The Umbrella Academy – Season 2: Jeff Campbell – VFx Supervisor of Spin VFx Studio


The Umbrella Academy – Season 2: Jeff Campbell – VFx Supervisor of Spin VFx Studio

Jeff Campbell worked on many shows & movies including AFTER EARTH, GAME OF THRONES, JOHN WICK, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES.

First of all, He was honored to be a member of the team again and even more so that this season they worked at an increased capacity. This expanded VFX role entailed Art department support, onset supervision support, and being the sole scanning vendor for the show. Coming from a great season 1 with and an Emmy nomination, He was even more motivated to rock the VFX.

Since they were awarded the big 2-minute opener in Ep01, they worked closely with Director, Sylvain White and Cinematographer, Neville Kidd on the development of the sequence. They also collaborated with director, Ellen Kuras for the B/K shots and the boardroom massacre. All Directors were terrific and very supportive.

Everett and He have worked on many successful projects in the past. His involvement with their team is extremely collaborative and respectful. Everett is a pleasure to work as he is very engaging and hands-on and has a unique way of using humor to ease stressful situations. They all have a lot of respect for him.

Their expectations were high of course. The clients wanted mind-blowing epic superhero cinema work that honored the story and fans of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. So, they obviously wanted the VFX to look photoreal and the visuals compelling. Considering the steaks were high this season, as they were dealing with a lot of full CG characters with heavy FX in CG environments, it meant extensive planning and support was imperative.

He usually get a bid package from production with reference material, quick times, and a shot breakdown. After reviewing the material they would have a call with Everett to discuss the shots. His amazing senior producer, Carrie Richardson (whom He has enjoyed working with for years), sends him the breakdown in their own internal format. He then add numbers and notes after consulting with the team throughout the bidding process.

Their main challenging sequence was Battle Dallas (ep01 opening sequence), the BK sequence shots (when Ben takes over Klaus’ body), and the final agent battle in Ep10.
The Boardroom massacre in Ep07 was also theirs in which we did a lot of previs and techvis to figure out how to pull it off (another oner).

These would have been the days that He would cover for Everett if he was away. On those days, He’d have a prior briefing to get updates on any shot details that He may not be aware of. He was pretty familiar with everyone on set from season 1 so working with a crew of seasoned professionals makes his day so much better. From there on its just coffee and donuts, ha, ha, just kidding.

Upon being awarded the entire ‘Battle Dallas’ sequence they started building assets well before the shoot date. They planned on pushing the sequence along to alleviate their bandwidth to take on more creative shots.

Once they had an approval of the prevised scene they then determined where their boundaries were. Based on these boundaries, production built, on top of cargo containers, a 360-degree bluescreen that stood about 15 feet tall and dressed the ground to look like a battle zone. They rendered a birds-eye view of the previs for an onset set guide so they could better determine where and when their action would happen.

They were provided a rough cut to start but they had to smooth out the transitions between all the setups. Next, they would do a temp with rough animation with the CG buildings blocked in. They cut the shot up into 7 manageable chunks and pushed them into the pipeline. This temp went very well, He think there were only a couple timing changes.

Since they couldn’t destroy the actual street location in Hamilton, Ontario, the decision was to dress the road surrounded by bluescreen. They sent out their guys to scan around 4 blocks and process it to use for previs and techvis. The collaboration with Art director, Mark Steel involved using their street scan to accurately build and visualize the signage, colour schemes, and set dressing to suit the story and the 60’s time period. They would later do a final scan of the city strip when it was camera ready and fully dressed. Their Asset department built all of the street buildings and then added major battle damage, which involved building revealed interiors and smashed window dressings. Since the set was in a Blue screen box, they had a lot of roto to do because of the dark corners and shooting off-screen. The tank was practical except for when it fires to give them control over recoil and dust interaction. Following the tanks projectile, they went all CG except for Vanya who was shot high-speed on the Phantom. Their animation crew was on set capturing mocap suit data for Klaus’ CG army of the dead and for Ben on the rooftop. They did a lot of projection work in Nuke to smooth between camera setups. Five and Hazel were shot on separate days making them split screens, which thought worked out very well. Their main pipeline is Houdini for FX, Maya, Katana, and Renderman.

Making sure all 7 segments would all cut back together, especially since they never did the obvious full-frame object wipes to use as cut points. Dan Cohen their Comp Supervisor had done a great job making sure the artists tools and scripts where cross utilized in order for all the shots to cut together seamlessly in the edit.

Starting with scans of the two actors, they animated a previs performance based on director Ellen Kuras’ vision. This would be used as a reference on set to motivate the actors’ performance. They also did some Houdini fx lookdev for the intersecting areas of the two bodies. Using HigX, which is a point renderer for Nuke, they built the surface energy effects.

They used their wireless mocap bodysuit on location, worn by the Klaus (Robert Sheehan) under his clothing. They covered any visible trackers with flesh coltheired tape, He was surprised to say they didn’t have to paint any out. Klaus’ performance was all adlib, they just made CG Ben work with his performance, He was expecting to replace more of Klaus’ arms to accommodate CG Ben but they only had to do one shot when his hand is pushing Bens’ face away. They also did a plate pass on Ben mimicking his reaction to Klaus trying to force him out of his body for reference.

Because of a freak snowfall, their work description drastically changed. So in the majority of their shots, they had to remove the snow, which was not just patches, rather, it blanketed the whole scene. As theyll, all the aerial shots had to be full CG as the plates provided they were also covered in snow. What a great example of supporting VFX! they also did a full CG Vanya coming out of a CG barn and also her smashing into the barn. In addition, they did a CG flying Rumor who then lands in a hay wagon.

They scanned dozens of agents, masks and guns. They gathered a library of mocap data from their animation team’s performance to be used in Massive. Simon Milner their CG supervisor used Massive to simulate 5000 agents charging with guns and briefcases. They also had the challenge of figuring out how many agents could randomly appear through time portals within the simulation. For any front line hero agents their animation team, lead by Peter Giliberti, did an amazing job of animating Hi-res agents. They also posed groups of dead agents for closer to the camera details and the more distant ones using Massive.

To start they would animate a 180 deg. dome to represent the leading wave face throughout the sequence. Once approved, they shared this with the FX department to be used for collisions in the Massive simulations and for the ground kick-up of dust and snow. The wave surface energy effect was achieved using HigX, which is a point renderer for Nuke.

SpinVFX provided high-resolution, hero scanning of characters and assets with their fully mobile 144 DSLR Camera rig. The truck was always with us on location. They used their Lidar scanner for sets and locations. Their scanning experts took care of all of the scanning and data processing for all production vendors.

Spin VFX: Official website of Spin VFX.
Everett Burrell: Senior VFX Supervisor, Co-Producer and 2nd Unit Director.
Netflix: You can watch THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY on Netflix now.