FuseFX Meets the VFX Challenge on “Last Resort”

Los Angeles- In the scope and complexity of its visual effects, the new ABC drama series “Last Resort” (Thursdays at 8:00 PM ET/PT) is challenging even Hollywood tent pole action films in sophistication.

Produced by MiddKidd Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television, “Last Resort” follows the crew of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine “Colorado” who become fugitives from their own country after questioning a suspicious order to fire nuclear missiles at Pakistan. They land on a remote island in the South Pacific called Sainte Marina, where they commandeer a NATO Listening Station and declare themselves the world’s newest nuclear armed nation. Here they will find refuge, romance and a chance at a new life, even as they try to clear their names and get back home. “Last Resort “was created by Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek who, along with Marney Hochman and Kevin Hooks serve as executive producers.

With a submarine as the centerpiece of the entire narrative, “Last Resort” has the feel of epic submarine features such as “The Hunt for Red October,” “Crimson Tide,” and “U571.” “Unlike those movies, where the submarine was created primarily using miniatures in smoky warehouses, this series relies on visual effects and computer generated imagery for all exterior and underwater shots of our submarine, the USS Colorado,” says David Altenau, Visual Effects Supervisor and founder of FuseFX.

The pilot and first few episodes set a high bar for the series and include extremely demanding action sequences featuring the Colorado. These sequences include the sub crashing to the ocean floor, surfacing in multiple conditions and environments, firing a ballistic missile, getting in dog fights with other submarines, maneuvering through elaborate underwater terrain, sending divers out on expeditions, and evading navy ships pursuing from the surface.

The scale and power of a nuclear ballistic missile submarine is critical to the story. In order to achieve the epic quality of the show and convey the presence of the Colorado, FuseFX needed to have total control over camera motion and composition for shots of the sub. “The decision was made to create most of those shots as completely computer generated effects. This includes shots under water as well as shots with the submarine on the surface,” noted Altenau.

Scenes above water with the Colorado require the development of photo-real ocean surfaces including realistic wake and foam generation for interaction with the sub. For underwater shots, besides the sub itself, multiple digital environments were created and various effects to show cavitation, ballast bubbles, and interaction with the sea floor or other aspects of the environment. These types of ocean simulation have been seen in major films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Battleship,” but it is unprecedented on television. It requires a team of artists with a highly technical and creative skill set, along with the latest software tools, hardware, and pipeline to create and integrate these complex elements into photo-real sequences.

FuseFX was also tasked with creating an all-CG version of the “Early Warning Station” that serves as the base of operations for the crew on the island. The plate photography of that location is based on a real structure that was once an actual VLF transmission station for the Navy called the Haiku Naval Radio Transmission Station. But the current condition of the building is so run-down that FuseFX was asked to completely replace the building with a modern CG version, including a full array of satellite dishes, microwave antenna, and the other technology that would be present at a NATO listening post.

Tools employed include: 3DS Max, V-ray renderer, Naiad for water simulation, FumeFX for fluid dynamic simulation, Nuke for compositing. FuseFX has previously worked with Shawn Ryan on “The Unit,” “Lie to Me,” and “Terriers.” Other credits include: “American Horror Story,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Criminal Minds,” “Glee,” “The Good Wife,” and “Falling Skies,” among others.