The new Supergirl series kicks off next week on CBS with the pilot episode. Here, audiences will meet Kara Danvers, also known as Kara Zor-El from Krypton and soon to be known as Supergirl - played by Melissa Benoist. Encore handled the show’s visual effects, which include scenes of Supergirl flying and fighting, views of National City where she lives, and plenty of baddies. We asked visual effects supervisor Armen Kevorkian about just some of the work seen in the pilot.
fxg: The obvious question is, how did you make Supergirl fly?
Kevorkian: We do that in multiple ways. We obviously shoot Melissa on greenscreen for the close-up shots. We have a digital double of her too. Then sometimes it’s a combination of where, say, she’ll come into place and it will transition from a CG double landing or the opposite where she’s on the ground and it’s a mix to her taking off where we transition to the CG double.
fxg: Did you have a chance to do a Light Stage capture of Melissa, like you did for The Flash?
Kevorkian: Absolutely, we did a Light Stage of her for the pilot. It had worked out so great for The Flash and we had a good looking digital double. She’s a little bit more difficult because she has long hair and a cape and a skirt, so that part makes it a little more challenging.
fxg: How did you deal with the flowing hair and cape?
Kevorkian: We have lots of different artists - a groomer sculpting her hair, for example. There’s a lot of simulations for hair and cape. It’s more than just animation.
fxg: How do you construct those transition shots of her taking off or landing?
Kevorkian: With the landing, what we’ll do is have Melissa do the last few beats of settling in place. She’ll be in the plate the whole time. We’ll paint her out to do the transition, we’ll do camera moves to show how the cameraman is trying to follow her coming in. And we then do an animation of her transitioning into the real, then the last few frames is pretty much a matchmove so you could find the right frame to transition from digital to real. You have to line everything up.
There’s a fun transition on the building rooftop where she’s not wearing the Supergirl suit yet - she just has her work outfit on - where she goes over Winn’s (Jeremy Jordan) character loop de loop and lands. Melissa would be standing in place. We’d do the whole camera move mimicking the speed. Then we cued her at the moment where we thought we’d ‘find’ her. After a few takes you get a sense of what felt right.
fxg: What animation challenges did you face for her flying and also fighting - how fast do you make her move, given she has superpowers but the audience still needs to ‘see’ her?
Kevorkian: That’s a similar issue we had with Flash. You have physics in mind, but you ultimately want to do what’s visually pleasing. It’s a lot of back and forth about how fast to make her - you might miss her from the motion blur. It’s about finding the fine line of what gives you the sense of her speed in her power but what looks good visually.
fxg: What are the different powers she has and how did you accomplish them?
Kevorkian: She has x-ray vision, cold breath and heat vision. For the heat vision we chose to go with blue - as we were R&D’ing it I thought, well, blue is a hotter flame than red, and it hasn’t been done. So I presented it as an option to the producers and they did like it. So we went with the blue flame rather than the red that’s been established previously. X-ray vision we tried to keep it simple to tell the story, and not overdo. It’s specific to every shot in terms of playing up how much we see of say someone’s bones.
fxg: How did you achieve the airplane rescue seen in the pilot episode?
Kevorkian: It was pretty much 80 per cent digital, between Supergirl’s digital double, the city, the plane and the bridge. We built a digital city specific to what National City would look like. We designed a bridge which worked for the story of how she gets the plane through. It’s at night so you get the nice bokeh effect from the lights - it gives you a beauty to the tragedy that’s happening. Since the pilot we’ve done many daytime digital city shots, but this plane save the nighttime setting really lent itself to the final look.
CBS' Supergirl airs October 26th.
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