Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder‘s stories unfold with the shoot done in LA, and set in D.C. and Philadelphia. VFX Legion recently created the visual effects for the crossover episodes of the two series. The storylines of the political thriller and legal drama intersect in a two-hour event, which premiered on 1 March 2018 on ABC and continues to rank as a streaming favourite on Hulu.
The scenario opens with How to Get Away with Murder’s defense attorney Annalise Keating, played by Viola Davis, making an appearance on Scandal‘s turf in the episode, Allow Me to Introduce Myself. Keating travels to D.C. to meet political fixer Olivia Pope played by Kerry Washington to elicit her help fast-tracking a case to the United States Supreme Court. The storyline plays out with the guest appearance of Pope in How to Get Away with Murder’s crossover episode, Lahey versus Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The cast never needs to leave Hollywood, thanks to VFX Legion. The LA based company created a mix of photorealistic CG environments and other effects that made it possible to transport the actors into a variety of digital surroundings.
Legion has handled all of the visual effects for both shows for almost three years, and is slated to work on the upcoming season of How to Get Away with Murder. Over the years, the Shondaland Productions have tasked the company with creating shots of quality CGI for almost 100 episodes. However, the crossover episodes required visual effects that blended with two series that use different tools and each have their own look, presenting a more complex set of challenges.
Scandal is shot on an ARRI Alexa camera, and How to Get Away with Murder on a Sony F55, at different colour temps and under varying lighting conditions. DP preferences and available equipment required VFX Legion to shoot the same environments twice, once with green-screens for Scandal and then again using blue-screens for How to Get Away with Murder. The replication of the Supreme Court building is central to the storyline. Building its exterior facade and interiors of the courtroom were the most complex VFX sequences created for the episodes.
The process began during pre-production with VFX supervisor Matthew Lynn working closely with the client to get a full understanding of their vision. He collaborated with Legion’s head of production Nate Smalley, production manager Andrew Turner, and coordinators Matt Noren and Lexi Sloan on streamlining workflow and crafting a plan that aligned with the shows’ budgets, schedules, and resources. Lynn spent several weeks on R&D, pre-visualisation, and mock-ups.
“These episodes required a combination of good planning and a talented team of over 25 artists and support staff. We pulled out all the stops to deliver a large shot counts of complex, high-quality VFX, and make last minute changes, while still meeting a tight deadline and getting the most value out of the budget,” Lynn said.
A rough 3D model of the set was constructed from hundreds of reference photographs stitched together using Agisoft Photoscan and a technique called photogrammetry. HDRI panoramas and 360 degree multiple exposure photographs of the set were used to match the 3D lighting with the live-action footage. CG modeling and texturing artist, Trevor Harder, then added the fine details and created the finished 3D model.
CG supervisor Rommél Calderon headed up the team of modeling, texturing, tracking, layout, and lighting artists that created D.C.’s Supreme Court building from scratch.
Calderon says, “The CG model of the exterior of the building was a beast and scheduling was a huge job in itself. Meticulous planning, resource management, constant communication with clients and spot-on supervision were crucial to combining the large volume of shots without causing a bottleneck in VFX Legion’s digital pipeline.”
Since the Supreme Court’s staircase is marble, Bishop did a considerable amount of work on the texture, keeping the marble porous enough to blend with the concrete in this key shot. Tracker, Ruy Delgado achieved a perfect lock on the camera moves in SynthEyes using photogrammetry, lens specs, camera measurements and other on-set survey data. The details enabled him to match the marble columns inside the courthouse exactly.
Compositing supervisor Dan Short lead his team through the process of merging the practical photography with renders created with Redshift and then seamlessly composited all of the shots using The Foundry’s NUKE.
Company founder, creative director and senior VFX supervisor James David Hattin added, “The crossover episodes of Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder showcase some of the best television visual effects that VFX Legion has created to date. I’m very proud of all of the hard work that our team put into these shows and the results we achieved. Watching the final shows on air was jaw-dropping.”