CGI effects composite of the Brunnen
G Dragonfly Fighters.
Production design artwork, showing
the ship's weapon launching tail.
EFFECTS Setting new standards for
By Ian Johnston
To achieve the elaborate special
visual effects of LEXX, creator/producer Paul Donovan brought in C.O.R.E.
Digital Pictures, a three-year-old Toronto computer animation company whose
previous work included computer-generated effects on TEK WAR, the pilot for THE
OUTER LIMITS ("The Sandkings"), and some of the downloading sequences
in JOHNNY MNEMONIC. "The CG effects on this are going to be far beyond
anything you might see on BABYLON 5 or SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND," said
C.O.R.E president Bob Munroc. "Those shows have so far set the standard for
TV. We want to take it farther."
Munroe estimated 70% of its
LEXX's footage will contain computer animation in one form or another. For some
space battles and planet incinerations, the entire scene may be computer
generated. In other cases, CG will be used to enhance or dress up existing live
action shots. "One of the specialities of C.O.R.E. is being able to
integrate computer animation and live action so that you wouldn't notice
anything," he said. "The pilot episode for TEK WAR was and probably
still is the most effects-oriented show ever produced for TV--more than even the
DEEP SPACE NINE pilot. But most people wouldn't think of TEK WAR that way. We
tried to integrate the effects as much as possible."
Ironically, for a show that is
taking pains to avoid the ground trod by STAR TREK, C.O.R.E.'s CEO is none other
than William Shatner. "Bill is 10% hands-on and 90% figurehead," said
Munroe. "He is the guy who brings us the attention, an who knows all the
C.O.R.E.'s CGI work creates the
series' insect ships, such as story #1's battleship The Foreshadow, a spiderweb-like
ship that opens up to fire sheets of energy at planets. "The Foreshadow is
sort of organic in how it looks, opening up to fire this death ray," said
producer Bill Flemming, who headed the show's design group. "The next
generation [Mega Shadow] is more octopus like. And there's also ships that have
been developed that have more of a fish like, cigar-tube look.
"They [The League] have
defeated this culture, but without mastering their technology," said
C.O.R.E. animator Steve Elliot, who worked four months on the Mega Shadow
spacecraft. "It takes them thousands of years, but after a while, they
learn how to grow spaceships, not build them." Computer animation is also
being employed to convey the LEXX exterior--a bulbous insect head with multiple
bug eyes, on a slim, mechanical frame.
Stanley Tweedle's space craft is
prepared for a shot by David Albitson, who heads the team in charge of
LEXX's models, minatures and prosthetics.
Noted art director Mark Laing--who
has previously worked on set design for the Nova Scotia-shot Hollywood projects
THE SCARLET LETTER and DOLORES CLAIBORNE--working with CG is quite a freeing
process for an architect used to having to deal with the realities of building
materials and gravity. "For something like the Cluster mortuary, you could
really play with the size of the thing," said Laing, referring to the
graveyard of His Shadow, "In that, we designed an 800-meter-high structure
that looked sort of like a funereal urn from the outside Inside, it's
honeycombed with hundreds and hundreds of bodies. Try building something like
that on set."
For art director Nigel Scott,
going from stage work to designing for computers had its pluses and minuses.
"There was a terror from my perspective, because my history is in designing
sets that are built by hand," said Scott. "We'd design something for
LEXX thinking that they would be built, only to find out they're being done by
computer. You'd think to yourself, 'I wish I'd knows that in the first place,'
because when you're dealing with CG, the sky's the limit."