Syfy’s Resident Alien starring Alan Tudyk (Firefly), who plays “Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle,” an alien who has taken on the identity of a small-town Colorado doctor. CoSA VFX is the primary visual effects vendor for the 10-episode series and VFX house Artifex Studios added 685 shots, amid COVID-workflow adjustments in 2020.
CoSA VFX Animation
Resident Alien has offered multiple opportunities for CoSA VFX‘s Animation team to shine, from environments to CG characters and everything else in between, and also for the team to have quite a bit of fun in the process.
“It was fun. They let us experiment to find the character. We did a lot of things that were probably even a little outlandish, looking back at it,” comments CoSA’s animator Roger Vizard, adding that Harry the alien had a lot of emotional values that we do they try to touch upon in the animation. “He’s a brilliant character to work with”.
Getting the alien on a horse was probably the biggest challenge the animators faced, as the nine-foot-tall alien was certainly larger than the stunt actor riding the horse in the raw footage. To accomplish this, the team watched and studied how the horse would react and animated Harry with matching interactions. Additionally, the horse was match-moved for seamless integration with dynamic elements and the animated character. This featured sequence for the third episode, where an ordinarily classic Western moment becomes something else entirely.
CoSA’s lead animator Teri Shellen commented that he hopes this kind of work continues to come to the studio, as these types of shots are very rewarding for the animators to tackle. “When we get episodes like this, they’re treasured, because we actually really get to get into character development and really push that field in our studio,”
CoSA also worked on many of the environment shots and in particular the pilot episode’s ship crashing to earth after being hit by lightning.
Artifex was involved early in setting key environments for “Resident Alien” and continued to add embellishments or build-outs dependent on scene requirements. In episode 6, the studio augmented stock plates to add sweeping snow-covered mountain ranges, while episode 8 saw a build-out of practical glaciers into a full environment.
The glacier sequence in episode 8 in particular demanded that virtually every moment was touched in some way by the VFX team. Artifex used matte painting, CG extensions, smoothing and alteration of the set, and texture work to subtly add snow and ice.
Artifex also did creature animation, in episode 7 their team created a CGI octopus which Alan Tudyk interacts with through aquarium glass. Their conversation suggests that Harry’s species and octopuses are closely related, something which Harry himself later states to Asta Twelvetrees. Nathan Fillion previously co-starred with Tudyk in the 2003 series Firefly and its concluding film Serenity. Fillion is not the only fan favourite guest star on the show, Sci-Fi acting legend Linda Hamilton plays General McCallister, a high-ranking U.S. military officer.
The photo-real octopod inspires a later scene in episode 9 Artifex had to supplant Tudyk’s leg with a tentacle. For the scene, the team painted out what was visible of Alan Tudyk’s leg, and added the CG leg, complete with flailing animation, and interaction with the bacon.
“The animation had to find a sweet spot that suited the vocal performance accompanying it,” said Artifex VFX Supervisor Rob Geddes. “We wanted to be careful to provide a grabbing visual without taking the viewer out of the moment by being too intentionally cartoonish or farcical.”
For the Day for Night (DFN) sequence above, the scene was shot in full daylight, but needed to shift in the edit, making it into a night sequence. This required extensive roto, with matte painted elements to introduce lit building interiors, and streetlights.
Rounding out the work was the inside of the spaceship in episode 10, the season finale. Artifex designed and integrated the spaceship interior inside and around the green screen set.
The project spanned roughly a year due to delays imposed by COVID, with both internal and external adjustments being made to reflect the realities of working remotely.
Hardware/software used during the project included Maya / V-Ray for modeling, animation, and rendering; tracking in Syntheyes, matte painting in Photoshop, compositing in Nuke, scheduling and production tracking in ftrack, and Meshroom for photogrammetry.
Executive producer and showrunner Chris Sheridan (Family Guy) and his talented creative staff have announced that the show has just been picked up for a second season and will return soon to Syfy.