For the past two years, the Supernatural VFX (Visual Effects) Team has ventured out of their Vancouver studio offices to meet with fans the day after the Vancouver Supernatural convention ends. This informal event, organized by Jules Wilkinson of Supernatural Wiki, is a chance for the VFX team to showcase their work and for fans to ask questions about the special effects magic that is infused into almost every Supernatural episode! This year, several members of The Winchester Family Business team, namely Alice, Nightsky, Bardicvoice, Farawayeyes and Tigershire attended the panel. We’ve combined our notes, videos and memories to bring you this kaleidoscope report, so you can appreciate the panel from multiple viewpoints!
The panel is held at the Storm Crow Tavern, which by itself should be a stop on any science fiction fan’s tour of Vancouver. The owners describe The Storm Crow Tavern as a “nerd bar”, going on to say it is “a faux-medieval pub festooned with fantasy paraphernalia like rayguns, space helmets and dragon skulls.” The bar’s décor is the perfect backdrop for the special effects team of a horror genre show to talk to fans! A quick visit to the pictures, descriptions and history of the bar on their web site will transport you to the scene we all saw when we first walked through their doors...
The VFX team sat together at a table that was hidden behind a bookcase next to the bar. I guess as a group, Supernatural fans can be a bit intimidating! Ryan Curtis, the VFX Coordinator, had drawn the short straw and was to be our emcee for the night.
Ryan Curtis, the Supernatural VFX Coordinator
He introduced the team, including their most recent addition (We were all happy to see that it was a woman amongst a heavily male-dominated team!).
Farawayeyes shares her observations of the panel:
Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the first ever VFX panel. That event drew more people than the place could hold---but we didn't seem to mind as we listened attentively to the VFX crew explain what they do on the show week in and week out. This year's event was less crowded due to tickets and the like, but it was everything I remembered---and more!
The panel began with a few demo reels put together by Adam Williams, a member of the VFX crew [video links supplied by Bardicvoice]:
Season 9 Demo Part 1
Season 9 Demo Part 2
Season 9 Demo Part 3
These demos are absolutely riveting. Each time I see one, I find it hard to remember to breathe as I watch something go from nothing to spectacularly awesome visually. We see actors, scenery, or objects transformed from what they look like during filming to the beautiful final product---at times in layers showing the transformation in stages. Everything from black demon smoke to angel grace to the use of fire is done by the VFX crew. It's like getting a glimpse behind that magical curtain as to how they make something look as visually stunning as they do.
We had that exactly when we saw the demo reel for “Slumber Party.” The doors to Oz open, and we see this brilliantly colorful and fully realized world full of castles, flying monkeys and yellow brick roads. And yet, when we see the demo reel for this, we watch the actors confronted with nothing more than a bright green screen draped over the doorway, floor, and wall. Everything, then, had to be created by the VFX crew. The final result that we stare at with wonder is perhaps one of my favorite things from “Slumber Party.”
Supernatural 9.04 Before & Afters
Ryan was a great host! After we watched the VFX videos, he answered our questions with ease, proud of the work of his team. He was pretty sly, though. The first chance he got, he looked to the VFX teams’ manager, Mark Meloche to help him answer a question. Mark thought that after he answered that one question he would be able to sit down and remain peacefully in the shadows but Ryan had other ideas. Soon several questions were being turned over to Mark until eventually Ryan just handed the microphone to Mark and sat down himself, subtly turning the whole program over to Mark! Mark is the liaison between the directors, the actors and the VFX team, so he is on set during filming. Mark's job is to help the actors visualize the post-production scene so they can interact appropriately with the unseen final effects.
Mark Meloche, the Supernatural VFX Team Supervisor
Mark Meloche, the director of VFX, explained to us how they show actors how to react to what they can't see. He comically demonstrated showing an actor how to mimic the effect of having black smoke either enter or exit them. It would seem that the VFX crew have to act nearly as much as the actors themselves! I couldn't help but wish that we could see some of this interaction make it into a gag reel. It has to be entertaining to watch the VFX crew direct an actor's actions to make it possible for their special effects.
The question and answer session led to great discussions about how they use the computers to enhance the final product we see. Their schedule gets tighter as the season goes on---leaving them with less and less time to complete their jobs prior to air dates. It's amazing, now knowing about that time crunch, that they make such amazing VFX effects every week seem so effortless!
I even asked a question---about how they make that Mark of Cain glow on Dean's arm. The actual Mark is a make-up effect. In the computer, the VFX team has to zero in on it, applying the effects that make it seem like it is glowing. Once that's done, they can make it fit into the main frame in that shot. It was awesome to hear how they focus on such a detail in a scene and how they make it seem so real by the work that they do.
Of great interest to “Threads” readers, Mark was asked a question about Crowley’s red smoke. Mark responded by giving some history of the red smoke (transcription from Nightsky):
“[The script called for black smoke for Crowley but] the VFX team was so excited about doing red smoke after doing black smoke for so many years that we went ahead and we handed over the first version [of the episode] with the red smoke to show them how cool it looked. They said, hey, that looks cool and they kept it in the show!”
Fan: “What is the significance of the red smoke?”
Mark: “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that! Actually there is a surprise coming up which I can’t divulge at the moment (when it airs I’ll be on Twitter to talk about it). Crowley does something a little different in one of the upcoming episodes that you haven’t seen in the past…but that is all I can say!”
What a tease!
Mark then introduced Theo Devaney (Gavin MacLeod), who had been quietly and anonymously sitting at the VFX table! It was Theo’s birthday and the team had invited him to join us all for dinner and drinks. Theo explained that he lived in the neighborhood and thought our little soiree might be fun so he accepted the invitation! Little did he expect that soon he would answering questions from fans curious about his role and working on set! Taking a page right out of Ryan’s book, Mark turned the floor over to Theo, then sat down himself, again trying to escape the limelight!
Farawayeyes describes what happened next:
We were also lucky enough to be afforded a chance to talk with another actor that didn't appear at the Con proper: Theo Devaney! He joined the cast as Gavin and enthusiastically showed us his audition dance: [During the scene in the hotel in “King of the Damned”, Crowley possessed Gavin] as a means to convince his son that he was indeed the King of Hell. This scene was cut, but Devaney's dancing got him the job! His reenactment also got him a lot of applause from the Storm Crow crowd!
Theo’s version (transcribed by Nightsky):
“As a way of proving to Gavin who he is and what he is, because Gavin doesn’t believe it for a minute, he [Crowley] possesses him and to Gavin’s shock and horror, he throws him around and darts him around – just treats him like a puppet and makes him look stupid. I had to cross about 10 meters in front of a mirror, look at myself in the mirror being possessed with flaring eyes, then hit myself in the face! I did all of these things over and over again! Marionette-like!”
You can actually see a truncated version of Gavin’s dance in the deleted scenes from the “King of the Damned” episode on the Season 9 DVD!
As with all panels, it was over so quickly, but they promised to do it again next year!
Farawayeyes: If you haven't had a chance to make it to Van Con or to the VFX panel, make sure you do at least once! You won't regret it!
And I can't wait to see how Crowley's smoke becomes truly significant, either. I want to know what it means!