Goliath Season 3 VFX Interview with Michael Shelton (Overall VFX Supervisor), Bojan Zoric (VFX Supervisor) and Celine Zoleta (VFX Producer) – Pixomondo
January 31, 2020 – Excellent interview with Pixomondo, the global VFX company. Overall VFX Supervisor Michael Shelton, PXO Los Angeles, VFX Supervisor Bojan Zoric, PXO Toronto and VFX Producer Celine Zoleta, PXO Toronto talks to VFX Online about working on Goliath Season 3.
Goliath is an American legal drama web television series by Amazon Studios. The show was commissioned with a straight-to-series order of eight episodes on December 1, 2015 and premiered on October 13, 2016, on Prime Video. On December 11, 2018, the series was renewed for a third season, which premiered on October 4, 2019. On November 14, 2019, Amazon announced the series was renewed for a fourth and final season.
// From Overall VFX Supervisor Michael Shelton, PXO Los Angeles, VFX Supervisor Bojan Zoric, PXO Toronto and VFX Producer Celine Zoleta, PXO Toronto
How did Pixomondo get involved with this show?
Michael Shelton: We were initially hired on Season 2 to help with a few challenging shots which led to our involvement for Season 3 as the primary vendor.
Celine Zoleta: We were very excited since this season required a lot more VFX than previous seasons.
Let us know about the core team of Pixomondo who worked on Goliath Season 3?
Shelton: The core team was comprised of myself as the show supervisor who oversaw the design and on set needs of the work, and Bojan Zoric who was the VFX Supervisor for Pixomondo Toronto and oversaw the execution of shot work. We were produced by Celine Zoleta out of our Toronto Studio.
Bojan Zoric: My core team consisted of 5-6 CG artists spread between departments from assets to match-move, lighting, and effects. Three Matte painters provided set extension elements and 15 compositors brought all of it together. PXOo’s production team facilitated ingest, distribution and delivery of finished shots enabling the facility to deliver 100+ shots weekly.
How was this collaboration with the Director? What were their expectations and approach for the Visual Effects?
Shleton: The collaboration was integral tour process and to Larry Trilling our Director. Hewas trusting and open to suggestions that helped drive the story. In Season 3 the visual effects component grew to a level of complexity the previous seasons had not attempted so he was counting on us to give him good advice and protect the show. We took that trust very seriously.
How did you balance the Director’s vision when creating VFX for this show?
Shelton: Larry is a very collaborative Director and he is someone who, if you can gain his confidence, will allow for a level of freedom and decision making that helps in the design of the effect, whatever it may be. We never deviated from his creative intentions and he was always open to suggestions of how we could shoot something for maximum impact.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with the Overall VFX supervisor? How was the support from Amazon?
Shelton: As the overall VFX Supervisor, the collaboration between myself and PXO Toronto was great! We didn’t interact as much with Amazon directly outside of sharing some early work in progress with some of the Executive Producers.
Zoric: Despite the distance, the collaboration with Mike Shelton was very effective, linking the Toronto team with the LA production team members and providing overall guidance and approach to the VFX. Mike was an essential link to the director and was always available for creative feedback and hashing out of ideas. This came in especially handy during the complex sequences like the water tunnel escape where we were able to, via Mike, to participate in shot planning before the shoot and to provide frequent updates for individual shots and the overall sequence.
Zoleta: As the VFX Producer for this show, it was necessary for me to have a clear idea on how we were going to execute the creative vision of the Director and Showrunners with the time and resources we had at that moment. Michael and Bojan were very good at creating a clear approach to what we needed. Michael was guiding the team on-set and advising the creatives on the technical requirements we needed for our sequences. He also led the previs team which helped extensively with planning out and visualizing the CG water tunnel sequence before and during the shoot.
Having first worked on Goliath Season 2, what was your new approach for Goliath Season 3? Can you tell us more about the previs and postvis work?
Shelton: Season 3 had more tentpole VFX sequences that required previs and some postvis, which helped in our planning as well as productions planning. We get into the minutiae when we are planning shots out, and I did quite a bit of techvis as well. Being able to give production specific sizes for greenscreen, and being able to show camera sets ups that are accurate is vital, and was greatly appreciated by production.
Zoric: PXO’s early involvement in the planning of complex sequences, such as the water tunnel escape, meant that we were able to previs the action overall before the shoot started. Using our previs pipeline, we were able to provide a range of camera angle options within the CG environment of the tunnel so that the director was aware of the limitations, and could utilize the space effectively. By blocking in digi-double animation together with proxy water simulations, we were able to assist (actor) Billy Bob Thorton with understanding the timing cues and the overall choreography in the sequence.
Postvis was essential in the sequences featuring our full CG crow. Animators choreographed flight paths of the animated crow in relation to the reactions of characters in plate, making sure eye contact was accurate, and that reactions with the environment were timed to work with the plate. Once approved by the director, these roughly blocked animations were then detailed and elaborated to bring life and realism to the crow’s overall actions.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer on set?
Shelton: I try to be on set as much as possible, even when no VFX are planned, just to get a sense of the little things that tend to pile up quickly. Paint outs and beauty fixes can easily dwarf the planned work, so it’s good to have an idea of how big the unplanned pile is going to be.
What was your approach for environment destruction? What kind of references and indications did you receive for the show? Can you tell us more about the girl driving car with raining effect?
Zoric: Our one major shot of this kind was a night view of the creation of the orchard sink-hole.Using SideFX Houdini, Our FX artists worked with the medium resolution model of the orchard terrain to create a convincing simulation of the collapse of soil, along with creation of plumes of dust rising from the sinkhole as the structure collapses from the center-out.
This simulation was then enhanced with detailed debris passes, and used as a driving guide for the simulation of vines, stakes and trellis supports. As first tests came through, it became obvious that FG sections of the plate would also have to be replaced by full CG vineyard to allow for visible vibrations and shifting in the vines caused by the collapse in the mid-ground.
Our lighting department then provided HDRI maps to match the plate lighting, and added some finishing touches by animating the falling flashlight as an interactive lighting element illuminating the clouds of dust coming from the sinkhole.Our compositing department then provided final integration of CG vineyard with BG plate, and used the character in the plate to create a convincing falling action, and tied in all of the elements together in a quick but effective shot.
What kind of references and indications did you receive for the show?
Zoric: Production provided PXO with mockups and photo reference and at times with SketchUp files which were most useful in creating set extensions. At times we’d get specific motion reference from the direction showcasing type of movement needed for the crow, or the pen worm, in select shots. PXO data wranglers collected set photo information as well for creation of photogrametry models and collected camera information which is crucial for match-moving and CG set building rebuilding.
Can you tell us more about the girl driving car with raining effect?
Zoric: This was a very challenging shot as it involved stitching three separate driving plates to create an impression of a single take: capturing the pre-crash, moment of impact, and post-crash. Since the crash plate involved the driving car being towed into a concrete pillar, with a stunt double in the seat, it was a very challenging transition. Through a combined use of match-moving and re-projection of plate on geometry, PXO re-built the exterior of the car, and the car windshield, while blending between the actress and stunt double in two different spots, using camera shake to facilitate a seamless transition. On top of all this Nuke particles were used in combination with the match move to extend the falling rain and patch empty sections in the original plates.
Did you work with any CG elements on this show?
Shelton: Production built a stunt car with a full rain rig which gave us interaction on the car windows itself. We then needed to add rain on the street to blend in. The crash itself was a blend of two vehicles, one driven by a stunt driver situated in a rig on the roof, and the other was a crash car. Both cars had identical camera set ups in them and the shot was accomplished as a stitch. Pain was involved!
What was the most challenging shot or sequence that you did and why?
Zoleta: The most challenging sequences were the CG water tunnel, sink hole, and car crash sequences. For the tunnel sequence, we had to create the CG tunnel and enhance/extend what was shot on set. We needed to create the water and destruction in the tunnel, while adding Billy’s performance that was shot separately on green screen. Integrating all of this together was challenging but because it was well planned out with storyboards, concepts, previs and post-vis, we were able to execute the creative vision with the direction of Michael and Bojan.
What are the sequences made by Pixomondo?
Shelton: Pixomondo was responsible for all the VFX sequences for Season 3.
Zoleta: As the primary vendor for Goliath Season 3, we did VFX work on every episode, including the CG crow sequences, Water Tunnel sequence, the sinkhole and vineyard, Wade hallucinating in The Rose sequence, both Diana car crash sequences, casino interior and exterior set extensions, and Almond commercial sequence.
How long did you work on the show, what was the overall shot count, and what was the size of the team?
Zoleta: It took us about four to five months to work on the show, with an overall shot count of 546. We had a crew of about 130 people across both LA and Toronto studios.
What’s your favourite memory of working on this show?
Shelton: We had a period of around 10 days of continuous VFX shooting which included the tunnel sequence we would be flooding with water. I remember getting the test of the water sim from Bojan and showing it around to people. The reaction was so uplifting and the crew was very excited to see a glimpse of what was to come. That test bought us a lot of confidence from Larry and the Producers.
Zoleta: My favorite moments would be watching our final versions in the water tunnel cut – seeing all of our shots come together was very rewarding for the team. The other, was watching our Rose sequence evolve with all the multiplying Wades. It was a quirky and slightly creepy to see so many of them in the theatre, but it was great to see that it carried out the right effect to the audience.
Any upcoming projects of Pixomondo?
Shelton: I’m sitting on set right now for Season 4 of Goliath!
Zoleta: Season 4 of course!
Many thanks to the Pixomondo Team for sharing with us their experiences.
For more info, visit at Goliath Season 3 Pixomondo Page.