The Orville is an American science fiction comedy-drama series created by and staring Seth McFarlane. Set 400 years in the future in 2417, The Orville follows the exploits of the U.S.S Orville and her crew exploring space. The series is from creator and actor Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted) who plays the Captain of this ‘mid level’ spaceship.
The series was inspired by Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek. In particular, the first series’ visual effects were very reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation. To this end the first series did extensive model shoots supervised by Oscar winner Rob Legato and with help from VFX Supervisor Glenn Derry (then with Technoprops). The practical model work was filmed, for the first season, in one initial major models MoCap shoot. The material was then used and reused throughout the 13 part series in much the way it was in the original Star Trek: The Next Generation.
For series two, the visual effects style changed, so too did the use of models. While the model work of series one has a feeling very much like Star Trek, one could argue the Spaceship work of the second series moved to a VFX style that is more like Star Wars. It also includes with very respectful homages to a variety of other landmark films from Fritz Lang 1927 groundbreaking Metropolis to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Pixomondo was a principle VFX vendor this season and VFX Supervisor Nhat Phong Tran comments that the camera work evolved. “In season one, the camera was leading the ships and in Season 2 the ships were leading the camera” he commented.
There was no physical model shots used in season 2. This decision allowed the camera to be freed up. There was a deliberate more to using a more dynamic camera. “We wanted to get in season two and the camera always had to be moving, he (Seth MacFarlane) was very contented to have a ‘more is less approach’, with very clean moves, but this season it seemed everything had to have a push in, pull out or whip pan”, Nhat Phong Tran comments.
Episode 9, part 2 of Identity featured an eight-minute space battle that is arguably the longest continuous space battle in TV history. Fxguide covered this battle, interviewing the other key VFX vendor, FUSE FX, in a previous fxguide story. Fuse FX and Pixomondo were both large contributors to this enormous space battle. CoSA VFX and Crafty Apes also contributed to the season and Episode 9.
Fuse FX works primarily in 3ds Max, while Pixomondo uses primarily a Maya pipeline but with enough 3ds Max, that sharing assets was never a problem. Most critically, both team’s render using V-Ray for the final imagery and the spaceships appear very similar in textures and appearance.
One of the most beautiful sequences of this whole season was Pixomondo’s work for the arrival at the Kaylon city in episode 8, especially in the lighting and volumetric work. The previz team quickly and very successfully pre-vized the arrival sequence. The show’s creative team responded very strongly to the visuals of the sequence. The final shots, while very complex and detailed, came together remarkably quickly. As seen in the video below there is a very clear and direct path from Previz to the final V-Ray renders.
Daniel Carbo, Pixomondo VFX Producer recalls that “it was really cool to see the evolution from very simple of a skeleton idea (in the script), then getting visualized by our previz group really quickly and really successfully. And then seeing the design team take that, along with our environment leads, and do such amazing work. It was really a cool process to witness, and then have Seth and everybody really stoked about it. It was really cool to see that whole process come together”.
Pixomondo previsualized over 1400 unique shots for the 13-episode second season, including over 350 shots for the universally acclaimed 2-part episode, Identity.
Pixomondo’s creative involvement in production of the 13-episodes of season 2 lasted approximately one full year, starting from the writers room and extending to just a few weeks before each episode’s airing. The Previz team consisted of a supervisor plus an average of 3 artists – with the team expanding to accommodate each episode’s layout phase.
Being used more than just as a narrative guideline, the previs for The Orville was systematically treated as the final shots in edit by the production. The visualization lended itself beyond just a template for action choreography and composition, but was heavily utilized in the art directive side as well – helping establish lighting cues, ship design, color theory, and general look development for the show.
Because the production was so invested in the previs, it provided a 1:1 blueprint for the finals team and brought Seth MacFarlane’s creative vision to life almost a year before each episode hit network.