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Artist Profile

Q&A with Nathan Overstrom, VFX Supervisor, Zoic Studios

5 minute read

The Emmy nominee discusses the team's work on SEE's season two finale, Rock-A-Bye, and how having access to Sapphire and Mocha Pro is essential.

The team at Zoic Studios is currently Emmy nominated — Outstanding Special Visual Effects Single Episode — for their work on Apple TV+'s SEE "Rock-A-Bye." VFX Supervisor Nathan Overstrom, a 3x Emmy nominee, has worked on the series since season one. (Season 3 is streaming now with new episodes every Friday.)

We caught up with Overstrom to discover what type of tasks Zoic handled in season 2, how COVID affected production, and why the team used Sapphire and Mocha Pro

How does it feel to be nominated once again?

There is some excellent work in the other shows up for the award, so being nominated alongside them is an honor. SEE had such a high scope that it really pushed our boundaries, both creatively and technically. Our team created some of the best work that I’ve been a part of throughout my entire career. The overall visual effects supervisor Chris Wright did a fantastic job wrangling all the different vendors to piece together this amazing episode, and I’m really proud that our efforts are being recognized.

Nate_Overstrom-2Nathan Overstrom, VFX Supervisor, Zoic Studios

What type of VFX did you and the team at Zoic handle in this episode?

Zoic contributed a few different ways on this episode. Our main focus on the show was the set extension work for the Pennsa location. When SEE started shooting, before COVID shut everything down, the Pennsa set location was at a historic campus that had the mansion, stone walls, and multiple other large buildings around the main cluster of huts. When production picked up again, they changed the physical location of the Pennsa set to an open field without those buildings. Our job was to marry the two locations together.

We had production footage from the field location with bluescreens set up for the mansion location, where we added a CGI mansion, trees, stone walls, and the entire surrounding lands.  We also had second-unit footage of the original location with the real mansion, and we replaced all the surrounding lands and the mansion’s rooftops. We added digital crowds to our set extensions and helped fill out the practical crowds where necessary. 

Zoic also contributed previs work for the stone quarry and ice scenes.  After the initial shoot had finished and a loose edit created, we were able to utilize our Realtime Group to fill in the holes in the sequence. Within Unreal Engine, Zoic built out the set and prepped 3D scans of the principal actors and soldiers. One of the best benefits to working in Unreal is allowing the filmmakers to be able to see their actors in the environments, fully textured and lit, and be able to move everything around on the fly. Over the course of several live sessions with the director, we were able to fill out the edit and helped production be able to plan out the remaining stunt, greenscreen, and tank work. 

See_Photo_020803-1200Dave Bautista in “See” season two, now streaming on Apple TV+.

Which Boris FX tools did you use on the episode?

Sapphire plugins are such a VFX staple that it really gives our comp leads a lot of confidence when setting up looks and templates for the other artists. You know that your freelancers and other compositors throughout the company are going to be able to take that setup and run with it. Mocha Pro is also just great. Nothing else really compares. We tried to hire out as much roto work as possible for this show, but there were always bits that needed fixing and extra pieces that needed a matte. Mocha really helps streamline the roto process. It also helped our compositors track in tough cleanups. 

What was the biggest VFX challenge you faced in the episode?

The biggest challenges we faced were mostly integration issues. The style of camerawork is low, wide angle, and intimate. This meant that even the biggest bluescreens for set extensions didn’t cover much screen space. Combine that with blowing fur, straw roofs, lots of long hair, and 5k delivery resolution, edges, and detailed roto took a lot to dial in. The set also had smoke constantly blowing from multiple source points, which also took a lot to match and blend into. 

See_Photo_020805-1200Jason Momoa and Nesta Cooper in “See” season two, now streaming on Apple TV+.

Which scene/shot was your favorite to work on/most proud of, and why? 

There are two standout shots for me. The first is the drone shot over Pennsa as the Queen arrives in the very first episode of Season 2. We started production on the Pennsa environment before the pandemic hit, and continued to work on it over the next 18 months until we delivered the first episode. The resolution and rising camera move meant we couldn’t use a matte painting, and realizing that we would be revisiting these angles throughout the season in different lighting conditions only reinforced that it needed to be a full 3D environment. We were a little new to using Houdini beyond dynamics work but felt this was the best way to control the creation of this world. We generated a ton of detailed base assets to populate the world and even learned how to properly thatch a roof! It was a lot of work creating a new digital environment pipeline for this show, but once we saw the shot come together, we knew we were ready for the rest of the season. 

The second shot is in Episode 7, right before Maghra gives her big speech. She walks from the doors of the mansion and has a few words with Lord Harlan in the entryway before continuing on…. except this was filmed on the second Pennsa set, and the mansion didn’t exist!  She starts the shot standing against a bluescreen and walks across a partially dressed platform. We had been adding a CG mansion into all the shots since Episode 2 (Episode 1 was filmed in the first location with the mansion), but this required a photoreal build that needed to hold up within 10 feet of the camera. We ended up having to reshade the entryway three times over, but by the time we delivered the shot, I couldn’t have been prouder of the artists involved. I knew we would be able to deliver a great shot, but they really outdid themselves.

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