Madam Secretary’ began its sixth and final season with the premiere episode revealing that Secretary of State, Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni), won the race for the presidency. VFX Legion capped off three-years of contributing a variety of digital effects for the hit show, with a challenging mix of large-scale CG sequences created for this last season, right through to the series finale, which aired on December 9th.
The LA/B.C.-based VFX studio was called on to create over 140 of the most complex visual effects for the final three seasons: from CG environments that transported the live-action to locations throughout the world - to digital elements and technically challenging effects designed to elevate the visual impact of creator, writer,showrunner Barbara Hall's hit political drama.
VFX Legion first came onboard during ‘Madam Secretary’s’ fourth season, after the show’s producer, Tony Palermo, took a meeting with the the company's VFX Supervisor, James David Hattin, and its Executive Producer, Reid Burns.
“Tony was surprised to see such convincing shots of the White House and D.C. from the TV show, 'Scandal' on our reel of CG work," says Burns. “The high-quality digital environments, built by Legion from the ground up, were indistinguishable from practical footage - and got us in the door."
'Madam Secretary' had been using stock footage of the White House, as well as other locations, and working around their limited flexibility. The cost of taking the New York production to D.C., tight deadlines, and actors' schedules made filming multiple environments unrealistic. Legion presented a viable, efficient alternative: photo-real computer-generated environments custom-designed to seamlessly match the show's live-action footage, while enabling locations that film crews can't access to be recreated digitally with spot-on accuracy.
“The high-quality, complex visual effects we turned around quickly and on budget for that first episode led to the expansion of Legion’s role,” says Burns. “We became the go-to VFX specialist for ‘Madam Secretary, The writer’s room started developing scripts with a wider range of scenarios that took advantage of our CG assets.”
Madam Secretary’ was shot in New York, and set in the country’s political epicenter, Washington D.C.. addressing issues requiring international diplomacy that took storylines beyond US borders. VFX Legion built digital replications of the White House, a crucial fixture in the show. It also produced a range of CG environments, enabling scenarios to play out in political hotspots around the globe, and taking the show digitally where it was unable to go to on film.
“Our team created computer-generated environments throughout the world, from Syria and Turkey to Iraq and Mexico. We were fortunate to be given the freedom to design shots that were innovative, dramatic, and of a scale rarely seen on ‘Madam Secretary,’” adds Hattin.
Legion created numerous virtual crowd sequences over the years - adding large numbers of individuals in motion. Towards the end of season six, its compositors, animators and CG artists took digital crowd simulation to the next level with a CG motion capture sequence that digitally built a huge crowd of people gathered in D.C. to support the president.
During season five, Legion simulated a crowd of hundreds of people that augmented original footage of displaced Syrians. When the producer realized that the numbers didn't reflect the massive scale of the Syrians making the trek to the Turkish border, the VFX company stepped in to create a digital motion capture sequence that dramatically bulked up the number of refugees.
Most recently, the company completed large-scale visual effects sequences for the series finale. The episode closed with an elaborate wedding scene in the Rose Garden that took full advantage of Legion’s White House assets. Helmed by Hattin, its team used SpeedTree software to generate virtual trees, which they animated to match the wind on the day they shot the sequence. Bluescreens were used to add computer generated sections of the White House’s facade visible in the background.
"Producer Tony Palermo, and Associate Producer Drew Ysais, worked with us as a team, communicating with Legion through every phase of the VFX process," says Hattin. "Their collaborative approach maximized the efficiency of our pipeline, enabling us to meet tight deadlines with ease - and gave up more time to focus on getting the most production value out of every shot.”
“The prestigious roster of television shows created by Barbara Hall sets the bar high. We’re thrilled that our work met her high standards and grateful to have had the opportunity to create challenging visual effects that elevated the visual impact of this hit series,” adds Hattin.
Title: ‘Madam Secretary’
Genre: TV Series/CBS
Barbara Hall Productions, LA
Creator, Writer, EP, Showrunner: Barbara Hall
Revelations Entertainment, LA
CBS Television Studios, LA
Executive Producer: Lori McCreary
Executive Producer: Morgan Freeman
Producer: Tony Palermo
Producer: Téa Leoni
Associate Producer: Drew Ysais
VFX COMPANY: VFX Legion, LA/B.C. (Seasons 4,5,6)
Creative Director/VFX Supervisor: James David Hattin
VFX Producer/Head of Production: Nate Smalley
VFX Coordinator: Lexi Sloan
VFX Coordinator: Amanda VanDeCar
VFX On-Set Supervisor: David Isyomin
VFX On-Set Supervisor: Eric Pascarelli
VFX Executive Producer: Reid Burns
CG Supervisor: Rommel S. Calderon
CG Effects: Eric Ebling
CG Artist: Blake Anderson
CG Artist: Trevor Harder
CG Artist: Mark Hennessy-Barrett
CG Artist: Alex Keller
CG Artist: Jake Long
CG Artist: Bryan Shepperd
CG Artist: Chris Strauss
Tracking: Ruy Delgado
Digital Matte Painting: Marc Adamson
Digital Matte Painting: Eric Mattson
Compositing: Nick Guth
Compositing: H Haden Hammond
Compositing: Austin Hiser
Compositing: Christopher Klassen
Compositing; Matthias Lowry
Compositing: Brad Moylan
Compositing: Milton Muller
Compositing: Tyler Nathan
Compositing: Eugen Olsen
Compositing: Dan Short
Compositing: Kyle Spiker
Compositing: Chris Wood