Invisible Effects of living in the WestWorld

FutureWorks, a Mumbai-based VFX house completed 550 shots for HBO’s Emmy-winning last season of Westworld. We caught up with the team for this look at how some of the defining aesthetic elements of the show were brought to life, such as the Drone Hosts and cryochambers.

William (aka The Man in Black), played by Oscar-nominated Ed Harris

FutureWorks once again were proud to be working with HBO and long-term collaborator Jay Worth. FutureWorks have previously collaborated with Jay on productions including MacGyver (2016) and Debris (2021) and were involved early on in the production of Westworld, developing concepts and helping to suggest and find solutions for the ever more ambitious storytelling in the series. The team implemented VFX solutions across the full spectrum, from clean-up to full CG shots. Apart from larger shots, the team did a host of complex cleanup work – especially in the glass-walled lab, seen in Episode 4: ‘Fidelity’ as part of Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) attempt to escape.

Westworld Supervisor Jay Worth noted: “I’ve worked with Gouri and the FutureWorks teams over a number of years and productions now, and this is the second series of Westworld that we’ve collaborated on. Gouri and the team consistently exceed my expectations in terms of professionalism, quality of work and ease of communication.”

Tracking and environment work. The team use 3DEqualizer and Nuke for camera and object tracking.

Set in a futuristic dystopian host-controlled universe, Westworld tells the story of a group of android ‘hosts’ who deviate from their programmers’ carefully planned scripts. The 8-episode Season 4 picked up seven years after the protracted war, when humanity is finally free. Or so it seemed.

Set Extension

FutureWorks were awarded 550 shots across this seson, doubling their team on the project to 45 artists, compared to their work on season 3 and led by VFX Supervisor Gouri Shankar.

Drone Hosts

For the Drone Hosts enforcers of Westworld, the actors wore 4-inch thick skin suits which transform them into the faceless and skinless characters we see on screen. FutureWorks worked on the Drone Host characters across the series to remove any lingering human characteristics post shooting.

Artists ensured that the areas of the skinsuit that were kept open during the shoot (enabling actors to see), were disguised for their on-screen appearance, also removing suit wrinkles and general clean up to ensure the suits looked less like a suit, and more like synthetic skin.

The team was impressed with the practical suits, so none of the proportions needed to be changed. But no matter how good the suit was, when an arm flexes, the suit naturally folds, vs the ‘muscles’ flexing in the arm of the DroneHost. The team therefore carefully enhanced the onset results to sell the illusion. This was all done in Nuke by the comp team, without the need for 3D.

Set Extensions

The huge chamber of cryotubes that we see in the series was also enhanced by the FutureWorks team, who extended the practical set to give the impression of the chamber being infinitely long. The team favored doing the set extension with 2 1/2 D camera projections vs. 3D. It was faster to achieve, and once Jay Worth saw the realism the team could achieve in Nuke, the team primarily moved all the environment work to be done via camera projection in Nuke.

Interestingly, the sequences with cryotubes were shot on two different sets, at two different times, due to scheduling, so one of the team’s tasks was to make both sets look identical and the one location to the audience.

In the sequence where lead character William (aka The Man in Black), played by Oscar-nominated Ed Harris, is being kept alive in one of the tubes, we see illuminated fluid pass through his body, all thanks to FutureWorks 2D artists.

Charlotte controls the crowd

This was shot on location, as in the back of this shot was the cities natural traffic and normal commuters, all of this had to be replaced in post and new buildings and roads added.

Episode 5 sees Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and the clone of William (Ed Harris) prepare their ‘perfect world’. In a key scene, they flaunt their power in the street as Charlotte controls the crowds. FutureWorks set about creating their own perfect world in line with the filmmakers’ aim for this scene, extending the environment and placing elements very specific to the Westworld universe like the white street furniture in the scene.

The team has real strength in compositing, and the team regularly delivers UHD projects, for WestWorld the team’s OpenEXR pipeline went into a UHD 4K master with highly accurate and detailed work. “Especially working with Jay, he is so meticulous, before you start a show you get this very clear documentation on how everything should work,” Shankar comments. “And this reduces the amount of problems or variance dramatically. I think that really a credit to the (on-set) team he has working with him”

FutureWorks

FutureWorks is a leader in end-to-end film production from VFX & sound post to the supply of high-precision cameras and lens rental. They have a dedicated team of over 300 talented artists, spread across four integrated facilities in India. The team is often involved in pre-vis, tech-vis, and project design, this combines their experience with physical cameras along with their current edge Mo-Cap stage and Unreal Engine visualizations. “We offer both a complete solution as well as just focused effects solutions” commented VFX Supervisor Gouri Shankar. This cross-functional approach really adds depth to the services FutureWorks can offer. “The VFX team has a lot of support for example – from lens mapping – curvature maps, right up to – we recently build a 360-degree, nine-camera rig for filming car plates for a Netflix project,” he points out.

FutureWorks was founded in 2007 and now covers both the extensive local and international markets in all areas of camera hire, pre-viz, MoCap, VFX, post and sound.