FuseFX, the lead visual effects provider for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Visual Effects; the second straight year they’ve been so honored. They’ve also tallied three V.E.S. Award nominations and an Online Film & Television Award nomination over the course of the show’s first two seasons.
“FuseFX is by far the best visual effects company working in television,” says Mark Kolpack, VFX supervisor for ABC Studios, producers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “They have the best pipeline and the best talent pool. Their organization and attention to detail is outstanding.”
The studio aims high in producing effects for the show. FuseFX VFX supervisor Kevin Lingenfelser says their standard for comparison are not other television shows, but rather other Marvel productions. “The work we do has to fit in with the Marvel cinematic universe,” he explains. “What fans see on television has to feel like it’s on par with what they see in theaters. I like to say, ‘We do Marvel for television.’”
Of course, FuseFX has to do its work much faster than its feature film counterparts. The studio typically has a mere 10 or 12 days to turnaround the effects for an episode upon receipt of background plates. That can include the creation of character-driving effects animation, photo-realistic vehicles, CG set extensions, pyrotechnics and atmospheric effects, among others.
Now into its third season, the production of the series has assumed almost military precision with VFX involving intensely close collaboration between Kolpack and his production crew on the one hand, and Lingenfelser and his team of supervisors, artists and producers on the other. Work begins before the start of live action production with Kolpack breaking down the script and storyboarding complex effects shots.
“One of my big things is to add an element of humanity to the visual effects,” Kolpack observes. “When there are people in the shot, it helps bridge the gap for the audience. It gives them something they can to relate to.”
As production elements arrive at FuseFX, individual shot tasks are assigned to artists depending on their expertise. Lingenfelser notes that 20 to 25 artists may be involved in a single episode. Temp shots are produced within a day or two so that they can be made available to the production’s editorial and sound teams. As shots are finalized they move up the chain to Kolpack and ultimately the show’s producers for comment and approval.
FuseFX is especially proud of its work in crafting certain signature elements of the show, including the highly specialized vehicles and other paramilitary gear used by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Chief among them is the Bus, a specialized Boeing C-17 Globemaster III modified to serve as the group’s Airborne Mobile Command Station. FuseFX artists spent months designing and modeling the aircraft, which appeared in most episodes during the first two seasons. Ironically, the episode that drew the Emmy nomination includes the last appearance of the Bus. It’s hit by a missile during an assault on an arctic research facility operated the villainous organization HYDRA.
The shooting down of the Bus is accomplished as a completely CG sequence. “Pieces of wreckage catch fire and burn as they fall to earth,” recalls Lingenfelser. “There is also a smaller plane that flies through the airborne debris. It’s a very complex sequence, combining CG, effects simulations and pyrotechnics.”
FuseFX hasn’t had much time to mourn the loss of the Bus as they are already busy designing and building its even more impressive replacement. It debuts in season three.
Lingenfelser credits the studio’s ability to complete complicated effects sequences on a tight schedule to the bond that’s developed between production and visual effects. “Mark and his producer Sabrina Arnold have their end down tight,” he says. “Their notes are concise and complete. When we get that information, we know exactly what we’re in for. It simplifies everything from bidding on forward.”
Kolpack says that credit is also due to the commitment and enthusiasm of the team at FuseFX. “I can feel how excited and appreciative they are to work on our project,” he concludes. “They are my ace in the hole. They deliver every time.”
View FuseFX’s work on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. https://vimeo.com/137202905