BEHIND THE SCENES
OF THE LIBERATOR
Created by Jeb Stuart The Liberator tells the true story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War: the battlefield odyssey of maverick U.S. Army officer Felix Sparks and the 157th Infantry Regiment from Oklahoma. The National Guard unit com- prised primarily of cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexican-Americans entered the war with their Invasion of Italy and fought for over five hundred days until the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.
The Liberator is a four-part live-action and CGI hybrid animation series produced by award-winning Polish-based VFX, animation and sound studio Juice, and US-based Triosope Studios. The Liberator is the first-ever TV series to be produced using the Trioscope Enhanced Hybrid Animation (EHA). It’s an exciting proof of concept of a whole new kind of visual language that offers a fresh take on traditional storytelling.
TRIOSCOPE ENHANCED HYBRID ANIMATION
Trioscope is a proprietary animated drama engine that fuses live-action with animation for a groundbreaking moving graphic novel experience. Trioscope’s patent-pending platform leaps over the uncanny valley, empowering filmmakers to capture the emotional fidelity of live-action performances and marry them with visually arresting worlds. The result is stories of unlimited scope and imagination. Trioscope delivers all the escapism of CG block- busters and all emotional resonance of big-budget drama at a fraction of the cost.
CG Supervisor Marko Zarić explains that “showing the horrors of the war is no easy task. Even in traditional filming you will have to use prosthetics, a ton of extras or dummies, and a super crafty set design crew. For example an average battlefield scene would have dozens of dead bodies lying around, destroyed vehicles, hollowed out buildings, tons of debris and the list goes on. In that sense, one of the clear advantages of using the Trioscope approach is that we could build all of those components in CG and arrange them according to the imagination of the director while spending only a fraction of the budget we would need otherwise.
But the beauty of Enhance Hybrid Animation / Trioscope is in its simplicity. The distinct look, very similar to graphic novels, gave us a lot of creative freedom to interpret the environments and all the visual assets however we wanted, leaving a nice amount of detail to control the feeling we are able to create for the viewers. It was really like creating a comic book story where we would draw the eye to certain elaborately drawn objects while keeping other parts of the scene loosely detailed.”
ACTORS AND MAKE-UP
If you’ve ever shot live action scenes with real actors and then rotoscoped them into an animated environment, one of the things that you lose almost immediately are the emo- tions. Roto-ing simply flattens the nuanced facial expressions that could make or break
a line. Often you’d have to add those later in post. With Trioscope EHA, we had the actors made up in greater contrast. In the raw footage they already looked a lot like anim- ated characters and when we brought them into the environment, the transition was so smooth we barely needed to add in any expressions. This helped preserve the ori- ginal acting with greater fidelity.
The production took place in Łódź, Poland. The city, whose thriving textile dye industry was gutted during the war, provides a compelling backdrop for the exterior action.
Once again, the use of the Trioscope technique allows us to add any kind of detail to create immersive scenes without having to dress up entire streets.
Greg Jonkajtys, Director, on the collaboration with Juice:
“I have been following Juice projects with a great interest for many years. Talent, energy, excellent artistic taste and technical ‘know-how’ meant that I could count on them to help me realize the vision
I had when creating The Liberator. Juice has created a wide range of design-driven and artistic projects. Their sensitivity and experience are just a great asset for the series.”
“I have been working together with Grzegorz for years, to articulate the unique look and feel of the series. At first it was just the two of us but later, with the entire Juice team, we were able to create a proof of concept. The technology allows us to preserve the authenticity of the emotions by the real actors, and let CG take care of every detail–even the smallest—on the screen. We cre- ated a new original visual language, and Grze- gorz’s sensitivity and personal approach will allow us to create something absolutely unique compared to other film productions.”
SOME OF THE CHALLENGES AND HOW WE SOLVED THEM
One of the very first challenges had to do with recruiting extra compositing artists for the project. Highly qualified compositors are not simply lying around on a couch somewhere waiting to be scooped up for a massive project. And in Poland, where VFX schools are all but a new concept, this hunt proved especially tricky. What worked for us in this case is the Juice team and the Juice spirit that have made quite a name for themselves around that part of Europe. The allure of the project helped as well.
The key challenge here was to keep the cooperation between the departments flowing.
The assets team worked on the environments and scenography – the materials were later forwarded to the rendering team, followed by the compositing department. If one of team missed a delivery to another team it created an uneven load. To overcome this, we had to guesstim- ate an initial asset and shot analysis and carefully track the progress of each team. This allowed us to forecast the demand on each team and skillfully shift the priorities between the creation of shots or models.
For workflow management we relied on Shotgun. Shotgun offered the kind of flexibility that allowed every team leader and stakeholder (producer, supervisor, lead, data manager) to bring in his or her own best practices from past produc- tions. So by starting with a clean slate—as none of us had any experience in this particular type of work- flow—allowed us to develop a com- pletely new set of communication standards.
EXTENDING OUR CAPABILITIES
Before we could claim to be able to deliver the visual style of the Liberator on a large scale, we had to expand on our existing tools and infrastructures in order to create a proof of concept. We created this POC with several dozen shots out of about 3000 possible shots. The first episode was considered to be our canvas and we got to actually experiment with a lot of different looks while working on actual footage. It’s a bit like operating on a living patient – but it worked!
The key to the success was a tight cooperation between Supervisor, Lead Artists, Art Director and Director. The learning curve was fairly steep with every sequence getting exponentially better than the previous one and eventually each chapter had outdone the one that ensued, thus raising the bar ever higher. To be fair, we must admit that the final look exceeded our best laid plans and demon- strated the value of instilling trust between all the working components in this production and treating it not so much as a factory project but as an artistic adventure.
Using TEHA has rendered the post production, and most of this project, COVID-19-proof. While the production, which started just before the onset of the pandemic, required shooting on set, all the scenes were created on a blue screen in one studio, which made sanitation easier. The lionshare of the production was created in post, through our remote-working network, and didn’t need to halt even for one day.
TRIOSCOPE VS. FULL ANIMATION
Probably a great use of the technology is the ability to make changes to the story line often during shooting. When creating the scenography in CG, budget that is typically allocated to the organization and logistics of each location could go to the actual shoot. Thanks to this solution the Liberator could take place in as many as 50 different locations in one episode for example. The director could easily add all those story-supporting scenes that would make a live production
exponentially more etxpensive. What’s more, designing a set with literally a bunch of blue boxes allowed us to shoot as many takes as needed without the fear of destroying an expensive prop, or blowing up a painstak- ingly created set design which would have been very costly. The advantage of having real actors on set rather than creating them in CG, means less expenses for concepting, character modeling, character animation, layout, rendering and compositing!
TIME AND BUDGET
And while the Liberator ended up spending more on casting, wardrobe and scenography, the biggest upshot is that characters felt more real (because they are) and their motion and emotions feel infinitely more natural and nuanced. Trioscope saves a lot of money on: locations, moving to different places, building scenography, assets, extras and plot changes.
“Often the decisions made in conjunction between the CG artist and production specialist, benefit client, and agency, while still delivering on the very tight deadline. And as we all know in today’s film and commercial world, times are not extending but constantly shrinking. Whatever solutions we might have to accommodate that – especially if they are in sync with cost-saving, we believe them to be the future of approach to the motion picture.”Adam Tunikowski, the CEO and co-Founder of Juice.