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Boardwalk Empire VFX Breakdowns
January 19, 2012 8:20 AM   Subscribe

The company that creates digital effects for Boardwalk Empire has put together the before and after shots from Season Two.
posted by gman (48 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, neat! I've been marathoning Boardwalk for the last week or so -- could someone tell me if this has spoilers for season two post-"A Dangerous Maid"?
posted by fight or flight at 8:28 AM on January 19, 2012


Totally cool! It's amazing how little you can trust your eyes these days. I don't think I would have guessed any of those were fx shots. It's also amazing to me that we've come to the point in fx where they're doing facial fx rather than prosthetics.

I've never seen the show--is it good?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2012


fight or flight: From what I can tell there are no spoilers

Admiral Haddock - As a fan (and thus my biased recommendation) it is a very good show, especially if you are into historical dramas.


It is interesting looking at these clips because so many of them were for very brief scenes.
posted by Revort at 8:36 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've not seen this show, but just from watching the VFX reel, I need to.
posted by mrbill at 8:36 AM on January 19, 2012


The show is good - maybe even one of the best right now - with terrific characters and plot.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:37 AM on January 19, 2012


Uh, this has some spoilers -- visual, not plot -- for the finale so we might want to put that in the main text.

The show is pretty amazing. As far as a take on organized crime, it's no Sopranos but it's probably one of the best (and funniest) period crime dramas I've ever seen. It's also full of historical characters. Ken Burns' Prohibition series is basically a running roster of characters introduced in Season 2.
posted by griphus at 8:38 AM on January 19, 2012


It's also probably got the most artful gruesome violence this side of post-A History of Violence David Cronenberg. It's full of gore, but there hasn't been a single time when it was just gore-for-gore's-sake.
posted by griphus at 8:40 AM on January 19, 2012


Amazing. I was particularly struck by the shot of the car driving into the armory building, which appeared to have been made up almost entirely out of pixels. Is it really that much cheaper/easier to just use CG than to find, y'know, an actual armory building?

Great post, gman. (also, eponysterical?)
posted by 40 Watt at 8:40 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was particularly struck by the shot of the car driving into the armory building

I noticed this shot and had a thought along the same lines. What kind of a challenge must this level/quantity of CGI be for location scouts? The degree of pre-production work between the director, scout, and computer graphic people must be immense.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:47 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it really that much cheaper/easier to just use CG than to find, y'know, an actual armory building?

Yeah, it is. Many of the actual buildings (or buildings that are close-enough) are long-gone, or so re-purposed/altered that it would require a ton of CG to remove the modern bits anyway.
A lot of CG work is also off-shored to render shops in Taiwan, Korea, etc., making the work even more affordable. I have no idea if this particular shop offshores, but many, many do.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:49 AM on January 19, 2012


I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

Pretty cool stuff. I watched both seasons and thought the first was better, the second more predictable, dragged on a bit with some of the characters I'm less interested in like Margaret's (im)morality, but with a great season finale.

It's a beautiful show to watch as you can see, crafted with lots of what I'm sure is period detail, painstaking sort of stuff, I just think the plot itself is a little prosaic.

"It's also probably got the most artful gruesome violence this side of post-A History of Violence David Cronenberg. It's full of gore, but there hasn't been a single time when it was just gore-for-gore's-sake.
posted by graphs"


Don't really get this considering it's a show about organized crime. The Soprano's, Rome and possibly Deadwood, for example were more gory if I recall correctly. Not to say it isn't violent or gory, just not exceptionally so considering the genre.
posted by noaccident at 9:06 AM on January 19, 2012


One of the best shows on TV...easily. These "ahem" after and before shots breakdowns show how much attention to detail goes in to making this show. It is amazing how much CGI they use on the show but how it never looks unreal. If you haven't been watching this show, well you are missing out on one of the best dramas to come along in several years.
posted by GavinR at 9:11 AM on January 19, 2012


there's some stuff that is still better than CGI or at least a lot easier to shoot for cheap and still looks better. I'd say a makeup artist could do just as good a face-hole as the one in BWE. And stunts still look much better old school style, but shit... mise en scene has just be taken to a whole. nother. level.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:13 AM on January 19, 2012


I'm not sure about Rome or Deadwood (I've only seen about an episode or two of each) but there's definitely more blood-and-guts stuff in BE than Sopranos. My point is that there was a lot more thought put into the violence in BE than you'd generally find. Most of the time it's just squibs blowing up behind some dude's shirt and red dye. In BE you get bullets to the front of the head in full view, graphic stabbings, and all sort of other stuff you generally don't see (or at least see done well) outside of Hollywood. There's a lot more planning behind the visceral stuff in BE -- to the extent that it's the quality of Cronenberg, who started his career in pure body horror films -- and I really appreciate that.
posted by griphus at 9:14 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find this distressing, and I'm not sure why. I understand the need to delete modern backgrounds, and recreate vistas that don't exist any longer. But could they not simply light some trees on fire and throw some dirt in the air for the war scene? Could they not use some actual facial makeup for the battle-scarred character? What was wrong with the clouds in the sky as they actually were? It's all about cost (and verisimilitude) I know, but still... it bothers me.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:16 AM on January 19, 2012


Could they not use some actual facial makeup for the battle-scarred character?

Throughout most of the show, the scars are hidden behind a tin mask. He takes it off very rarely and when he does, there's a lot of stuff missing. Just, like, empty space where flesh and bone and an eye need to be. There's really no way that I can see to make that look better using makeup than CGI.
posted by griphus at 9:20 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Spoiler: Evidently the entire show takes place in a snow globe in the hand of an autistic boy Brainstorm Digital.
posted by The Bellman at 9:20 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It looked like there really was a tree on fire in the war scene. It just so happens that the tree was on fire on a different set than the actors in the ditch, then added in. Makes a lot of sense to me - you can get the acting right, without worrying about re-lighting the tree for every shot.
posted by Wulfhere at 9:21 AM on January 19, 2012


Also, it's a lot easier on the actors to not have to be in a chair for several hours and then try to act wearing a shitload of complicated makeup that needs to be constantly re-touched.
posted by griphus at 9:22 AM on January 19, 2012


The method of visualizing how the team manifests buildings from landscapes reminds me of Dark City. Fascinating stuff.
posted by prinado at 9:22 AM on January 19, 2012


I will not be clicking the link because I am sure everything I see on the screen really happened, in the place the story says it happened.

Knowing Saving Private Ryan was filmed on Irish beaches, and that just about every exterior background is greenscreened....that doesn't add to my enjoyment.

Good performances can make me forget about actors, but good clouds just make every cloud suspect and it kills the movie for me.

Nthing the love for BE.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:24 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tidbit: Boardwalk Empire is one of President Obama's favorite television shows.
posted by ericb at 9:24 AM on January 19, 2012


Reminds me of this fascinating video showing the process of making visual effects in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
posted by msbrauer at 9:28 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's impressive is how seamless it seems when you're watching the show. Part of that is that you're always on edge knowing that extreme violence might break out in any scene so you're not thinking that hard about the scenery but I never really though about how little I was watching was really there.
posted by octothorpe at 9:29 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find this distressing, and I'm not sure why.

You're not the only one. I started at "cool" and then increasingly unsettled. It's all fake, even the vistas.
posted by codswallop at 9:46 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


the Arthur C. Clarke quote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." is what comes to mind when i see something like this...
posted by h0p3y at 10:05 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just started watching the show and about a third of the way through Season 1. I love the recreations of the old neighborhoods and how they're still recognizable sometimes from the street patterns (For example: Times Square). Loving so much literature from the time (F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Studs Lonigan etc), it's just neat.

The CGI is top-notch and lovely. And I like not knowing at any moment if it is CGI or not, I guess if you have to ask, I'd say it most likely is, but I wonder constantly where they're getting their amazing Beaux Arts interiors, and would venture, that the Commodore's (Dabney Coleman) house interior is shot at the Campbell Apartments in Grand Central.

Anyhow, Buscemi is great. I always think he's great though, and the woman who plays Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) is brilliant, and their scenes together are enchanting, yo.
posted by Skygazer at 11:05 AM on January 19, 2012


All the pubic hair is CGI also.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:43 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoy the show but I can't stand the opening. They make such an effort at authenticity but there at the beginning is that electric guitar wailing and trailing off with rockstar feedback... And then it'll go straight to an old record hissing and popping, playing some swinging tune. Ugh, it's jarring.
posted by hypersloth at 11:43 AM on January 19, 2012


I dunno, I think the anachronistic rock guitar kind of works with that opening. Especially when the bottles start smashing on the pier.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:45 AM on January 19, 2012


I love that song by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, it's out of place but it tells you that this is a Martin Scorsese joint, expect head bashing.
posted by octothorpe at 11:47 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


And lest the opening jar anyone out of their period piece historical revelry, remember that Nucky Thompson is only loosely based on Nucky Johnson, and similar liberties are taken with other notorious names. It's a great show but it ain't a history lesson.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:50 AM on January 19, 2012


Ken Burns' Prohibition series is basically a running roster of characters introduced in Season 2.

Ken Burns' Prohibition -- Episodes 1, 2 and 3.
posted by ericb at 11:59 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. I knew CGI was this good, but I didn't realize how ubiquitous it could be. Silly me--I thought if you needed some boats in the background, you would just take your camera to the pier, or if you needed another hundred people at the beach, you would just hire some extras. I had no idea.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:03 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a time lapse video of the boardwalk set being built in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The other day I was riding past on my bike and noticed that the gate to the lot next door was open. I was tempted to try to sneak inside.
posted by Drab_Parts at 12:33 PM on January 19, 2012


Augh, hypersloth, I just watched the opening on youtube, and I see what you mean. Where the hell did that piece of guitar music come from?
posted by LN at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2012


I love that song by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, it's out of place but it tells you that this is a Martin Scorsese joint, expect head bashing.

Oh great! I was wondering who the hell that was and had my money on The Feelies who were actually a great 80s Jangle pop band from New Jersey (Their The Good Earth LP is superb). I wonder how they went with the Brian's Jonestown massacre, but Scorsese has always loved out there crazy bedeviled musicians and performers, and I could see him getting totally into them from having watched DiG!

As for using it as the opening it is totally jarring with the actual music of the time period (Which by the way is fucking bad ass and wicked sexy and hardcore really, and it's incredible the stuff that got suppressed and lost after the "Code" appeared and everything got so fucking vanilla and neutered. And it's a wonderful example of yet another area the Religious Right fucked up this country on, not to mention women not voting in the United States until 1920? FUCKin' WHAT??), but there is a reason for it, and a good one, because the past is not over, and it's not even the fucking past (Faulkner), and the past in that show is a commentary on the present, you see it again and again, with the KKK sounding like the Tea Party, which is one of it's historical antecedents and with the actual destructive nature of puritanical and fundamentalist religious influence on government and wishing to somehow shelter a country from it's moral failings leads to even greater harm, and the creation of a professional criminal class that is more powerful and more ruthless than ever...

The lessons of Prohibition, and repression, somehow still not having been processed in this nation and what that artificially "moral" time did to the soul of the country: To the arts, to commerce, to government. Christ what a fucking gigantic fuck up, and a waste of time and money and lives and culture.
posted by Skygazer at 12:50 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best show since The Wire... in fact it's just about up there now. And this scene is one of the best ever.

I've been spending the last few weeks trying to ease off my addiction by watching the behind the scenes / making off vids on the HBO site.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:51 PM on January 19, 2012


Oh and I did not like the intro music at first but it's grown on me now.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:53 PM on January 19, 2012


Another thing about the rock opening is that Nucky Thompson is a man, ahead of his time really, he's a liberal and free-thinker and he's got his own code which he really tries to stay true too...
posted by Skygazer at 12:54 PM on January 19, 2012


I guess I went too far saying they tried so hard to be authentic - I certainly don't think I'm seeing any biographies (Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, etc.) and at times it's almost Forrest Gumpish with its history. I'm just saying, so much good period music, the opening doesn't jibe for me.
/derail
posted by hypersloth at 12:55 PM on January 19, 2012


Yeah, me neither, it is jarring, it's just the people behind that know that as well, and their trying to tell the viewer something important, something crucial they want you to think about at the beginning of every episode, and I like the song on it's own though.
posted by Skygazer at 12:59 PM on January 19, 2012


schoolgirl report: I find this distressing, and I'm not sure why. I understand the need to delete modern backgrounds, and recreate vistas that don't exist any longer. But could they not simply light some trees on fire and throw some dirt in the air for the war scene? Could they not use some actual facial makeup for the battle-scarred character? What was wrong with the clouds in the sky as they actually were? It's all about cost (and verisimilitude) I know, but still... it bothers me.

codswallop: You're not the only one. I started at "cool" and then increasingly unsettled. It's all fake, even the vistas.

The cool thing about the video, IMO, is how it illustrates how you have to think to do this, the visual process. "Okay, the line of the buildings has to take 40% of the initial shot, following a 30º angle, then as we pan along the road, it'll eventually become parallel as we approach the armory…."

But I do think that also contributes to a disconcerting effect, because your brain can still "see" where everything was dropped into place, and until the motion starts, everything still looks fake. It's an effect of how the video is presented, and also that any kind of film/effect trick, however low or high tech, tends to look wrong on its own--it's only when you get it all together that it creates magic (Stage makeup, for example, can also look blatantly fake when it's not being lit and shot and edited in a way that complements the makeup artist's work.)
posted by kagredon at 4:16 PM on January 19, 2012


My daughter liked it.
posted by odinsdream at 6:32 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're not the only one. I started at "cool" and then increasingly unsettled. It's all fake, even the vistas.

It is fiction after all. I admire the craftsmanship in this. Spectacular stuff.
posted by juiceCake at 7:46 PM on January 19, 2012


Sometimes when watching, I think 'well that's an SFX shot' like those ships in the harbour because there's no way you could do it in real life without spending millions - or at all, really. And that takes me out of the moment a little. But many others (like the beach shot or the armoury) pass me by. I think, overall, done well they really help the drama and open the world up to the audience. I've been watching the Sharpe series recently and it's a shame they are not being made now as a bit of CGI would have really helped open up the rather small and thread-bare battle scenes into epic vistas.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:09 AM on January 20, 2012


Just watched this and was heartbroken. My wife and I had watched episode one together this fall and she adored it, largely because of the beautiful handlettered signs and billboards. "How awesome would it be to work on a show like this?" she would say, sighing happily. You see, my wife is a professional set painter, with a degree and 12 years experience. I had to sign up to comment, because outside of live theatre it looks like her incredible skills are becoming completely redundant. This show was an inspiration to her because it showed her that people of her craft were still busy working on a film production set somewhere, but that dream is dead now. Theatre is it, until projection sets and large-scale vinyl prints take over that field too. (Extra heartbreak points because she is 2000 miles away right now, working on a season across the country for the next 4 months).
posted by Ericaceae at 4:55 PM on January 20, 2012


Watch the making of's as you watch the episodes... there's still a ton of set decoration going on as well as the CGI
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2012


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