Everett Burrell began his career in visual effects in 1993 on BABYLON 5. He then worked on many films such as BLADE, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. As a VFX Supervisor, he took care of the effects of projects like PAN’S LABYRINTH, MAX PAYNE, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and ALTERED CARBON.
What is your background?
I wanted to get into Special Effects from an early age and started out making masks, props and miniatures in my garage as a kid. I lucked out and got a summer job working as a prop builder for Rodger Corman in 1983 at his studio in Venice Beach. From there I went into make-up effects for 10 years then started my career in visual effects on BABYLON 5 in 1993.
How did you get involved on this show?
I met our showrunner Steve Blackman on ALTERED CARBON. He called me to go have dinner and chat about the best way to approach Dr. Pogo as a Visual Effects character. I was very intrigued by this character and the challenge the show had in general with the overall look.
How was the collaboration with the various directors?
I had a fantastic time with each director. Television is a much different hierarchy then feature films. Directors tend to be more collaborative since they are only doing one or two episodes per season. They really want each department to help them understand the language of the show.
What was their expectations and approach about the visual effects?
Peter Hoar directed 101 and 110 and he had some mandates from day one. He wanted Pogo to blend into the world just like any other character. He did not want him to be a distraction. All the VFX had to serve the story and not be flashy.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
We had to come up with an overall budget and schedule which is difficult as we did not have all the scripts. So you have to cover your department for the unknown and that is quite a trick for 10 hours of entertainment. But we knew that first 3 episodes were going to big, then the middle and then the 110 finales. So, we had our best guess numbers that became gospel. In the end, we had to back into the numbers but still create amazing visuals.
Can you tell us more about the previs and postvis process?
We always started with good old-fashioned storyboards. Then if needed we would go into previs but we only did that a few times. Most of the Post-Vis was done by or in house VFX editor.
How did you approach the various powers for the Umbrella kids?
We started out big and bold and just kept making them more and more subtle. Steve Blackman wanted all the superpowers to be downplayed until the final episode.
Can you tell us more about the time effects creation?
I wanted it to be very organic as if you were going into and coming out of a bowl of KY Jelly. In fact we nicknamed the effect “Jelly-Vision”. Lots of RnD went into this effect but it kept going back to less is more. That is the overall VFX them to the show… less is more.
There are many shots in which the time is frozen. Can you elaborate at the shooting and creation of these shots?
The big challenge was the scene took place outside in the middle of a rural county side with lots of sky. I knew there was no way we could do it all on location. We planned to shoot quite a few BG plates on location and shoot the actors on green back on our stage. This would allow us to freeze them as Number 5 and The Handler have their dialogue, all on green screen. The key was coming up with a unique look for the time freeze section to help take the green screen comp curse off. We called it “Three-Strip” in honor of the Technicolor process used in the 30’s.
Pogo is a major character. Can you explain in detail about his design and creation?
The first thing I did when I started was to sit down with Steve Blackman and Peter Hoar and look through tons of real chimpanzee reference. We picked a hand full of pictures that really spoke to us on an emotional level. I brought in Miles Teves to work on some concept sketches based on a brief from Steve Blackman on the background of the character. In about a week Miles had done some very inspired sketches that set the tone of the character. After a few revisions Miles had nailed it and we sent the design package off to Netflix. When they say what we wanted to do they gave us the approval to move forward.
How did you handle his interactions on-set with the cast?
We hired an actor named Ken Hall who could handle the emotional scenes but also was the correct height for Pogo. He was a grey tracking mark suit that was out motion guide for the 4K witness cameras. Ken could play the scene normal including interactions with other characters and props.
Can you tell us more about his eyes and fur?
The eyes had to be more human than a normal chimp as Pogo is a genetic hybrid of both human and ape DNA. The fur was originally all white to show his age but it was too extreme. We went with more of a salt and pepper look that helped him blend better into the world around him.
Can you tell us more about your work on Grace, the mom robot?
The Grace VFX had to be very subtle as we just wanted to hint that there was something mechanical under the skin. The showrunner did not want to go steam-punk but more retro 80’s tech. As if she was built from parts bought at Radio Shack.
Which sequence or shot was the most challenging?
Blowing up the moon. As it was a very complicated effects sequence that was turned over very late.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
Having to add green leaves to all the trees, as we shot during the winter and that needed to be corrected.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
Pretty much all of episode 110.
What is your best memory on this show?
When we showed the crew the first Pogo tests from Weta Digital.
How long have you worked on this show?
What’s the VFX shots count?
1890 VFX Shots.
What was the size of your team?
We had a production team of 8 total both in the office and on set.
What is your next project?
Hoping for a Season 2.
A big thanks for your time.
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY – TRAILER
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© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2019