaboration with director Daniel Minahan?
Daniel Minahan is one of the best collaborating directors I have ever worked with. He would be inspired to have an idea, and we would discuss the best way to execute his vision. Being on set every day throughout production allowed us to bounce ideas around regularly. During the post-production phase, we would send him early versions of the works in progress to get his feedback. We also pushed hard to make sure his vision was clear in the earlier cuts of the film — much earlier than we usually would have shots near completion.

What was his expectations and approach about the visual effects?
Dan’s expectations and approach to visual effects are in lockstep with mine: The best visual effects are ones that you don’t know are visual effects. The virtual camera should be set up in a way that is consistent with how a real camera would have been set up were the shot to be filmed by production. And all set extensions should follow the very real focus and exposure settings of the camera on set.

How was split the work amongst the FuseFX offices?
The work was performed entirely at FuseFX Los Angeles

The movie opens with an establishing shot of Deadwood. How did you create the town and its environment?
The plate shot was filmed near Frazier Park, north of Los Angeles. We constructed a Matte Painting that started with a photogrammetry model of the Thoroughfare set which was created by a drone fly-through over the set at Melody Ranch. Our Matte Painting department then extended the town based upon direction from Dan Minahan and Gregg Feinberg. Great effort was put into ensuring that the geographical layout of the town would be consistent with all of the set extensions while honoring what was done during the original run of the series.

Can you elaborate on the textures and lighting work?
All lighting of our 3D renders was done using V-Ray through 3DS Max. Except for our smoke simulations which were rendered out of Houdini.

What was the main challenge to create the town?
The most fun challenge of the set extension was to add the 3rd Story to the set of the Bullock and Star Hotel and track it in seamlessly while honoring the brilliant production design of Maria Caso.

What was the real size of the sets?
The Thoroughfare set is MASSIVE. Approximately 3 City Blocks long. This allowed for the cast and crew to be completely immersed in and inspired by the environment.

Can you explain in detail about the creation of the old train?
For the first weekend of shooting, the practical train was on the set of the train depot. During that time, we took thousands of photographs of the train, and a drone flyby was conducted to assist with the model build. The train was then broken apart into pieces to be individually animated like the pistons and wheels. Additional cars were added including the flat-bed cars at the end of the train, carrying the telephone poles into town.

Equally interesting to the creation of the train was the creation of the entire environment that the train moves through. The environment was created in 3DS Max by environment artist, Matthew Rappaport. All of the trees were created and animated using Speed Tree.

All of the train shots were composited by our Digital FX Supervisor, J.V. Pike, with particular attention to detail to create just the perfect feeling of morning mist hanging in the air.

How did you handle the FX work such as the smoke and fire?
All smoke and fire simulations were created by our FX artist, David Rand. We studied a ton of reference footage from trains that inspired the work that David did for the film.

How did you work with the SFX and stunt teams?
We strove to use practical effects as often as possible. Most of the practical FX work that was captured on set only required minimal wire removal from VFX. In some instances, we could not fire the guns due to restrictions so we would use VFX for muzzle flashes and bullet hits in those times.

Which stunts were the most complicated to enhanced and why?
We did not do much stunt enhancement for the show. There was one shot when Hearst is beaten up in the mud and when they carried the actor, Gerald McRaney to jail that required VFX to add the blood makeup to his face.

How did you create the missing finger of Ian McShane?
Ian would wear a black cover over his finger throughout shooting. Once the scenes were edited, our tracking department, headed by Kevin Lin, would match move Ian’s hand for every shot, while compositors, led by Ian Northrop, would paint out the existing finger. Once the match move worked, our lighter, Adam Broad, would match the lighting of the scene and render the model of the finger for every shot. Then compositors would blend the model into the scene. These became very tricky during scenes where Al Swearengen uses his hands a lot, such as the scene where he accepts the medicinal tea from Mr. Wu.

Can you tell us more about the gore enhancement work?
Our compositor, Chris Flynn, handled most of our gore enhancement work. Gore in DEADWOOD was always realistic and shocking in its graphic nature. Adding in blood pouring from the assassin’s head in the Thoroughfare was fun as was making sure that every bullet hit had the appropriate feeling of impact.

Are there any other invisible effects you want to reveal to us?
Throughout the film, there are so many shots that you never notice are visual effects. The set, while expansive, was contained to the primary buildings. There is a more modern section of town down the Thoroughfare which is entirely digitally created. Any time you see trees beyond the buildings, they are digital set extensions. Watch the scene where George Hearst challenges Bullock from the balcony. That scene is filled with invisible VFX.

Also, the scene where Bullock lights the telephone poles on fire. That scene was filmed in the safety of a wide open, dirt parking lot. All of the trees and hills were created in Matte Paintings created from elements shot on the actual location of Charlie Utter’s Claim.

Which sequence or shot was the most challenging?
The opening train shots were challenging but very rewarding.

Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
Honestly, recreating some of the VFX from the footage from the original series that played as flashbacks in the movie was stressful, because not only is there a perfect reference of how it should look, those shots were done by David Altenau back in the day, and I wanted to be sure that our work honored his. The original show was not mastered in 4K so, in order for the original footage to fit into the film, the original camera negatives were re-pulled in UHD so that we could re-composite them for the film.

What is your favorite shot or sequence?
I am very happy with the work throughout the film. I love the scene where Hearst challenges Bullock in the Thoroughfare. I also am thrilled with the trains. But I think the sequence that would be my favorite would be the entire end of the film where we added snow to every shot during the emotional closing of the film.

What is your best memory on this show?
When we were filming the wedding party over several nights, the entire cast was assembled. They would hang out on set and sing songs. It was incredibly emotional and special to be present. I was inspired to learn to play the banjo after working on the film — one of the best experiences I have ever had on set.

How long have you worked on this show?
I began VFX prep work on the film by attending location scouts in August of 2018. We shot from October through November. Our work was completed in May of 2019.

What’s the VFX shots count?
Approximately 350 Shots.

What was the size of your team?
We would expand and contract as necessary. There was a core crew of 4 C.G. Artists and 6 Compositors. However, there were periods when we had as many as 20 artists working on the show at a given time.

What is your next project?
I am continuing my work on EMPIRE for their final season. Other work, I’m not allowed to discuss quite yet!

What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
THE RIGHT STUFF is the most inspirational movie I have ever seen, and I watch it regularly. I love how the entire film looks and feels. I also love Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN. More recently, I must say that I find MAD MAX: FURY ROAD to be very inspirational. STAR WARS (1977) inspired me to take up model building, to begin with.

A big thanks for your time.

DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE – VFX BREAKDOWN – FUSEFX

WANT TO KNOW MORE?
FuseFX: Official website of FuseFX.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2019

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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