Art Codron is FuseFX VFX supervisor on the upcoming third season of Outer Banks, which premiered February 23rd on Netflix.
One of the most significant aspects of FuseFX's work this season was creating an animated plane and crashing it into the Caribbean ocean. To accurately represent this sequence, Art and his team studied the effects of a plane crashing into a large mass of water. The crash was done through water simulations and physics to calculate the interaction of the plane hitting the water at specific points.
The team was also challenged in creating the elements of the El Dorado Caves that were shot in South America. The team relied on composition and CG work to incorporate carpenter walls, gold paints in the walls, giant chunks of gold, and a flickering light that can be seen throughout the scene like a flare.
PH: Hi Art! Can you describe a bit about your professional history and how you got into visual effects?
Art Codron: I started out as an assistant editor out of college in the late 80s and eventually found myself in a visual effects editor position. I was recruited to help out with some VFX coordination on the Star Trek Voyager pilot and wound up transitioning fully to VFX within a year.
PH: How do you go about selecting a project to work on? Do you have a certain criteria you follow?
Art Codron: I usually get on projects due to a past relationship with a client. We have many clients that return to us for VFX work with whatever project they are working on. In the case of Outer Banks, the production side supervisor Larry Detwiler has a long history with FuseFX, and we are grateful he chose to come to us to help with the VFX work on Season 3 OBX.
PH: Can you share how you became involved with Outer Banks?
Art Codron: Most of the team that worked at FuseFX on Outer Banks previously had moved on via retirement, change of company, etc. I was approached by the folks who run FuseFX Los Angeles to take over for season 3, and I jumped at the opportunity as the show always has some really cool shot work.
PH: Can you talk me through your pre-production mindset when constructing the design and effects?
Art Codron: We begin thinking about things in earnest when we get sequences turned over to us in post-production. We have kick-off discussions with Larry Detwiler about what the EPs are looking for, and we go over in fine detail any and all design and reference materials. We then roll up our sleeves and dive into it from there.
PH: More specifically - what were some of the challenges you encountered? What was your experience creating an animated plane that crashed into the Caribbean Ocean?
Art Codron: The seaplane crash in the ocean was one of our more challenging sequences this season. Not only did we need to crash a plane realistically, but it needed to crash into the water. Once we had the general crash motion worked out, we began simulating the FX water. It takes a lot of passes to get the water into shape. Not only does it need to look real and organic, but it needs to also be dramatic. As we worked out the sequence, we went back and tweaked some of the animations to improve it and added some physics to make the water look even more dramatic. An extra challenge is having all the shots work together in a cut, matching continuity, and having a consistent look.
PH: How did you simulate a plane crash in a large body of water? What research did you have to do to make sure this relayed properly on screen?
Art Codron: The EP’s found a clip on YouTube of an actual seaplane crash that they thought looked pretty close to what they were looking for. It’s always great to have some reference material to start with. So, we knew going in what we were striving for physics-wise and dramatically. That’s a huge head start! Once we had our general animation in shape, we then did water crash simulations in Houdini, which is the program we use for FX water. It’s a complicated science/physics-based program we use for water, fire, particles, etc.
PH: How does relying on physical structures differ from being able to use visual effects? How does that influence how you design?
Art Codron: In cases like that, we are augmenting something that already exists. So, we only need to create what needs to be added. We will evaluate a shot and/or sequence and determine whether it can be done via a 2D matte painting solution or needs a more involved 3D CGI solution. For the caves, we actually used both.
PH: For example, you also created elements of the El Dorado Caves in South America. How did you rely on composition and CG work? Can you talk me through some of those designs?
Art Codron: Production supplied us with detailed art department designs and concept drawings. Again, having this type of information at the start of the process is invaluable for getting things in the ballpark right out of the gate. They, of course, get tweaked along the way, but it’s a roadmap. The composition of each shot drives where the CG features must go.
PH: Can you dive deep into some of the sets you specifically had to create? Where did your inspiration come from?
Art Codron: The main set augmentation we did in season 3 was the El Dorado Cave. The location by itself was breathtaking, even without any VFX. We wanted to amplify the awe-inspiring feeling of the cave with the VFX work. The idols and associated imagery gave it an eerie, mystical feeling, greatly enhancing the original location.
PH: Did you encounter any challenges from a design perspective?
Art Codron: A big challenge with sequences like the cave is keeping things consistent from a shot-to-shot continuity perspective. Once that is achieved, sometimes a particular shot, while technically correct, will not be as dramatic. That’s when we cheat reality a bit and nudge things here or there to make it more dramatic, but not in a way that breaks continuity. It’s a fine line. One of the more difficult things we needed to achieve technically was adding gold veins throughout the cave walls. It, of course, needed to match, shot to shot. One of our compositors (Brian Smallwood) created a setup in our nuke compositing software via smart vectors that achieved this challenging task beautifully.
PH: In your opinion, does this season really step it up in terms of VFX? How do the effects become part of the overall story of the show this season?
Art Codron: I feel VFX really was stepped up this season. They are still overall more of the invisible VFX category (no monsters or sci-fi / magical VFX), but the concepts, in general, have gotten more ambitious, which we love! It’s not every day we get to crash a seaplane or animate a humpback whale. Pretty much all the VFX in the show are things that one can encounter in everyday life… we can’t hide behind sci-fi or magical events for the VFX work. It all needs to tell the story and look organically like all the VFX were practical as shot on set.
PH: Do you have a favorite set you'd like to share with us? (How it came together, why it's your favorite, etc.)
Art Codron: I really enjoyed the two shots of Ward’s plane going through the clouds and lightning storm. Initially, the shots were just supposed to be a jet put into a stock aerial shot. But the filmmakers thought it would be more dramatic to have the plane going through storm clouds and some lightning flashing in the clouds. We created FX clouds and lightning to work with the CG-animated plane. Our comp supervisor Kerry Raport did a beautiful job compositing all the elements, and I can say the shots came out exactly how I had pictured them in my head, which is always gratifying.
PH: What's a big focus for you this year (personally or professionally)?
Art Codron: I have been blessed to have so much cool material to work on year after year, and I look forward to more of the same. Season 4 of OBX was just announced, so we are really hopeful that we will get to do even more cool stuff in the coming season!
PH: Can you share any upcoming projects you have in the works?
Art Codron: I can’t really talk about too much stuff in the pipeline as we are under strict NDA, but I am working on an indie feature based on a wonderful novel that I think will be great. I CAN share that a project we worked on last year was finally released, so take a look at Season two of “Hunters” on Amazon.
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