This is cool. Kevin Grazier, JPL scientist and science adviser on Virtuality has penned the latest installment of Codex Futurius, Discover Magazine’s look at the real science behind science fiction. In this edition, Kevin gives the lowdown on the Phaeton’s Orion antimatter drive. It’s a pretty good read, and goes very in depth. You can check it out here.
Archive for the 'interviews' Category
Tags: Discover Magazine, FOX, Kevin Grazier, Michael Taylor, NASA, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, television, TV, Virtuality
Tags: Comic Book Resources, entertainment, FOX, Michael Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, television, TV, Virtuality
Comic Book Resources got to talk with several members of the cast before the Virtuality premiere last Wednesday. Check out their interview here.
Tags: entertainment, Erik Jensen, FOX, Good Ship Exclusive, interviews, Michael Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, television, The Bronx is Burning, TV, Virtuality
I got to talk to Mr. Erik Jensen, who plays the wonderfully sublime Dr. Jules Braun, last Friday right before the Virtuality premiere.
Jimmy Bing: Tell us a little bit about Dr. Jules Braun.
Erik Jensen: Jules Braun was the designer of the ship, the Phaeton. He’s a former NASA scientist. As Jimmy Johnson [the ship’s second in command] refers to him, he’s a company man. My character was in Mission Control during the Mars Disaster, which wasn’t alluded to in this script but it was a mission where things went horribly wrong. Horrible, bloody, awful things happened on this really long trip to Mars that was conducted by the Space Agency. As a result of the things that were learned on that trip–I don’t know if Ron or Michael plan on there having been any survivors–but as a result of this event that had happened on the Mars mission, which I think is alluded to in the original script and was alluded to in a lot of our improvisations that we did, they decided that they needed to create something to keep people occupied while they’re on a long mission. We’re on a mission, obviously, to the Epsilon Eridani system to see if there’s a planet there that can support human life, or maybe has life on it already, possibly intelligent life. And in order to withstand the rigors of that trip we have virtual reality modules that we snap onto our heads that will take us to other times and places, some more real than others. So basically, Jules Braun is a guy who really wants to escape and get away from his past as much as possible. There’s nothing better, as far as he’s concerned, than getting millions and millions and millions of miles away from the planet. I think he’s pretty convinced that by getting millions of miles away from the planet that he can get millions of miles away from just being. But, as all of us know, wherever you go, there you are, and your pain comes with you. In fact, it probably has the effect of making it worse.
JB: With the characters being stuck inside this metal tube for ten years, the reality show aspect and the problems with the VR modules, the show is pretty hefty in its subject matter. When you were first given the script, what went through your mind? What attracted you to it?
EJ: When I read the script I kept thinking of things like classic science fiction, like the Ringworld series or some of the work of Frank Herbert. The groundwork was real, the characters have real emotions, the writing popped off of the page. It was writing that I wanted to work on. I’m not what you would call a natural memorizer. I have a photographic memory for images and pictures. I can also have a photographic memory if you tell me your kids did such-and-such-a-thing in January. If I see you five years later I’ll ask you if your kids still talk about the thing they did in January. But for dialogue, I actually have to work really hard to make it effortless to say. And this was dialogue that made me want to work on it. I probably spent, I don’t know, about four hours a day for three or four days working on the initial piece of dialogue that I got.
Here’s a little tidbit for you that nobody else knows. Originally I was brought in for the role of Jimmy Johnson, the part that my buddy Ritchie Coster plays. Ritchie and I saw each other at the final callback. Actually, the night before I was going to go in for the final trips to studio and then to network, or network and then studio, I don’t know how it works. I got this call and I hear, “Erik?” And I’m like, “Ritchie?” And he says, “Hey mate, are you in Los Angeles?” and I told him yeah and he says, “I am too.” So I was like, “Great! What are you doing here? Oh, you’re here for Virtuality, aren’t you?” Because when I had seen him in New York, he thought he was there to audition for the captain, which I believe had already been cast. So I said, “You’re here, you got called back?” and he said, “Mate, I got bad news.” And he told me that we were up for the same part. And my heart dropped into my shoes, not out of any selfishness, but Ritchie and I have been friends for about fifteen years. We did a TV show many years ago called Delaventura and we immediately bonded. We go places together, we see movies together, we have dinner together, our wives know each other. We’re really really, really close friends, not just friends in a Hollywood way. He’s like my brother, so I was like, ‘Oh crap, how are we going to handle that?’ He said that he figured we would just be there to support each other and that we’d each go and do the best job that we could. And I said alright. He said that he wanted to call me because he didn’t want it to be a surprise when we saw each other the next day. I don’t think I’m talking out of class by telling this story.
JB: You’re committed. You can’t stop now.
EJ: We get to the final audition for the role. I’m there for Jimmy Johnson, he’s there for Jimmy Johnson. And I see Ritchie–Ritchie’s going to kill me when I talk about this–but Ritchie’s wearing this absolutely awful shirt. It looks like a hippy-peacock-threw-up-Starbursts shirt. It was an unbelievable mess, this shirt. I couldn’t even get a bead on it, it made my eyes cross. So I sit down and I’m looking at Ritchie, and we hug and I say, “Alright man, you go do your thing and I’ll do my thing and we’ll just go for it. We’re competing against ourselves, not each other.” Ritchie says, “Absolutely,” and then he goes, “Well, what do you think of the shirt?”
JB: You’re like, “I love it!”
EJ: After a second, I’m like, ‘No, I’m not going there.’ I tell him, “Ritchie, the shirt’s terrible,” and he said, “Really?” I told him, you have to wear something different, because it’s going to look squiggly on camera. You don’t want to wear stripes or patterns on film because the shirt tends to leave trails. Even on HD video, parallel stripes will leave trails when you’re in bad lighting. So Ritchie goes, “Well, I got another one.” So he gets this straight gray number, which looks really good. And I tell him, “That’s the one, Ritchie.” And he says, “Thanks, mate.” So Ritchie goes in and when he comes out I asked him how he did, and he says they wanted him to do it with his [British] accent. And he said, “I didn’t practice it with my accent.” I asked him if he was okay with that, and he said, “Yeah, I’m fine. But I think I blew it.” So I’m like, “Ritchie, stop it.” And he says he’ll wait outside for me. So I went in and did my final thing for them. Ritchie and me meet in the hallway and we’re talking back and forth and I asked him if he was going to be okay, and he said,”Yeah, are you going to be okay?” and I said yeah. So he asks if I want to get dinner and I was like, “You know what, the news is going to come out and I think I just want to go to the comic book store. So you go do your thing and we’ll call each other when we know what’s happened.” He says okay. So I get to the comic book store and my manager calls me and her voice drops down. She’s been my manager for ten years, so whenever her voice drops down, she’s not all loud like, “Erik!” She just says, Erik. You could tell how disappointed she was. She said, “You got close.” So I asked who got it, because there had been one other guy who I think had been up for the part too. And she said, “This guy from New York. Ritchie Coster.” So I sat with my own sadness for about two minutes, and then I texted Ritchie and told him he deserved it and that he was going to be great on the show. I didn’t want to bring my dogs to Vancouver anyway. I’m your biggest fan, I can’t wait to see it. Best of luck.
So I fly back to New York that night. The next day I’m on a plane to Jordan to do interviews with Iraqi refugees for this new play that I’m writing. My wife and I are playwrights too. It’s going up at the New York Theater Workshop here in New York in September. So I spend the next 10-14 days interviewing Iraqi refugees. People who were chased out of Iraq by militias. Some of them who were translators who were chased out of Iraq for “collaborating with the Americans.” Anybody who even talked to an American, anybody who translated for them was immediately targeted and had to flee the country because were threatening to kill them and their families. There were a lot of refugees. So we did these interviews, there were about forty of them and after about the first two, any mild disappointment I was feeling about not getting into Virtuality immediately went away. It really put things in perspective. I really wanted to do a science fiction TV show and I just hung out with forty people who are civilians who, through no fault of their own, have basically been driven out of their country and have no home. You know what? I’m doing okay. My life ain’t so bad and any sort of selfish pain that I might be feeling, there’s no comparison. During those interviews I really scrubbed my heart. It took my focus off of myself and onto something infinitely more important than me, which was a really good thing.
So I got back to New York, and not an hour after I had gotten back my manager called. And she was like, “Erik!” Her voice went up this time. She said they wanted to see me on Virtuality again. My first thought was, ‘Is Ritchie okay? What happened to him?’ And she says, “No, no, for a different part.” And I was like, “You’re kidding me!” Because I loved the script so much and I loved the character so much that I was going to be in for another four-day rehearsal session, memorizing for three hours a day. She said I only had two days to work on the script. And I said, “Well, that’s good.” And I get it and of course it’s a page-and-a-half-long monologue of just me talking. So I’m like, ‘Alright, I better knuckle down and get to work.’ So I did it. I went in and I went on tape for it and when I went home that night my manager said that I have to fly to Los Angeles that night. So start packing my stuff. She calls me back and she says that I’m not flying to Los Angeles. Now at this point I’ve really got my heart clean, but I’m starting to feel a little jerked around by this whole thing. I’ve fallen in and out of love with this project like four or five times and it’s sort of like, ‘Why do I keep dating the same girl?’ So anyway, one thing led to another, and I didn’t have to go to L.A. That wasn’t a good sign at the time because they never cast off of tape, but lo and behold they cast me off the tape and I got to fall in love with the project again. And I actually think that the casting was much better the way that it ended up, because what Ritchie has done in the piece is just phenomenal and so outstrips anything that I could have done with that part that it’s just an absolute pleasure to watch him. And we have a bunch of scenes together. So working with him, my good buddy, and having a clean heart at the same time really felt good, and it just goes to show you that sometimes when you’re generous with yourself and sometimes when you’re unattached to things, things will come back to you if you’ve avoided being selfish and been more generous.
JB: I’ve heard stories like that before, where two people will be up for the same part and through whatever process they both end up on the show in different roles. Whenever you were auditioning for Ritchie’s part, I’m sure your audition was great, but now that I’ve seen the show, it seems like I couldn’t imagine the two of you in any other role.
EJ: Well Ron and Michael and Peter, they have very good eyes. The three of them have been at this, in one form or another, between them they’ve got about got about 75 years of experience in the industry. And they know how to do it, so it just couldn’t have ended up any better and I think whether this goes forward or not, I think the thing that I love the most about it and the thing that I would miss the most the most about it, if it weren’t to go forward, is really the cast that those guys put together. And really, I can’t imagine a better group of actors and a better group of people. They all brought their A game, and there was no ego attached to anything. Everybody was excited to be there, humble, generous. It is so rare to be on a set with a dozen other actors who are so generous. Generous, kind, egoless, beautiful people. And I think the thing I loved the most about the pilot was being there with them in that moment, but also the possibility of, ‘You know what? This is a group of people I could spend the next five years of my life working with and I would never want to miss work, any day of the week.’ That’s a rare thing.
JB: The show leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air. Have Ron Moore and Michael Taylor made you guys privy to the direction they wanted to head into or did they leave a lot of that stuff a mystery to you guys as well?
EJ: Well, I wish I could make some news for the fans right now, but I can’t. The things we were privy to are the same things you guys were privy to in terms of the backstories. Our job was to know those backstories backwards and forwards, to know how we feel about all of the events that took place in the backstories, and then to bring all of that history to the moment that we’re playing. Ritchie and I have intertwining backstories and we would talk at length about what it was we both mutually knew or thought we knew, but we wouldn’t talk about what we were hiding from each other. It’s just like life. Everyone’s got their own perception of reality. I had my view of the story, he had his view of the story. We had shared facts that we thought were the facts, but really, the things that we’re keeping from each other are phenomenally interesting. So Michael provided us with some secrets in terms of what our characters were keeping from other characters, but that’s stuff that I have to hold onto as an actor. I don’t want to reveal that stuff to anybody until the time is right. And keeping those secrets fuels the tension in a scene. The camera will land on somebody, Peter Berg the director has this incredible ability to have the camera land on somebody and just hover there. And it’s also our DP [Director of Photography], Stephen McNutt, he pretty much shot every frame of Battlestar, from what I remember. Peter and Stephen would just work in tandem to keep that camera hovering there, past when it’s comfortable, past when most directors call cut, and that’s some of the most interesting stuff in the show. Those secret moments that people have with each other. Those long pauses. This is a show that isn’t afraid of using a pause or silence to build tension. I think that was utilized in Battlestar, too. In both places it’s utilized skillfully, but here it’s particularly interesting and that’s Peter who does that. So everybody on the ship has secrets. That’s what’s going to drive the show. It’s those secrets, those things–not just things like the affair the viewers saw in the first episode–it’s those big and small secrets we keep from each other that cause the darkness to happen between us.
JB: One of the really interesting things about the show, I found, that gelled with the rest of it better than I thought it would was the reality show. The confessionals and stuff like that, I thought some of those scenes were great. What sort of commentary do you think that aspect of the show provides?
EJ: That depends on what your view of reality television is. I mean, reality television drives a lot of this business. I heard somewhere today that, like, 10 million viewers tuned into this something-something Plus 8. That show, Kate and Whatever Plus 8.
JB: We won’t mention them by name.
EJ: Yeah. You know, that’s not personally appealing to me, but it was appealing enough for 10 million people. Those are some pretty damn good numbers.
JB: It’s true.
EJ: So there is a curiosity that we have about each other and about people being “real” on camera. It provides a fishbowl feeling, which I think is really helpful for creating a lot of tension for the actors. That idea that you’re always being watched. Personally as an actor, I’ve probably gotten more comfortable over the years with being observed in a room by a crowd of live people or by a crew or by a camera than your average stockbroker or accountant or whatever. Most people would absolutely freak out getting up in front of that many people and making an ass out of themselves, which is basically my job description. But that’s the idea, that you’re in that fishbowl and that there’s pressure to do certain things within that fishbowl. It’s something that I get. I have a lot of friends who are really famous and there’s nothing like being in that fishbowl for them. There’s nothing that can compare. You’re at once looked up to and reviled, and people’s boundaries drop away. People feel like they can come up and say, “You know that movie that you did? That really sucked, but I liked your other movie.” Well, it’s just as hard to make a good movie as it is to make a bad movie. You put just as much of yourself into a good film as you do into a bad film if you’re worth your weight as a performer. It’s an act of generosity. You’re giving as much of yourself because you love your audience, you love the people who are coming to pay their hard-earned money to come see you. It’s your responsibility to give of yourself. When somebody comes up to you and says something like that, they feel like they know you and they’re comfortable with you. I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about some famous friends of mine. It’s just something I’ve observed. So being in that fishbowl is a phenomenally interesting device, I think.
A lot of those confessionals were written, about half of them were improvised. So we’d get on camera and really be put on the spot by Peter. Peter would sit there and ask us questions, intending to get a response and I’d come up with some clever little preplanned thing that I thought was going to be really good. And he’d just cut me off and call me on it and say, “That’s bullshit.” So a lot of the stuff that ended up on camera was us being caught off-guard and there’s nothing better than an actor being off-guard. It’s a real gift, and Peter’s got an incredible ability to get you off-guard.
JB: Are you reading anything good right now?
EJ: I’m a big reader. I love Dune. I’m a big fan of any good science fiction. I was a big Ringworld fan. I’ve been writing this graphic novel, The Reconcilers and Neil Adams is doing the cover. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. I just read something called Heavy Liquid, that’s pretty good. I’m a big fan of Bill Willingham’s Fables, it’s a Vertigo title.
JB: I know that one.
EJ: Man, I love Fables so much. In terms of things that I read, I try and read Hemmingway at least once a month. I’m trying to make my way through all the stuff that he wrote. I just read a book that he wrote with his war correspondence. I ready a biography of Teddy Roosevelt that was really good. I’m reading a Robert Jordan book. It’s sort of a fantasy-Tolkien thing, which is not too bad. My wife’s new book is coming out at the end of the summer, so I’ve been reading that. It’s called Karma for Beginners–it’s really good. Anything that comes across my table, I’ll get into as long as the first few pages are good. I know Dave Eggers a little bit, so I’m reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the first time. And The Good Ship Phaeton–I read it religiously.
JB: We love plugs for our site, so that’ll be featured prominently.
Tags: entertainment, FOX, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, television, TV, Virtuality
5 Things You Should Know About Virtuality (link)
This is coming to us from DVR Playground. Make sure to ignore the last one.
Does Virtuality Have a Future? (link)
Pretty good interview with Michael Taylor posted up at SciFi Wire.
Cast, Creator, On the Future of Virtuality (link)
Just like the title says. The Futon Critic talks to Michael Taylor and the cast about the show.
HitFix also has some good stuff up…
Interview with Gene Farber and Nelson Lee (link)
Interview with Clea DuVall and Erik Jensen (link)
Along with Dan Fien’s review, right here.
Tags: entertainment, FOX, Gary Hutzel, Michael Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, television, TV, Virtuality
Tags: entertainment, Erik Jensen, FOX, Michael Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, television, TV, Virtuality
In an interview with SciFi Wire, Erik Jensen gives his thoughts…
“Dr. Braun is probably the most seemingly centered member of the crew, and probably the most internally conflicted,” Jensen said last week. “They’re embarking on this trip to [the star Epsilon] Eridani to basically save the world. But Dr. Braun is actually sort of trying to run from his past. He experienced a personal tragedy, he and his wife, that he’s trying to both run from and pretend never happened. And, of course, no matter where you go, even if you don’t have a suitcase, your baggage follows you.”
Read the full interview here.
Tags: Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, FOX, Gary Hutzel, Good Ship Exclusive, Michael Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, science fiction, Star Trek, television, TV, Virtuality
Gary Hutzel, who’s worked as Visual FX supervisor on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica and Virtuality, recently talked to us about his work on the show.
Jimmy Bing: First off, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk. I’m a Star Trek fan from way back, so it’s good to talk to somebody who was so involved with that.
Gary Hutzel: Somebody who was there back in the day.
GH: I got started on that back during The Next Generation. Right after the pilot, I was hired onto that.
JB: So one might say that you’re experienced?
GH: I have officially been around the block, I think.
JB: For those who might be getting the job of a VFX supervisor mixed up with someone who works in the art department, how involved are you with the design of ships and sets that are going to be computer animated?
GH: Well, in the case of Virtuality – it’s different for different shows. For instance, since you brought up Star Trek, in working on Star Trek, the art department developed all of the design work for the different ships. It was exclusively Herman Zimmerman’s territory and the artists’ and the art department’s. That was quite a bit different when I came over to Battlestar. Basically, Richard Hudolin, the show designer, basically said, “You do the spaceships, because I’m busy.”
GH: He was very nice about it and we’re still working together, moving ahead on Caprica. He’s just a great guy to work for. So as far as being connected with the art department, I feel very fortunate to be working with someone like Richard, who’s not only a great designer but also is actually happy to have me do the spaceships. Now, on Virtuality of course it’s a different designer. On Virtuality the ship design, except for the interiors, was really left completely in my court. We had the ship design and then, obviously, the virtual backdrop designs as well, which was interesting in itself.
So, the basic design of the Phaeton was based originally on a couple of NASA white papers about doing interstellar travel and the way it would be accomplished. I believe the documents were dated 1983, something like that. When I read those, and about the history of nuclear propulsion, it began to form in my head what the spaceship might look like. I then had Richard Livingston, who is an artist who actually works out of Florida, who I’ve worked with quite a bit in spaceship design, work with me on developing that. Once he started directing those ideas, at that point the set was beginning to be put together and we were able to integrate the set design with the ship itself and viola, we had the Phaeton. Part of the Phaeton is based on the basic science, and part of it was based on, you know, dramatic purpose as well. What would play best as far as playing up the go/no-go scenario which was the fundamental element of the show and what the mechanics would be. So we took some license with the mechanics of the part of the ship that takes the impact from the nuclear explosion. We made that a little more fussy than it probably would be in real life, to help us with the storytelling.
That’s kind of how that was all formed. The concept of the ship being driven by nuclear explosions, of course is a sound science fact, to reach certain speeds. But the element of the…one of the things that was added last minute was the sequence where the nukes are loaded and fired. That was originally taken out of the script to save money and when we got to post [production], it became apparent that we really needed an action set piece. So we completed a complete CG environment to demonstrate how the missiles are loaded and fired from the ship. Then we had the virtual environments, which were great fun because there was very little art direction. As far as laying out the sets were concerned, the only real set pieces were what the actors actually came in contact with. So for instance, if there was a bedroom scene there was basically a frame where the window was, and they could walk through an imaginary door, and there would be a bed and a light that they could turn on and off. And in the case of the bedroom scene, a phone for them to pickup and interact with. The rest of it was completely virtual. So because of the schedule and the desire of the art director, a lot of that stuff was just left in our court to do, which was great fun for us, for our team. We had a lot of fun doing those backgrounds and making those work.
JB: Would you be able to explain that process a little bit more? Exactly what you have to do from the moment you’re handed a script until we see the finished product on TV.
GH: Well specifically, first there’s the element of what it is we’re trying to achieve dramatically with this. And what I mean by that is, one of the things Ron Moore and I discussed quite a bit was, ‘What is the tone of this–what sort of arena are we creating here?’ And the decision was to go with backdrops that would play naturally in the scene, that wouldn’t steal anything away from the drama of the scene, but would clearly be artificial. So your goal is that you’re suddenly aware that you’re in the virtual environment. The benefit of that from a CG standpoint, particularly if the show were to go to series is that we can manipulate that during the scenes, and we did that during several scenes in the show. You can subtly manipulate the background up to actually having things change shape, color, lighting–we can do that all in real time during the course of a scene. And we did that in several scenes in Virtuality to great effect. It’s subtle enough that unless it’s really pointed out, it’s not noticed. It’s somewhat like musical direction, so there’s this sort of subtle, underlying thing that’s occurring in the scene that doesn’t pop right out at you, but does help to direct you in what the scene is about. And those were the discussions that I had specifically with Ron Moore in pre-production. So we got into that.
The environments themselves were relatively passive for this show. In other words, there were no killer robots coming at them, or anything. It was all basically a backdrop for what the actors were doing in the scenes. That allowed us to be pretty fast and loose in post as to how we interpreted what would be in the background. I would say that the process, first of all was, ‘Okay, what is it?’ Second of all was, ‘Okay, is this cost-effective? Can we do this or are we just busting the budget?’ It turns out that by shooting all these VR [virtual reality] scenes against green screens and using this technique, we actually saved quite a bit of money over going to locations and shooting them. There was also the design element, which Ron got behind, which was you won’t get confused. The audience will always be aware that they’re in the VR environment. They’ll never mistake it for a flashback or a, ‘Where are they now?’ We always put heightened elements into every one of the scenes so that the audience would always be aware that this isn’t entirely real. Yet, we balanced it so that it doesn’t take you out of the scene. There’s nothing popping out at you. It’s meant to be subtle enough that you go with the scene without really noticing it, except for actually being aware that you’re in a new environment. Does that make sense?
JB: So you’ve worked on a lot of science fiction. What did you feel was most unique about a show like Virtuality?
GH: Certainly the VR environments. One of the things that Ron wanted to do very, very specifically, and I would say he was a man standing alone on this idea, was that we were never going to have a camera off of the ship. All of the cameras are attached to the ship. We could never remove ourselves from the ship. I’ll tell you that the director didn’t agree with that. I had my concerns about it, about the audience not being grounded and knowing that they’re on-board a spaceship. There was a real concern about it. But I think that in the end, Ron was absolutely right. It created a very unique environment, that’s unique to the show.
Then the VR environments themselves, a number of things went very, very well on that. First of all, the shooting itself was very efficient. Sandy Cochrane, our art director, was fantastic. Even with the set–most of it was comprised of the floor space and some minimum set dressing–he was very clever. He built everything on wheels so that as we finished shooting one set we just rolled the set out and just roll in the next one, and we’d move right on to the next setup and the next shoot. That was actually a good thing for everybody, because everybody, including the director, the actors, the DP [director of photography], everybody was on-board with that and kind of enjoyed it because we moved it along at a really good clip and everyone could focus on the performance and less on problems on the set, or how long did it take to get it all lit, or you know, trucks driving by and we have to retake. All of those things were set aside and we could just focus on the performance, so I think everybody was very happy with that.
So there was that element that went very, very well. And then getting into post and of course the design was just pure fun for us. I mean, we could do anything. It was tremendous fun creating the 3D backdrops. It all went very smoothly. We actually finished the show ahead of schedule and under budget, which was quite an achievement. It had 425 shots in it. We actually had 20 minutes of screen time, the visual effects I mean, in the show. Well, you need 425 shots in the show to cover that kind of time. I was just really pleased. And it’s well-balanced–the performances are wonderful. From our standpoint, from the visual effects standpoint, it was a tremendous success and just a pleasure to work on.
JB: In designing the sets, were there any movies or television shows that you went back to, or that you felt inspired you in a certain way?
GH: No. The way that I like to work generally, well, just a quick background on what goes on here. I was originally hired and I worked on Star Trek, obviously, and I met Ron Moore then. And when Battlestar came around, I saw that it had been green-lighted and I was name-attached to it so I sent an email to him just congratulating him on the green light. It wasn’t more than two minutes later he sent me an email saying, “Get down here and interview for this because we need somebody to do the visual effects.” So I got started back with him on Battlestar. It became real obvious early on on Battlestar that there were not the resources to do the kind of shows they wanted to do in terms of visual effects. They simply didn’t have the money for it. So because I’m working for Ron, the job became less about working on visual effects design and more about how do we get enough visual effects done to tell the story.
So I developed the in-house department. Since the last part of the second season, we’ve been doing most of the visual effects in-house, and in going into the fourth season we’ve done them entirely in-house. And it’s worked out extremely well. Everybody noted as we went into the fourth season that there used to be these long debates about what we had to cut out of the show on Battlestar Galactica, in order to get the visual effects budget down, but then that all went away. They basically wrote it and we did it, which was great for everyone. It was great for the creative people who work for me, who were finally free to exercise their skills and not be limited by, well, you only have two days to work on this shot and you can’t do this and you can’t do that. It was all a matter of what can we do. We’re using the same team on Virtuality. We just transitioned the team over to work on that show, and we’ll actually be using that same team again on Caprica. So, I’m sorry, I kind of took a left turn there explaining the in-house department.
JB: No, no. It’s great.
GH: But it is the core of, for instance, doing a show like Virtuality, where you need to do hundreds of shots. And you need to have the freedom to let the camera roam, you need to let the action evolve in the scene. You can’t be sitting with locked-off cameras and counting shots and messing around with that, and being concerned with, ‘Well, if we have to augment this background it costs more,’ or anything like that. It needs to be a loose creative process, which is exactly what it was on Virtuality. It was very successful.
JB: What did you feel was most challenging about the Virtuality shoot?
GH: I would say that the greatest challenge was really the production. Production was on a really tight schedule and it was a very abbreviated prep schedule. It was a very complicated show to be doing in a very short amount of time and I think that that was very challenging for everyone. But, fortunately, there were a lot of really great people working on the show, so even that was not to as great a degree as it could have been. But certainly shooting, for instance, shooting the Civil War sequence, which took place entirely on an enclosed stage with 300 feet of green screen, or blue screen in this case, all the way around the stage for the horses. There was more than one time I almost got run over. They put up barriers. They put frames around all the gear, so that whenever the horses came out you would have to go inside one of these frames and they would close it. Well, you know, being the visual effects supervisor, there would be times I would have to jump over the fence and run out and reposition markers or take measurements and all that. And there were a couple of occasions where the horses came charging down the arena and I was in the wrong place. Nothing terribly dangerous, but it was pretty exciting.
JB: I guess that’s what they have hazard pay for.
GH: Well they don’t pay hazard pay to some dummy who’s running around.
JB: That’s a good point.
JB: Are there any Virtuality Easter Eggs that viewers should keep an eye out for?
GH: Virtuality Easter Eggs. Well…
JB: Or is that something you want to keep a surprise?
GH: Well, there’s a couple of things I’m not going to tell you about. There are certain things that occurred on the set that caused some of the set pieces to not be quite the correct period and some other elements like that. But I would say that for people who watch carefully, there are several things to watch for. During the sequence, what we call the Rape Sequence, we did a complete color and environment change behind the characters during the sequence. So for people who watch that carefully, they’ll notice that happening. In addition, one of the, that particular background was designed by Doug Drexler, who’s my CG supervisor here. What he did, which was very, very clever, and if you look carefully you’ll see this clearly–no one will notice it unless they’re looking specifically at it–but when you go to the wide shots in this environment, you’ll notice that it has a very unusual background. And as you begin to study it, what you’ll eventually realize if you look at it carefully enough, that what it’s a stairwell. The background is actually a stairwell, where you’re standing at the top of it and you look down and you take a photograph. We literally did that, went to the top of a stairwell, took a photograph, and that became the background for the sequence. So for those who look carefully, you’ll see that right away.
JB: You’re working now on Caprica?
GH: Yes, that’s right.
JB: You’ve talked about transitioning from Battlestar to Virtuality, so with Caprica, is that a full-time job or do you take on different shows at the same time?
GH: We would actually like to take on more shows. For Caprica, what I’ve done is develop a large team of artists that we can call upon when we need to for larger shows. Which really, going into Caprica, we’re only going to be using about half of that team. So in truth, we could do another Caprica at the same time. Whether that occurs or not is really up to the studio, because the operation here is not a profit operation. In other words, I’m the supervisor, I oversee this and I set up the whole operation. I developed it over the last three years specifically for Battlestar, but now we’re moving into other shows. But there’s no profit motive here, in other words, all the people who work for me are hired on the show on a weekly basis. I don’t get paid any extra whether I do 5 shots or 105 shots, and neither do any of the management people who work for me. The benefit for us is that the more shows we work on and the more shots we do, the more I can keep more artists around. The more artists that I can keep around, the greater the variety of textures I can bring to shots. In other words, I don’t have, let’s say, a full-time pyrotechnics guy any more. I did on Battlestar, but I can’t keep that person on Caprica because there’s simply not that much work on Caprica. But if I were working on a second show, I would then have that person’s expertise standing by, which I could then apply to Caprica and push those shots further. So there’s a great benefit to doing multiple shows. Whether that will come to pass or not is really up to Universal and whatever else is going on here.
JB: Have you read anything good lately?
GH: Let me think. I’m trying to remember the title right now. It just went right out of my head. It’s a book that just came out a few months ago about the mechanization of war. I wanted to read that book, and the name will come to me in a moment, I wanted to read that because I wanted to see what was going on right now, because it’s very relevant to Caprica. Because Caprica takes place at a time where there’s the rise of intelligent machines, which is very similar to what we’re experiencing right now. In warfare in particular, that’s where the newest developments are. They’re making surprising headway. I was really surprised to hear how much automated weaponry there is on the battlefield in Iraq and that I found very informative. I think it’s very relevant to working on Caprica, because the story itself has a focal point, obviously, which is the development of the Cylon race and that particular intelligence. How that comes to be, how that begins to spread, its continued development. The interesting thing to do in doing this research and reading was that that type of deployment in the battlefield is already happening. Certainly there are no killer robots walking around in Iraq, but there are robotic remote-controlled devices that are carrying guns and that are firing their weapons at the enemy. That was a surprise to me. I didn’t know that. I just thought, ‘We’re there already. The rise of the machines has begun.’ So I found that fascinating.
(The book Gary was talking about was Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, by P.W. Singer. Check it out here.)
Thanks a lot to Gary for talking to us. If Ron Moore’s Battlestar podcasts taught us one thing, it was that Gary Hutzel is a very busy man, so we definitely appreciate him taking some time out for us.