- MARCH 20, 2013 | WRITTEN BY: Ian Failes | fxguide.com“It’s been the season of decapitations,” declares Stargate Studios visual effects supervisor Victor Scalise, reflecting on season three of AMC’s The Walking Dead. In this series, the characters fortify themselves inside an abandoned prison while still trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Stargate once again provided digital effects for the show, matching extensive practical and make-up effects work by KNB EFX Group (one of the co-founders of KNB, Greg Nicotero is a co-executive producer, special effects makeup artist, director and also actor on The Walking Dead).Read More
- NOVEMBER 29, 2012 | WRITTEN BY: Carolyn Giardina | THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTERDuring Wednesday’s event, the shorts were presented at a standing room only screening in the lot’s Cary Grant Theater that was attended by some of the filmmakers, including director and cinematographer Sam Nicholson.Nicholson teamed with Stargate Studios to produce Mahout, which follows an orphan girl who helps a baby elephant escape an abusive owner and return to his herd in the wild. Nicholson directed and Dana Christiaansen lensed the short using the F55. It was made on location in Sri Lanka.Calling 4K “totally addictive,” Nicholson said, "It gives you a tremendous amount of options in post. It is almost like being [on the shoot] again.” Others emphasized the flexibility of the lightweight camera body, which weighs roughly 4.5 pounds, according to Sony.Read More
- Mahout, Sony F55 Camera Demo directed by Sam Nicholson
NOVEMBER 27, 2012
Stargate Germany has won the Innovation Award Berlin-Brandenburg 2012 for development of “Virtual Backlot Live." For the past 20 years, the prize has been awarded to companies presenting innovative manufacturing processes or products. This year, Stargate was selected among more than 100 contenders.
Stargate's “VB Live” - the new innovation production tool based upon Stargate's “Virtual Backlot,” offers fully immersive environments to shoot establishing shots, multiple angle coverage, walk & talks, and driving.
“VB Live” provides additional services like real time prevision and compositing. "We developed ‘VB Live’ to use for daily formats like the telenovela ‘Road to Happiness’ and low-cost productions," says Matthias Haase, Creative Director and one of the developers of “VB Live." Thomas Knop, CTO and developer adds that Stargate is "happy and proud about winning the Innovation Award. It is an important signal to make Virtual Backlot and VB Live a more commonly used tool for the German TV productions.”Read More
- NOVEMBER 27, 2012To highlight the opening of their LA Studios, YouTube Space LA featured Stargate's VB Live real time compositing system in a live performance video with Lindsey Stirling. Collaborating with Lindsey, Stargate Studios created a virtual environment that evolved with her performance in real time. Stargate's VB Live system was also showcased throughout the event demonstrating a variety of photo real immersive environments from Stargate's Virtual Backlot Library.YouTube Space LA is a free production facility built exclusively for YouTube partners and content developers. YouTube has already opened YouTube Space London and YouTube Space Tokyo is in the works.At the YouTube Space locations, YouTube partners are invited to work together and use a variety of production resources, including a recording studio, three green screen rooms, two production stages, a motion capture studio, collaboration spaces, a screening room, and an equipment room with lights, cameras, mics, grip equipment and more.Kathleen Grace, Manager of Production and Programming at YouTube Space LA, writes on the YouTube Creator blog, “The Space, a 41,000 square foot former helicopter hangar in Playa Vista, is a place where established and emerging creators from our Partner program can work together to cultivate big ideas and ambitious ways to tell their stories. And like the YouTube Space London, YouTube doesn’t charge you any fees for use of the Space or the production equipment that’s housed there.”In addition to equipment and production space, YouTube Space Los Angeles will also host events and meetups, as well as training programs, workshops and master classes. Partners can learn more at youtube.com/space.Read More
- OCTOBER 17, 2012 | thecredits.orgStargate Studios CEO Sam Nicholson is a visual effects legend (VFX). A cinematographer by trade, Nicholson hails from the mother ship of visual effects gigs, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His work on The Enterprise shot Nicholson’s career to stratospheric heights and spans some of the greatest television shows in recent memory—and we’re not being hyperbolic. Nicholson founded the incredibly busy visual effects house Stargate Studios, which has performed post-production visual effects for TV shows including CSI, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, Ugly Betty, Las Vegas, ER, Parks and Recreation, and The Walking Dead. To boot, Stargate Studios is fast expanding into international VFX production and has won acclaim for its runaway-production-halting Virtual Backlot. Nicholson was barely stateside a week when he took the time to chat with The Credits about Stargate Studios, his love of visual effects, and insight into the plight of a major Hollywood VFX producer.
- April 1, 2012 | WRITTEN BY: Marc Loftus, postmagazine.com[Touch] continues a long-time collaborative relationship with creator/writer Tim Kring, who’s used Stargate’s VFX skills on Crossing Jordan and Heroes. Touch looks at the interconnection of people’s lives throughout the world and a young autistic boy who recognizes the affect a person’s action can have on someone they’ve never met and in another part of the world.Mark Spatny is a visual effects supervisor on the show, which is heavily dependent on virtual sets and mattes to create locations such as Moscow, Mumbai, Bagdad and Dubai. The show is in its first season, but already the storyline is calling for challenging locations such as the site of a plane crash and even the International Space Station.
- MARCH 21, 2012 | WRITTEN BY: Ian Failes, fxguide.comThe second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead has just ended, with the finale scoring nine million viewers in the US. The show has continued to showcase a rich mix of practical zombie effects, care of KNB EFX Group, and digital work from Stargate Studios. We take a look at some of the season two highlights with Stargate founder and visual effects supervisor Sam Nicholson, the show’s on-set VFX supervisor Victor Scalise and digital visual effects supervisor Jason Sperling.
- FEBRUARY 2012 | WRITTEN BY: Pasadena WeeklyEver since horror movie maestro George Romero unleashed his indie-film masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead” upon an unsuspecting planet in 1968, zombie movies have, well, refused to die. Through five more zombie films of his own, and seemingly dozens of other films centering on an attack of the undead, the concept of decaying humans who can’t be stopped from preying on others has been used in both cheap-budget schlock (“Let’s Scare Jessica to Death”), high-minded art films (“28 Days Later”) and best of all, twisted action comedies (“Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead”).
- FEBRUARY 2012 | WRITTEN BY: Dima Alzayat | LA TIMESWith offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Mumbai and Malta, Pasadena-based visual effects producer Stargate Studios is now expanding the reach of its virtual stage technology to Europe by opening new facilities near Berlin.The production company, started in 1989 by visual effects supervisor and cinematographer Sam Nicholson, uses green screen technology — a technique in which actors perform in front of a blank screen that is later replaced by a separately filmed background — as a cost-effective substitute to location filming. Clients include television shows ABC’s “Pan Am” (set in New York, London and Paris), AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (set in Georgia) and Fox’s “Touch” (set in locales across the globe)."We've been using our virtual technology here in the States for many years and it's been so successful,'' Nicholson said. "Now, European producers are eager to employ the same virtual back lot technology. They can use it to greatly increase the creative scope and look of their shows, without increasing the budget."
- APRIL 2011 | WRITTEN BY: Diane Reed SemckenStargate Studios continues its global expansion with the recent opening of Stargate Studios Toronto. Stargate Toronto is headed by Kris Wood and, under his direction, has contributed to several Stargate projects including Maggie Hill, Happy Town and Haven. Current projects include season two of Haven and the new series Against the Wall.The company currently consists of 15 producers, supervisors and artists in compositing, 3D and graphics and is located in Liberty Village, the media center of the city.According to Stargate Founder and CEO Sam Nicholson, ASC, the Toronto office was opened in response to a growing demand for visual effects services in Toronto, as many television productions are taking advantage of local tax credits there. "We have had an office in Vancouver for 10 years, and our Toronto studio complements our plans to strengthen our global network of visual effects companies."·
- DECEMBER 2010 | WRITTEN BY: Marjorie Galas | www.resource411.comAMC's latest television series, "The Walking Dead," features a smart script, strong actors, stunning production value, and hundreds of zombies. Gory, gnarly zombies covered in rotting flesh, gaping wounds, and missing body parts. These creations are the handi-work of Gregory Nicotero and his special effects makeup house, K.N.B. Effects Group.A long time friend of ”The Walking Dead’s” creator and executive producer Frank Darabont, Nicotero began verbalizing concepts for the show many years ago. Darabont knew he wanted to develop a series centered on zombies but was looking for fresh and compelling material. Once Darabont discovered Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” graphic comics, his search was over and Nicotero began creating some busts and early prototypes. Although the two men had a strong dialogue and understanding of their mutual zombie expectations, the constraints of a television schedule and budget provided many challenges in creating high quality prosthetics."It's always a challenge on a TV schedule," said Nicotero. "We literally shot six mini-movies. Each show was treated like it was a film: we didn't prep the show any differently than we would prep a movie in terms of the man power or in terms of the amount of prosthetics."The pilot episode required 150 zombies to be created within a two day schedule. With six weeks of prep prior to shooting, K.N.B. began building the various appliances. During the third week, Nicotero traveled to Atlanta, the shooting location, to get involved in other aspects of pre-production, including casting."We had to audition people in Atlanta, so in my first few days on location I picked the people who had the right look and the right performance," said Nicotero. "When you are watching a wide shot with a bunch of zombies, the ones that walk a little too stiff, a little too much like Frankenstein, those pop right out."Having a vast understanding of casting as well as the entire filmmaking process aids Nicotero in getting the job done effectively. When working with a large crowd scene filled with zombies, Nicotero employs different makeup applications for the three tiers of the group: background, mid-ground and close-ups. The zombies who will be featured in close-ups receive the most custom-fit appliances, including dentures and contacts. Those in the back are wearing specially designed masks. He works closely with the cinematographer and the lighting crew to ensure the camera-ready zombies are in the correct spots."It's challenging dealing with television where you have two to three cameras going at the same time," said Nicotero. "You'll always have one camera that will be panning the crowd, trying to get close ups. You have to be standing by the monitors during the take. You have to be involved in choreographing the scene, in where the cameras go and in the lighting. You have to have a good overall knowledge of filmmaking, because your effect can be made or broken in the photography, the choreography, in how it's lit."Preparing a crowd of zombies for a shoot day is equally as challenging. For a majority of the crowd, K.N.B. utilized custom designed zombie 3D transfer prosthetics made at their workshop in Los Angeles. The 3D transfers are made out of a glue similar to the glue used to hold down prosthetic pieces. The transfers are activitated with alcohol and then adhered to the face. The edges are smoothed out, and oil-free makeups (primarily tattoo colors) are then applied. Although this type of appliance cut the application time in half, Nicotero's team put in very long hours during the pilot."We would start at 3:00am and go makeup after makeup,” said Nicotero. "When they were ready to shoot at 8:00am, I would send a crew to set and keep another crew in the trailer. They would just continue so by lunchtime, they had 100 people ready to go. There were days where I had guys who never left the makeup trailer."The makeup artists use the actors' physical attributes as inspiration for the zombie they are creating. Many of same actors are turned into different zombies for subsequent episodes by adjusting their attributes - taking away a missing chin and giving them a missing nose, for example. They'll be given a wig or new hairstyle to further modify their look. Additionally, attention is paid to mix up the "age" of the zombies. Some zombies are less decomposed than others, depending on when that person transitioned into an undead being.Nicotero and five other makeup artists worked on location in Georgia on a Saturday through Wednesday schedule (maximizing the quieter times on the busy Atlanta streets.) He would then fly back to Los Angeles to work with the K.N.B. crew who were busy at work manufacturing pieces on Thursdays and Fridays. Although most of the mold work was done in advance, there were still specialty prosthetics that had to be made. In the pilot episode, there was a female zombie that had been cut in half and left baking in the summer heat. To create the special prosthetics needed for the severely deformed and leathery appearance of this zombie, the actress was flown to Los Angeles where a life cast of her body was made. Custom dentures, contact lenses and a special wig were created. Using the life cast, full chest and back prosthetics were made that, once applied to the actress, completely transformed her.To create the effect of the zombie cut in half, Stargate Studios, a California VFX house, was brought in. While shooting, the actress wore blue stockings on her lower torso. Stargate then erased her legs in post and replaced them with grass. VFX aids in saving time on the set when it comes to the chase scenes where the main characters run through a crowd shooting up zombies."We had a few where we had practical exit wounds and blood," said Nicotero. "But you get into a situation where the camera is moving so fast and you don't want the limitation of needing to stop and reset and put blood here or there."While most of the VFX applied in the zombie warfare is limited to spraying blood or decapitated bodies, as well as making crowd scenes extend by the thousands, Stargate was very instrumental in shaping the look of post-zombie devastated Atlanta. In the pilot when actor Andy Lincoln emerges from the hospital to discover thousands upon thousands of dead bodies lying in the street and overflowing out of dump trucks, blown up buildings, and demolished helicopters and vehicles, all that was placed on location were 65 bodies and a helicopter."Those are the kinds of things you don't realize are a visual effect, especially when you are watching a zombie show," said Nicotero. "To be able to watch a show and not know what the visual effects guys did, that's a tribute to them."Nicotero and K.N.B. receive the new scripts two weeks prior to shooting - which doesn't offer much time in prepping elaborate effects. In certain instances, Nicotero himself will portray a zombie, especially if the scene requires an elaborate blend of prosthetics and visual effects."My company has been around for 22 years, so we are able to pull from a lot of stock, if we need severed hands or a chopped off head," said Nicotero. "The first thing we did when Gwyneth Horder-Payton was hired to direct the episode, I said ‘I will play that zombie. There's a mold of my head back in Los Angeles, so the guys can start building the prosthetic while I'm here.’ I worked with the stunt coordinator and the director and blocked the scene where I get my head chopped off. In one take, I wore a blue hood, then they shot an element of the head, and they dropped it and rolled it."While shooting during the summer in Atlanta provided unique challenges – especially keeping makeup fresh during the hottest, brightest hours of the day, Nicotero appreciated that “The Walking Dead” was presenting a story that transcends the classic “horror” genre traditions: relying on night time scenes and dark, moody lighting where creatures come out of the shadows. Darabont and Nicotero felt it was important to recognize the recent evolution of zombies being portrayed as very kinetic, animated creatures but didn’t want this trend dictating their style. They wanted to accentuate the mob mentality of a group of zombies: individually they are not a great threat, but brought together as an angry mob they are incredibly dangerous.“That’s something ‘The Walking Dead’ is really talking about, society being consumed by itself, so we spent a lot of time making sure the performance were top notch,” said Nicotero. “Frank and Gail (Anne Hurd, executive producer) really allowed me to be involved on all levels of production. They allowed me to actually embrace my knowledge of the genre. That, to me, was why the show was so rewarding.”To learn more about “The Walking Dead,” please visit: http://www.amctv.com/originals/The-Walking-Dead/Read More
- NOVEMBER 17, 2010 | WRITTEN BY: Ian Failes | fxguide.comStargate Studios is handling the visual effects for The Walking Dead, AMC’s new TV series based on Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse comic and directed by Frank Darabont. We take a look at some of Stargate’s zombie enhancement and virtual set work for the pilot episode.To realise the hundreds of zombies that terrorise a few remaining survivors of the apocalypse, the production relied on make-up designs and practical appliances created by KNB EFX Group under make-up effects veteran Gregory Nicotero. “Greg’s make-up effects work is absolutely remarkable,” says Stargate Studios visual effects supervisor Sam Nicholson. “But if you’re going to do a scene with 300 zombies, you can only go so far, particularly on a budget. The purpose of our visual effects is really to blend seamlessly into Greg Nictotero’s work. The hero zombies in the foreground are typically Greg’s and the extras and the swarms of zombies in the background are generally extended by us.”Stargate’s CG zombie extras were derived directly from the on-screen zombies, both in terms of the actors and make-up effects. “We mo-capped our hero zombie actor, who was the fellow with the longish hair who wakes up in the bus first,” explains Nicholson. He was the best zombie actor, so we mo-capped him doing various moves. Then we scanned probably every single zombie that Greg made. So now we had all the eyes and pieces and everything to basically make a zombie kit, which we could also enhance in an impossible way with missing jaws or noses.”Occasionally, zombie replacement was necessary where a zombie actor was not quite performing the scene as required. “You’re running and gunning on the set,” notes Nicholson, “and sometimes there’s a zombie in the background that wasn’t acting properly – he wasn’t listening in zombie school. So we’d replace a few of them with CG zombies that acted better. We now have a library of about 50 CG zombies that can be dropped into any scene.”Stargate’s digital augmentation can also be seen up close in a number of shots, such as for ‘torso girl’, a lone zombie with no legs encountered early on by the main character, Rick. “They cast a very spooky looking and incredibly thin lady for the character,” says Nicholson. “Greg did a remarkable job on her facial make-up. She was shot with blue spandex legs because her spine and all of her intestines had to be connected and trailing her across the ground. So we did these in CG, along with re-animating the grass and blending into the practical work.”Further enhancement to the zombie scenes included blood and bullet hits. For a shot of Rick shooting his former lieutenant in the head, Stargate was able to dial-in the desired level of violence. “It’s right on the edge of being impossible,” says Nicholson, “although we didn’t want to blow the whole back of his head off. It’s like finding focus – you’ve got to go through it and come back to find exactly where will people feel this is real and not a digital effect. Too much blood looks like something fake, and too much red looks too physical.”Set extensions and environments also made up a large part of Stargate’s work. The shot of Rick on a horse heading into a deserted Atlanta is a combination of a greenscreen car park shoot and a matte painting to remove any signs of life. Notes Nicholson: “Creating an abandoned city is a bit of trick because there’s always streetlights and traffic. We had to take out any scenes of living people other than our people. We had to remove stop lights, create debris blowing around on the highway and add in ravens and other birds.As Rick leaves hospital early in the pilot episode, he sees hundreds of dead bodies lined up outside – a digital extension – and then stumbles into an abandoned army encampment. “That was shot in front of a greenscreen and filled in with a virtual set,” remarks Nicholson. “We added a lot of digital helicopters and Humvees, which we could then use later for other scenes in Downtown Atlanta.”The Downtown area was realised as another virtual set for a pull-back shot of zombies massing towards a tank. “The only thing that is real in that shot is the tank and the zombies that are around it,” says Nicholson. Having built the area in detail, based on photographs and a survey of the real shoot, Stargate plans to re-purpose it for future episodes. “We’ll be able to go back in and re-use the set and the zombies and give a lot more creative options to directors. So if you want say 500 zombies in a scene, you may only have to go out with two or three zombies, and we can do the rest. It just gets better as the series progresses, and we can continue to build the backlot assets for future episodes.”Stargate relied mostly on Maya and After Effects for its digital work, as well as Lightwave, 3ds Max and Photoshop. Production was co-ordinated amongst its US, Canadian and Indian offices using the studio’s visual operating system to tie everything together. This enabled artists to meet tight turnarounds and offer effects as a way of speeding up production. “We like to use visual effects to save a production money,” says Nicholson. “For instance, the shot of Rick on the horse was just quickly shot on greenscreen. It was in a parking lot right next to another shoot which was convenient and could be done in a matter of an hour, which let the company move on, as opposed to having to shut down a freeway.”Still, the intention was always to ensure that no one would know there were any visual effects done for the show. “We wanted there to be no digital fingerprints,” says Nicholson. “That can be on a creative level too, because even if you can’t see any seams in it, you’re like, ‘Oh that can’t be real’. I mean, visual effects are like a car that you can make go as fast as you want to go, they can be as gaudy as you want them to be. But by asking, ‘How big do you want the blood hit? How much of this guy’s head do you want to blow off?’, it can done tastefully, and it looks real that way. And the audience responds to that more positively.”It helps, too, that many of the artists at Stargate were already Walking Dead fans. “It’s funny,” says Nicholson, “we have coffee and croissants here every morning and everyone’s looking at people’s heads being blown off. It’s a pretty unique way to start the day.”Read More
- DECEMBER 8, 2010 | WRITTEN BY: Diane Reed SemckenPasadena, CA – Stargate’s founder and CEO Sam Nicholson, ASC, traveled to Chile in early November to sign an agreement which will allow the company to expand its global production operations to Chile. In meetings with Luciano Cruz-Coke, Chile’s Minister of Culture, Cristian Varela, General Manager of Chilefilms, and Felix Vicente of ProChile, Stargate agreed to open five production stages and facilities in five key locations in Latin America over the next six months, a move that will boost Chile’s economy and create jobs in Latin America’s burgeoning entertainment industry.The agreement will allow Chilefilms to become a strategic partner with Stargate Studios, which currently has offices in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto and has established similar partnerships in Malta and Mumbai. Through their partnership with Chilefilms, Stargate Studios will open new facilities in Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. It will also create an important niche for digital audiovisual professionals in Chile and will heighten the country’s visibility for future foreign productions. Chilefilms will become part of Stargate’s proprietary Visual Operating System (VOS) and its international network of digital artists operating throughout the world. Iconic locations throughout Latin America will also be incorporated into Stargate’s proprietary Virtual Backlot Library, which features hundreds of photo-real, virtual environments from most major cities around the world.“This is a road that will run in two ways: as we will be doing post-production work for artists in Los Angeles, we are also showcasing our beautiful country throughout Stargate’s Virtual Backlot Library,” said Cruz-Coke. “This is a first step towards the maturity of the audiovisual industry in our country.” Nicholson was impressed with the level of talent and professionalism he observed during visits to Chile’s film studios, noting that it a key factor in including having the country as one of Stargate Studios’ global strategic partners. “Our alliance with Chilefilms will enhance the production that can be done from our studios in the United States and Canada and will also save substantially in terms of production costs and time.”Founded in 1989 by Sam Nicholson, ASC, Stargate Studios was conceived as a high-tech production company offering visual effects and production services to the film and television industries. Today, the company has studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto and partnerships in Mumbai and Malta. Discussions are currently underway to establish similar alliances in Berlin and Singapore.The Emmy-award company is currently working on some of television’s most popular shows, including The Walking Dead, The Event and Grey’s Anatomy. Past efforts include visual effects for 24, ER, Heroes and Ugly Betty.Read More
- September 2010 | WRITTEN BY: Iain Stasukevich | AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHERSam Nicholson, ACS and is collaborators at Stargate Studios have a long-running relationship with Arri that includes consulting on the development of the company’s 535 film camera and D-20 and D-21 digital cameras. After seeing Nicholson’s demo films for two other digital cameras, the Sony F35 and the Weisscam HS-2 Highspeed, Arri asked him to produce, direct, and write something similar for its new digital camera, the Alexa.For the demo, says Nicholson, “we wanted to design a piece that would demonstrate the various unique qualities of the Alexa: dynamic range, sensitivity, portability, ease of use, maintenance, and post workflow. Those are all things that define a digital-cinema camera.”Special attention was paid to dynamic range. Apart from resolution, a digital sensor’s ability to capture detail in the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows ins a significant yardstick by which almost every digital camera is measured. This was a particularly important aspect of the Alexa demo, as the camera has a 4:3 ALEV III CMOS 2880 x 1620 sensor with a base EI of 800 ISO, and boasts an exposure latitude of 13 1/2 stops.Arri wanted to see the camera in daylight, low light and high-contrast scenarios and with greenscreen visual-effects scenes, so Nicholson wrote a World Cup-themes story that would incorporate those elements. the plan to unveil the film at the Directors Guild of America ahead of NAB 2010 became a major challenge with the Alexa delivery schedule was altered, pushing production back to a week before the scheduled April 6 premiere. This left Nicholson and cinematographer Dana Christiaansen only a few hours to familiarize themselves with the camera.Nicholson and Christiaansen knew they’d be working with certain limitations. Their prototype Alexa would only shoot at 24 fps with a 180-degree shutter at ASA 800. ArriRaw wasn’t available at the time, so they would be capturing 10-bit 4:4:4 DPX files in Log C on the A camera, and 30 fps ProRes 4:2:2 on the handheld B camera. they had just enough time to check their lenses, Arri Master Primes and Angenieux Optimo 15-40mm and 24-290mm zooms, and get their signals straight before their first day to shooting. “We didn’t even have time to shoot charts or latitude tests,” Christiaansen laments. “We knew very little about the camera except its ISO rating, and that it had a 3.5K-resolution Bayer-style chip.”Unlike the D-20 and D-21, the Alexa does not feature an optical viewfinder and rotating shutter. Instead, it has a 1280×720-pixel F-LCOS (ferroelectric liquid cryst