In our latest interview, we spoke with Josephine Noh, the FuseFX VFX Supervisor on Amazon’s The Terminal List. The Terminal List follows a former Navy SEAL officer as he investigates why his entire platoon was ambushed during a high-stakes covert mission. The show dropped on Amazon Prime on July 1st.
For this series, the team at FuseFX worked on 297 VFX shots, which included creating muzzle flashes, blood, and the battle scenes throughout the show. Some of the most notable moments include a beach battle scene in the first episode where FuseFX created truck fires and a CG cliff and compound set extension.
PH: Can you give readers a little insight into your journey as a VFX supervisor? How did you get your start in the industry?
Josephine Noh: Although my title in the show credits is VFX Supervisor, my title is Digital Effects or DFX Supervisor at FuseFX NY which is very similar to a VFX supervisor role in some ways like leading projects and interacting with clients. The main difference is that DFX supervisors are more in-house and are not going to sets as often or as long as VFX supervisors.
After graduating from the School of Visual Arts, I did some internships and landed a permalance job at Curious Pictures in NY. I started off as a CG lighter and while on the job, I learned about compositing and it became my new focus. After freelancing for nine years at numerous studios, I became a staff comper at FuseFX NY and over the next seven years, I climbed through the ranks and became a DFX supervisor.
PH: What are some of the considerations you have when looking for new projects to work on?
Josephine Noh: I tend to look for new projects that are different from the last just to spice things up. They don’t necessarily need to be creatively new, just different is a welcomed change for me. For example, my project before Terminal List was Colin in Black and White which required a lot of relighting of rooms so switching gears and focusing on military elements was appealing to me.
PH: How did you get involved in The Terminal List?
Josephine Noh: I heard that the show’s VFX supervisor would be Jon Massey who was formerly from FuseFX LA. I worked with him on 911 Season Four and enjoyed the experience of working together so I volunteered to take on Terminal List.
When it came to workload, we decided that our NY and LA offices would split the workload with NY taking on most of the work led by me and LA led by Evan Underwood focusing on some of the complex CG scenes. Clark Harding was our producer for both offices which helped a lot with communications and wrangling resources.
PH: Can you describe some of the VFX shots you had to create for this? What did prep look like?
Josephine Noh: Matte paintings were used heavily for 104 and 106. For 104, we did a whole range of the Grand Tetons and for 106, we created environment DMPs for the scenes involving the landslide including the scenes leading up to it and the aftermath.
We collected an extensive library of muzzle flashes to ensure we had as close of a match to the guns used on the show. For 105’s battle, we used Sapphire’s Muzzle Flash plugin because of its 3D capabilities and we enhanced them with added texture.
Starlings were also a theme of the show. LA’s CG team created and animated the starlings in 101 and 103 and the compers integrated them and added cracks to the windows as the starlings hit the glass surface.
PH: Let's talk about the beach battle scene in the first episode. How did that come about and what all did you create to make that come to life?
Josephine Noh: The beach battle was the catalyst for the main character James Reece’s revenge journey. Antoine Fuqua directed this episode and he wanted the beach battle scene to feel chaotic instead of a calm, pleasant day at the beach. So our NY team added layers of 3D and 2D rotor wash elements to help with the illusion that the helicopters were landing on the beach when in fact the helicopter did not land during filming. The CG team created the truck fires with huge, complex smoke plumes and they created the background cliff range, both enhancing the environment in big ways.
There was one wide shot early in the scene where we changed the terrain of the lower cliff with a CG compound as the enemy base and our matte painter added in a dirt road and she also blended in the CG cliffs to the practical lower cliff seamlessly. What took the most coordination was placing and timing all the ground hits, tracer rounds, and muzzle flashes coming from the two opposing sides as well as from the mini-guns in the helicopters.
PH: Can you share some other really cool VFX shots viewers can look forward to?
Josephine Noh: Our LA team did a great job with the landslide scene in 106 and I’m excited for everyone to see it. The FX team used Houdini for the landslide and the compers layered in 2D dust and particles as atmospheric elements in Nuke.
PH: What were some of the VFX challenges you encountered?
Josephine Noh: Sim times were definitely a big challenge, especially for the landslide. Our FX artists did rounds of testing to get the texture of the landslide looking right. The landslide couldn’t look too sandy or too muddy and getting the rocks the right size range contributed to this balancing act.
PH: How have you seen the industry change over the past year?
Josephine Noh: It’s well-known within the industry how high the demand is for VFX. It’s good business for everyone and it shows how essential VFX is.
PH: What do you think the future of VFX looks like?
Josephine Noh: There are projects that try to avoid VFX entirely for budgetary or creative reasons and I respect that but I do think it will become harder to avoid over time. The capabilities of VFX are going to be constantly pushed to the limit which will expand its creative expression and its role in storytelling.
PH: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to share (or that you can share?)
Josephine Noh: I can’t really share the project name currently but I can say that I will be working on an upcoming feature and I’m very excited to get started.