Shot in LA and Set in D.C. & Philly, 'Scandal' & 'HTGAWM’s' Stories Unfold in Virtual CG Environments That Blend Seamlessly with Live-Action Footage, Defying the Viewer’s Eye

Los Angeles, CA.— VFX Legion recently created the visual effects for the highly anticipated crossover episodes of 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder.' The storylines of the political thriller and legal drama intersect in the back-to-back two-hour event recently appeared on ABC and continues to rank as a streaming favorite on Hulu.

The scenario for the tie-in opens with 'How to Get Away with Murder's' high-powered defense attorney, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis,) making an appearance on 'Scandal's' turf in the aptly titled episode, 'Allow Me to Introduce Myself.' Keating travels to D.C. for a face-to-face with political fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) to elicit her help fast-tracking a class-action case to the United States Supreme Court in D.C. 

'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder' are both shot in Los Angeles, while the shows are set in D.C. and Philadelphia, respectively, yet the cast never needs to leave Hollywood, thanks to the creativity, technical ingenuity, and experience of the team at VFX Legion.

The Burbank-based company created a mix of photorealistic CG environments and other effects that made it possible to transport the actors into a variety of digital surroundings that seamlessly match the live-action footage, and defy the viewer’s eye. The 'invisible' effects dramatically augment the shows’ visual landscapes with shots that would be either too expensive or impossible to shoot on location.

'How to Get Away with Murder': Show title frame

'How to Get Away With Murder'

Legion has handled all of the visual effects for 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder' for almost three-years, and is slated to work on the upcoming season of 'HTGAWM.'

 Over the years, the Shondaland Productions have tasked the company with creating high shot-counts of quality CGI for almost 100 episodes, each matching the overall look of a single series. However, the crossover episodes required visual effects that blended with two shows that use different tools and have their own look, presenting a more complex set of challenges.

'Scandal'

'Scandal' 

For one, 'Scandal' is shot on an ARRI Alexa camera, and 'HTGAWM' on a Sony F55, at different color temps, and under varying lighting conditions. DP preferences and available equipment required VFX Legion to shoot the same environments twice, once with greenscreens for 'Scandal' and then again using bluescreens for 'How to Get Away with Murder.' Its team addressed these and other variables, and found creative solutions to bridge the look and match the texture and tone of each show.

The CG replication of the US Supreme Court Building is central to the storyline. Building its exterior facade, and interiors of the courtroom and rotunda digitally, from the ground up, were the most complex VFX shots in these episodes.

Digital replication of the Supreme Court Building, computer-generated from the ground up

Photorealistic replication of D.C.'s Supreme Court building, computer generated from the ground up

The process began during preproduction with VFX supervisor Matthew T. Lynn working closely with the client to get a full understanding of their vision. He collaborated with Legion’s head of production, Nate Smalley, production manager, Andrew Turner, and coordinators Matt Noren and Lexi Sloan, streamlining workflow and crafting a plan that aligned with the shows’ budgets, schedules, and resources. Lynn spent several weeks on R&D, pre-visualization, and mockups. Legion's end-to-end approach was presented to the shows' staff and a plan was finalized.    

Pre-vis mock-up to illustrate to director the vfx shooting methodology & final scale &  layout of Supreme Court building

Pre-vis mock-up providing diretor with illustratation of the VFXs shooting methodology, the final scale & layout for the US Supreme Court building

CG supervisor, Rommél S. Calderon, headed up the team of modeling, texturing, tracking, layout, and lighting artists that created D.C.'s Supreme Court Building from scratch. 

Compositing supervisor, Dan Short, lead his team through the process of merging the practical photography with renders created with Redshift and then seamlessly composited all of the shots using The Foundry’s NUKE.

“The CG model of the exterior of the building was a beast and scheduling was a huge job in itself,” says Calderon. “Meticulous planning, resource management, constant communication with clients and spot-on supervision were crucial to combining the large volume of shots without causing a bottleneck in VFX Legion’s digital pipeline.”

Before: Shot at LA's City Hall; After CG of scene in from Supreme Court buiding, Washington + Davis' characters interviewed by press

Before: Bluescreen setup, LA City Hall- After: CG final shot replicating  D.C.'s Supreme Court Building

A rough 3D model of the set was contructed from hundreds of reference photographs stitched together using Agisoft Photoscan, and a technique called ‘photogrammetry.' HDRI panoramas and 360° multiple exposure photographs of the set were used to match the 3D lighting with the live-action footage. CG modeling and texturing artist, Trevor Harder, then added the fine details and created the finished 3D model. 

Ken Bishop, Legion’s lead modeler, ran into some interesting issues while working with footage of the lead characters, Pope and Keating filmed on the concrete steps of LA’s City Hall. Since the Supreme Court’s staircase is marble, Bishop did a considerable amount of work on the texture, keeping the marble porous enough to blend with the concrete in this key shot.

Tracker, Ruy Delgado achieved a perfect lock on the camera moves in SynthEyes using photogrammetry, lens specs, camera measurements and other on-set survey data. The depth of detail enabled him to match the marble columns inside the courthouse exactly. Many of the set’s walls were ‘wild,’ moving in and out of place depending on the camera angles, which required Delgado to adjust the 3D model for each shot so that everything lined up. 

Before shot: Bluescreen setup in courtroom, as 'HTGAWM' criminal lawyer Annalise Keating (Davis) pleads her case

Before:Bluescreen setup as 'HTGAWM' lawyer, Keating (Davis) pleads her case

    After: Courtroom with CG details                             added to columns and ceiling

    After: Courtroom with CG details                             added to columns and ceiling

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“These episodes required a combination of good planning and a talented team of over 25 artists and support staff,” says Lynn. “We pulled out all the stops to deliver a large quantity of complex, high-quality VFX, and make last minute changes, while still meeting a tight deadline and getting the most value out of the budget.”

“The crossover episodes of 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder' showcase some of the best television visual effects that VFX Legion has created to date,” adds James David Hattin, the company’s founder, creative director, and senior VFX supervisor. “I’m very proud of all of the hard work that our team put into the crossover episodes, and the results we achieved. Watching the final shows on air was jaw-dropping.”

VFX Legion's breakdown video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tpz1IQgwBk&feature=youtu.be) provides a look at what went into the making of the effects for the crossover episode.  

VFX Legion, Los Angeles

VFX Legion, Los Angeles

About VFX Legion, Los Angeles: 

VFX Legion specializes in providing end-to-end visual effects services for episodic television and feature films.

 Founded in 2013 by creative director, senior VFX supervisor, James David Hattin, the LA’s company’s veteran management team, a core group of senior talent and support staff, along with a collective of over 70 artists, consistently produces high-quality VFX while meeting tight deadlines for multiple projects with ease. 

Legion’s TV credits include 'Scandal,' 'How to Get Away with Murder,' 'Madam Secretary,'  'Suits,' 'El Chapo,' 'Eye Candy,' 'Revolution,' and 'Gone,' to name a few. Legion has created the VFX for a feature films, including 'Hardcore Henry,' 'Sinister 2,' 'The Purge: Election Year' and 'The Purge: Anarchy.'

For more information about VFX Legion call 818.736.5855, visit http://VFXlegion.com or at info@VFXlegion.com.

CREDITS: 

Project: VFX for 'Scandal'& 'How to Get Away with Murder' Crossover Episodes

'Show: 'Scandal,' Episode: 'Allow Me to Introduce Myself'

Creator: Shonda Rhimes 

Production Company: Shondaland Productions / ABC Studios, LA

Director: Tony Goldwyn

Writer: Raamla Mohamed, Shonda Rhimes

Show: 'How to Get Away with Murder,' Episode: 'Lahey vs. Commonwealth of PA' 

Creator: Peter Nowalk

Production Companies: Shondaland Productions, ABC Studios, LA

Director: Zetna Fuentes

Writers: Morenike Balogun, Sarah L. Thompson 

VFX Company: VFX Legion, LA

Creative Director/Senior VFX Supervisor: James David Hattin 

VFX Supervisor: Matthew T. Lynn 

Production Manager: Andrew Turner

VFX Head of Production: Nate Smalley

VFX Coordinator: Matthew Noren

VFX Coordinator: Lexi Sloan

CG Supervisor: Rommel S. Calderon

CG Layout: Alex Keller

CG Lighting: Bryan Shepperd

Tracking: Ruy Delgado

CG Modeling & Texturing: Ken Bishop 

CG Modeling & Texturing: Trevor Harder

CG Dynamics: Mark Hennessy-Barrett (HTGAWM)

Compositing Supervisor: Daniel Short

Compositor: Nick Guth

Compositor: Bruce Harris

Compositor: Christopher Klassen

Compositor: Jonathan Reid

Compositor: Kevin Shawle

Compositor: Johan van Huyssteen

Compositor: Martha Soehendra (Scandal)

Compositor: John R. McConnell (Scandal)

Compositor: Evan James (Scandal)

Compositor: Allan Torp Jensen (HTGAWM)

Compositor: Brad Moylan (HTGAWM)

Compositor: Sam Scott (HTGAWM)

Compositor: Eugen Olson (HTGAWM)

Color Conform: Technicolor, LA

Music Supervision Company: Chop Shop Music,LA

Music Supervisor: Alexandra Patsavas

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