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‘Westworld’: How the VFX Got Trippy in Season 2

Last year's Emmy-winning VFX team upped its game with mind-blowing environments and that impressive CG bull from the Super Bowl spot.

“Westworld”

HBO


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In its sophomore season, “Westworld” got philosophical about free will and immortality, and the Emmy-nominated VFX got trippy in the finale (“The Passenger”) with some strange environments. The consciousness of all guests got stored in a server center called The Forge, where they were uploaded to host bodies before entering a virtual Eden called The Sublime.

“It’s definitely the biggest thing that I’ve ever done, with 580 plus shots,” said visual effects supervisor Jay Worth. “Aside from shot complexity and pipeline refinements, the volume of shots were so challenging that we used 11 companies [including CoSA Important Looking Pirates, Double Negative, and Pixomondo].”

The first challenge was seamlessly tying together the amusement park’s final destination (shot in multiple California locations, including Pinnacle park and a quarry in Simi Valley) before entering The Sublime. This was handled by CoSA along with the gateway, which looked like a vertical tear in the horizon.

“Westworld”

HBO

“We initially were going to have these large stone and metal pieces that were going to live practically and extend to the sky,” Worth said, “but when we realized that it was too pedestrian for the story we were telling. So we did a lot of R&D on the look and how it would open. We needed it to be bending in space but with particles forming this harder surface. It needed to be unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

CoSA made it look like a tear in space with the light creating a pathway to The Valley Beyond. “We thought of black holes [but nothing like ‘Interstellar’], with particle simulations and distortion,” Worth said. “We still had parts of the stone/metal piece, but the effect made it seem like the rift in space bent around the object.”

For The Sublime, shot on a bluff in Simi Valley, CoSA made it look like an idyllic version of Westworld. “We replaced everything in the back, made some foreground additions, and created digital matte paintings and added more people,” said Worth.

“Westworld”

HBO

The Forge started out as a futuristic-looking set designed by Emmy-nominated production designer Howard Cummings. However, it posed the greatest VFX technical challenge when it became a virtual space flooded with water created by Important Looking Pictures. There were caverns and towers and bubbling water that needed to look realistic.

Finally, there was the memorable CG bull running through the lab, which was rushed to star in the Super Bowl spot. “All of a sudden, a week before the commercial aired, Jonah [Nolan] comes up with an idea for the bull to have robotic parts,” said Worth.

“We didn’t have a design, but he wanted us to do it. I called DNEG and, fortunately, we had basic design pieces of what it should look like based on the body of [Evan Rachel Wood’s] Dolores from last season’s finale.

“Westworld”

HBO

“So they came up with a design and it bounced around the world, 24/7, where it went from London to Singapore to Los Angeles. Then came the culmination, with the bull falling over the edge and flailing and kicking its legs while plowing through a security guard. Part of the skin had been torn away during the stampede to reveal the roboticness of this animal.”

But, Worth said, “I told them repeatedly that this is a bad precedent we’re setting if we can do this entire sequence in six days.”

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