The Emmy nominations came out today and of course, there’s much to be excited about – from Dexter to Glee to Good Wife and whatever series floats your particular boat. And yes, there’s plenty of the traditional “eye candy” (e.g. pretty actors/sets/costumes) to look at in all those shows.
But there’s an entirely different type of ‘eye candy’ worth considering – and that’s the Outstanding Special Visual Effects For A Series. I’ve only see 5 out of the 8 in question, so if this seems like a biased post, my apologies. That said, in each case, the FX were excellent. In many cases, breathtaking. The FX became as much a part of the storytelling process as the actors/sets/costumes, etc. They embellished the story. Added to the emphasis of ‘what’s at stake.’
For those of you not keeping score, here’s VFX highlights from those nominated series I’ve seen (clearly, the science fiction shows – I’m afraid I’m a bit remiss on the modern dramas):
Stargate Universe • Air • Syfy
Stargate Universe • Space • Syfy
In its fledgling stage, this series has stumbled, sure. It’s also had some excellent high points. That’s how first seasons work. Extreme highs and disappointing lows. However! The one area this series has not disappointed on is bring a sense of wonder back into the franchise. That’s been true across the board – from writing to set design and in this case, to some extraordinary aliens designed by the same house which brought you District 9. These creatures emoted, terrified, and haunted not just the characters, but the viewers as well. It’s a long way from the rubber masked aliens of old. It’s also worth pointing out that VFX isn’t just about aliens and space battles, it’s about the subtle tweaks that make us buy into extraordinary situations. Mark Savela, VFX Supervisor for SGU, gives an excellent account over on Gateworld on some of the work done on the Space episode. Give it a read.
Caprica • There Is Another Sky • Syfy
Another series in its fledgling year – and very worth watching! No, it’s not Battlestar Galactica — in fact, its better and even more disturbing. And while the episode most likely got nominated for its VR environment in Caprica City, my favorite effect of the entire series is the slow pans across Zoe where we see her as her Avatar, as a Cylon, and then as an Avatar again. It’s Frankenstein meets the Electra Complex and the sight of that pan will keep you up all night, highly disturbed! Go on, watch the nominated episode on Hulu and see for yourself:
Virtuality • NBC (Pilot)
Talk about fledglings – this pilot for FOX never made it passed a one time showing (on July 4th last year, I believe). Too bad, too. While there were some clunky elements, it was a pilot for crying out loud! Penned by Ron D. Moore (ST: Deep Space Nine, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica), it’s a shame this series never got out of the gate… but then, we’ve all learned the hard way that FOX doesn’t care much for Science Fiction (cough, cough – Firefly and Dollhouse, anyone?) Although the full episode isn’t available online, you can watch this fantastic launch sequence thanks to YouTube. And yes, it has a definite 2001 quality to it that might pull it out of dark horse status in the Emmys and give it the award it deserves.
V • Pilot • ABC
One last series – and again, in its fledgling year. This reinvention went the SyFy channel’s Sanctuary route with mostly green screen composites for the onboard sequences. Sadly, it seems the Sanctuary folks (with a budget one third the size of V) got the compositing better than V – a major network series! Hello, can you say, “Add shadows, you nimwit!” On the flip side, I dug the exteriors of the ships. There’s something about walking down 5th Ave in NYC — Starbucks in hand – and glancing up only to see a lizard queen alien grinning down at you, contemplating if you’ll go better with a good Chianti or a nice Riesling.
V has suffered from holding back too much, dragging out minutae we really don’t care about (Thorn Birds, anyone?). The season finale, however, did pull itself together and raise the stakes – both story-wise and visually). Too bad “Red Sky” (see below courtesy of Hulu) wasn’t nominated instead of the pilot.