For the second edition of our weekly Shadowhunters Debriefs (a collaboration between ShumDario News and Basic Shadowhunters Stuff) we talked to someone who made the show’s magic happen, literally: Philippe Thibault, VP and VFX Supervisor at Folks VFX, who has been part of the show since the beginning of season 2. In the following interview he talks about the process of creating visual effects for a project like Shadowhunters, the challenges that process brings, and why Magnus’ magic was one of his favorite effects to work on.
Over the past few years we saw many amazing visual effects on Shadowhunters – from portals to dragons up to entire cities created from scratch. Can you explain the process of integrating the visual effects into the episode?
For a show like Shadowhunters, we need to get involved very early because of the time constraint. Once we have a version of a script, the first “pass” is about finding what could possibly be the VFX, and then we do a breakdown and a first budget based on those assumptions. Once that is completed, we have several meetings with the creatives of the show. We do storyboards as well for the sequences we feel will be more complicated, and we nail down all aspects of how we will shoot before we get to set. Then there is a whole process of prepping, discussing, adjusting the script with the showrunners and directors. If there are things we feel would be too complicated or too ambitious for the ‘realities’ of the show, we sometimes completely rethink some ideas to put more time and effort on more important effects for the story. Storytelling is always the most important aspect.
One of the biggest changes in the visual effects has been Magnus’ magic. How did you come up with the idea of giving it a color code – using blue for regular magic or red for angry magic?
That idea was from the showrunners, Todd, Darren and Matt. It was always important for them that this was clear, story-wise. It was the same idea when we used different colors for different warlocks, they had to have distinctive colours and their own mark.
Which part of your work was the most complicated or demanding? Is creating a whole city like Idris harder than adding moving warlocks’ magical shots?
Adding magic is somewhat easier then creating an entire CG city or CG creatures from scratch. When you build and design anything, no matter how you do it, it requires time – time to design, time to create, to rig, to animate, to render and finally time to integrate into the shot. For the magic, once we had the look of it established – and yes, sometimes that is a difficult step to get to – it was much easier to repeat and reproduce, and it became just a matter of adapting it to the choreography of the warlocks. That was always really fun with Harry Shum Jr., who played Magnus Bane, who’s such a fantastic performer.
What was the thinking behind the difference in style between Magnus’ portals and the ones Clary created in season 2?
We wanted Clary to have her own design and own way of creating her portal. Hers are created using a rune and we wanted to find a way to showcase that aspect when she used it. I was very happy with the final result, Clary’s portal kicked ass!
Can we expect even more incredible creatures, such as Lilith’s demonic form in 3B?
Yes, so much happening, 3B will be EPIC! I can’t tell you too much…
It’s the little things fans take the most note of. Whether that be the computerization in Izzy’s eyes or something else of that nature. How do you make sure nothing is overlooked and every part of the capture is perfect?
Lots of preparation, but mostly being very creative (and smart) about where we decide to put the energy for the VFX. Cutting here, adding there, and making sure we put the effort where it counts the most. VFX are there to help tell the story, at no point do we want it to be just about VFX, it’s all about telling the story.
It is no cheap affair to run a show on the scale of Shadowhunters. What little tricks have you learned along the way to help budding productions who don’t have much of a budget for VFX?
Being extremely smart and efficient on set by being well prepared, and get the strict minimum we need to get it done to save precious shooting time. Great collaboration with the ADs, the DOP, the camera team, and all the keys is also essential. The crew on Shadowhunters was simply fantastic, and always very helpful and collaborative to help us get what was required. It’s also a matter of cutting the episodes well and using VFX shots where it really matters. Sometimes that means less VFX shots overall but we are putting the time and money where it is very important for the show.
We heard that when a Shadowhunters scene has a werewolf in it, but the VFX isn’t ready yet, the word WOLF will leap across the screen in all caps. Are there any other anecdotes likes this?
[Laughs] It is like that for most of the larger scaled VFX, we will get a cut with a black image with writing on it mentioning what it is expected to be.
Which type of visual effects were the most difficult or challenging?
Definitely CG creatures. With the time constraint we needed to have an incredible efficient pipeline and, again, be extremely smart and decisive about where to put the effort. But most importantly, you need a kick ass creature designer like Gabriel Beauvais on your team. He nailed down all the designs from scratch in no time.
Which type of visual effects were your favorite to work on?
It’s hard to choose just one. Creatures and environments are always fun and so challenging; I really enjoyed the process and the challenged it was to create them from start to finish. But I also really enjoyed working with Magnus (Harry Shum Jr.) and his magic. He is such a fantastic performer, and we always had great discussion about his moves and intention. The magic specialist at Folks also really enjoyed working on Magnus’ magic.
What is your favorite memory from working on Shadowhunters?
The cast, the crew, the showrunners, the directors, the set…everything about that show has been an incredible ride. I made amazing friends, and I will never forget that. Also the whole movement to save it, and the die hard fans! And of course, everyone at Folks who put so much time and effort making this show what it has become. I’m very proud of all of that, and will remember it forever. As a VFX supervisor, Shadowhunters was a dream project for many reasons. Creatively, I had all freedom and the support from the showrunners Todd and Darren, mixed in with all their great ideas and the ones from Matt Hastings. It was one of my most satisfying experiences as a supervisor.
Shadowhunters airs on Freeform on Mondays at 8pm EST and is available the following day to stream on Hulu and Netflix International.