In this week’s eagerly anticipated episode of The CW’s Smallville, young Clark Kent gets some super-powered help from other crimefighters that have made appearances on the show in previous installments. Titled ‘Justice,’ the episode hints at the beginning of the Justice League as Green Arrow, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg and the boy who will become Superman join forces to battle Lex Luthor. Bringing the melee to the screen required Entity FX to come up with ways to demonstrate how each character’s powers have progressed since we saw them lest in Kent’s hometown.
Trent Smith, Entity’s senior producer for the series, says that while the episode wasn’t their biggest one to date, it did offer a lot more effects work than most mid-season installments. ‘It’s interesting because typically during the season you don’t get a lot of episodes on a show like this, so it was pretty cool to have a lot of shots to go through and tackle,’ he tells us.
‘Justice’ called for just under 50 visual effects shots as the superheroes get together for the first time to rescue Bart Allen (a.k.a The Flash), who has been trapped by Luthor. ‘In the episode, there is a great deal of emphasis on the look of Flash’s super speed as he runs around,’ says Entity’s Eli Jarra, who serves as visual effects supervisor and lead compositor on the show. ‘We took it from where we left it a few seasons ago, in the episode ‘Run’ where we saw Bart last time, and expanded on that. We went with the principle idea that time has passed and he can actually run faster than he could in that episode. We elaborated on what that trail might look like if he were able to run twice as fast as Clark.’
Smith says they wanted to give Flash’s super speed effect a look that was more current and decided to implement 3D techniques. ‘We combined that with the older 2D approach and came up with a hybrid, a mixture of the two. It wasn’t completely different from what people were used to seeing, but you could say it was more tight of an effect. Doing it in 3D gives us the possibility of choosing a path for Flash that he may not be able to achieve in the 2D composite world.’
The 3D particle effects that make up Flash’s streak were created in Autodesk’s Maya and the compositing work was achieved in Adobe Aftereffects. Tracking the live-action plate in 3D required the use of 2d3’s Boujou. Other instrumental applications included discreet combustion and pretty much everything else at the team’s disposal.
The Cyborg character got some mechanical enhancements for the episode and the crew at Entity was able to take viewers inside his inner workings to see some of the ways he processes things. ‘He goes through schematics and diagrams and is able to defeat security by bypassing it and we take a really quick trip through that,’ Smith comments.’
‘With Cyborg, as well as the other characters, we reference a lot of the comic books to get the feel that has already been established and put our own stamp and our own creativity on it,’ adds Jarra. ‘With Cyborg, we definitely wanted to stay true to the parts of his body that are human versus robotic. A lot of red flags go up when we kind of deviate from the comic books. We try to catch as many of them as possible but I sure on some forum somewhere somebody’s saying, ‘Hey, that’s not right, you can’t do that.”
Since Smallville takes place in the Mid-West, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for Aquaman to show off his skills, but he does have a few moments to shine in the episode, according to Jarra. He says they were able to build on the swimming effects they engineered for a previous Aquaman visit to Smallville, as well as the unaired pilot for the dead-in-the-water Aquaman series titled Mercy Reef. ‘He’s all computer-generated, as well as the water, which is cool because you can do things to make them interact with each other. Seeing him swim super-fast, you get a sense of something underwater that’s going very, very quickly and is altering the surface of the water in a way to makes you wonder if it’s a torpedo.’
‘We tooled around with ideas, asking if he propels himself like a missle where he’s leaving a big bubble trail behind him, or if he’s somehow maneuvering around the water and is actually traveling with the bubbles instead,’ Smith adds. ‘In this episode, when you see the reveal of [him] swimming under water, I would say 25% of the shot is a real plate and everything else is CG. We used a stock shot of a building that is going to be [Lex Luthor’s Project 33.1] and created full CG water and sky.’
Smith says one of the more difficult shots has Green Arrow shooting an arrow just past Luthor’s cheek. ‘That shot was a very creative challenge because it involved mixing together two plates that were never intended to be together and trying to get those two to merge as one as if the camera was whipping back to follow the arrow,’ he remarks. ‘It definitely tool a lit of time to figure out the nuances of that.’
‘Trying to choreograph that to give viewers a sense of peril and also give them enough time register everything that’s going on in just a few frames is definitely challenging,’ says Jarra.
According to Jarra, another main challenge was just trying to squeeze all these different superpowers into one hour-long episode and giving each character a moment to show what they can do. ‘We spent more time on that rather than doing, say, 20 shots for each character. We wanted to keep the number down so we could keep the quality up and not bore the audience with doing visual effects in every single shot.’
The ‘Justice’ episode of Smallville premiered on Thursday, Jan. 18 and is sure to remain a fan favorite for some time. Learn more about the show at www.cwtv.com/shows/smallville and check out more of Entity FX’s work at www.entityfx.com.