Computer Graphics World

July-Aug-Sept 2022

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38 cgw j u ly • a u g u s t • s e p t e m b e r 2 0 2 2 B reak+Enter, A Nice Shoes company, served as a key visual effects provider on the second season of Russian Doll, the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series starring Natasha Lyonne, and co-created by Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler. The studio delivered nearly 150 visual effects shots for the 8-episode season. Most notably, Break+Enter, led by VFX supervisor Gabe Regentin, teamed with Lyonne, her production team, cinematographer Ula Pontikos, and LED lighting specialist 4Wall Entertainment to recre- ate a large portion of the New York subway system using ground- breaking virtual production technology "Gabe and his team made a sweeping contribution to this season of Russian Doll," says Lyonne. "His endless creativity, obsession with precision, and meticulous eye for detail made for a very special and inspired collaboration." Russian Doll's second season is set four years aer the events of its 2019 debut where Lyonne's character, Nadia Vulvokov, was caught in a time-loop that caused her to repeatedly relive the day of her death in a traffic accident. The new episodes take the story in a different time-bending direction as Nadia finds herself moving through time and space in a subway car. It uses that premise as a springboard to continue exploring "existential thematics through an oen humorous and sci-fi lens." Although subway travel occurs frequently in Season 2, shooting on an actual operating subway train proved impractical. "It would have been hugely expensive and live trains would have been hard to control," notes Pontikos. "We knew we needed to build a stage and explored green screen options, but ultimately rejected them. In the end, we pitched the idea of using a carriage on a platform and surrounding it with large LED screens. Actors would sit or stand inside the car as animated, CG backgrounds were displayed on the LED panels outside the windows to simulate motion." Break+Enter was tasked with creating that background imagery. Artists built photoreal 3D replicas of the New York subway system, including stations, tunnels, and other details. "Break+Enter worked with the show's art department in developing the CG assets," Pontikos notes. "They went through trial and error to get the height right, determine the correct color space, and work out other details. Part of the challenge was that we weren't always inside the car- riage. We also needed external shots to add texture to sequences… that required a whole different approach." The CG models not only had to be highly realistic, they also had to be easy to control to provide the production team with the flexibility they needed while shooting. "We built the tunnel system in a procedural way," says Regentin. "That allowed us to generate platforms and tunnel segments on the fly as needed. We created the environment in full 360 so that it could be projected onto the LED volume from any angle. Everywhere you looked, you felt like you were in a subway tunnel." The subway set was built on a stage in Brooklyn. New Jer- sey-based 4Wall Entertainment designed and built the LED walls and the Disguise playback system used to display the pre-rendered CG backgrounds. "We finished the CG tunnel about a month before the shoot and spent two weeks testing the system," Regentin re- calls. "Everything had to line up, including the lighting and the color. Russian Doll REBUILDING THE NEW YORK SUBWAY SYSTEM FOR A TIME-BENDING NEW NARRATIVE Images ©2022 Netflix

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