Ghost VFX artists in Los Angeles provided visual effects for final season of the Showtime hit show.
Shameless season 11 marks the last call for the Gallagher family after a decade of dysfunction. Throughout its run, the hit show has been set and shot in the South Side of Chicago, which serves as the Gallagher’s home and a rich backdrop for the characters misadventures.
Ghost VFX has been involved with Shameless since the end of season 8 in 2017 and has created visual effects for cockroaches, done crowd work, and crafted a burning restaurant exterior.
Before production began on the final season, the COVID pandemic struck and shooting on location was no longer an option. Principal photography would have to take place across the country, in Los Angeles. This forced the filmmakers to create unique solutions to make it appear as if the final season was shot entirely in Chicago in order to keep the visual integrity of the show intact.
Executive Producers Michael Hissrich and Michelle Lankwarden, along with Associate Producer Tyler Furtado, turned to Ghost VFX teams in Los Angeles to create the seamless visual effects. This season called for developing new workflows and solutions to essentially help build Chicago from scratch using footage shot in Los Angeles. Ghost VFX teams in Los Angeles, led by VFX Supervisor David O, started working with the production crew early to develop solutions. “Production Designer Nina Ruscio did an incredible job and was able to build an uncanny recreation of the Gallagher family home as an exterior set on the Warner Bros. backlot. Ghost VFX teams were then tasked with providing the digital set extension by way of recreating the Chicago neighborhood down to the finest detail. It had to be utterly convincing in order to not only blend seamlessly for the amazing fanbase and viewers of the show, but also look accurate to an entire production crew which had been shooting in Chicago for a decade,” describes O. In order to digitally reconstruct the Chicago location to mesh with the practical sets at Warner Bros., O captured over 3,000 images of the backlot exterior and reconstructed them as an asset for 3D layout and reference using Reality Capture, a software for fast recreation of episodic environment and locations. O tapped MYND Workshop, a New York based 3D laser scanning company, to scan and reconstruct the Chicago locations from which Ghost VFX used as a digital backlot.
The crew from MYND traveled to Chicago and captured over 8,000 photographs and 50+ lidar scans.
“The backlot reconstruction was vital for 3D tracking, led by Nick Sinnott. The show is shot completely handheld. With the reconstructed mesh of the backlot exterior sets, Nick was able to single-handedly track an entire season worth of shots. This turned the handled shooting style of the show into a strength and led to a stronger and more unified, seamless visual,” explains O. Using the unified camera layouts, CG Lead Sal Rangel leveraged entire scenes using the Vexus scene assembler and render pass manager. Establishing these protocols gave the Ghost VFX pipeline a rock-solid foundation through CG and compositing, enabling the team to engage a higher number of shots per episode. “Set work consisted of working with series Director Iain B. MacDonald, series Director of Photography Anthony Hardwick, and the rest of the fantastic crew,” notes O. “We wanted to ensure that production was as unburdened by VFX, and could keep moving at their usual, extremely efficient pace. Already hit with COVID restrictions and an offset production schedule in their final season, I didn’t want them thinking about blue screens and digital trees; I wanted them to be able to focus on finding and retaining their creative space in the new normal and making the best show possible. They were able to maintain the handheld shooting style and look of the show with almost no interruption from the VFX side.”
IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS
As MYND Workshop began turning over reconstructed assets, Ghost VFX’s CG team, led by Tom Connors, began putting it all together in Autodesk 3DS Max. Ghost VFX artists would then create a layout using the reconstructed, re-topologized and photo-textured house and neighborhood assets from MYND, and fill out the rest of the fences, vegetation (trees, grass, plants) and anything else that doesn’t lend itself to reconstruction. For this, Ghost VFX utilized the latest from SpeedTree CINEMA v8 in combination with various assets from Quixel’s Megascans library, along with a library of various automobiles to populate the street scene. The result rendered using V-Ray by Chaos Group, was a full-fledged recreation of South Homan Ave, exactly as it exists in Chicago. Post-production was handled by Ghost VFX teams in Los Angeles, working closely with show runner John Wells, who is based in Vancouver, from initial turnover to final delivery.
“Thanks to the solid shot pipeline established, and the unwavering hard work and dedication of everyone involved, including Compositing Supervisor Ryan Smolarek and the entire compositing team, we were able to complete 774 shots over the course of the season. We were also very fortunate to be able to collaborate with the fantastic production team to help them face and overcome the unique challenges of this season, ensuring that the Gallagher family still had a neighborhood to call home,” concludes O.