‘Smallville’: Visual effects gurus who made Clark super

May 13, 2011 | 7:31 p.m.

An ominous fireball approaches on the "Smallville" finale -- another example of the effects Entity FX provides for the show. We asked some of the company's effects wizards to name some of their favorite "Smallville" effects. We couldn't list them all, but here are some. (The CW)

Metropolis for All Seasons (across the series) - "Some of our most rewarding effects have come from depicting the cityscapes of Metropolis. By modeling a whole city and all of the iconic buildings – The Daily Planet, Luthercorp, Watchtower, etc., we could either call on an extensive library of digital stock shots, or generate a custom fly-through that could always give the story the right context, whether by day, night, rain, snow, alternative universes or a full moon." - Trent Smith, Senior Visual Effects Producer, Entity FX

A completed shot. Metropolis was also a home for Lex Luthor, and his unveiling of his super soldiers in Season 6's "Prototype" was also a favorite. “The scene showing Lex's hundreds of engineered soldiers from the episode Mat Beck directed was one of many collaborations with matte painter Jason Dunn. The room is mostly photo elements, with 3-D pods and racks. We were able to get convincing parallax by modeling the front-most row in 3-D and then projecting texture back onto it." - Brian Harding, visual effects supervisor, Entity FX.

Clark Battles His Alter Ego and Breaks a Dam (Season 7, Episode 1 "Bizarro") - "Realistic digital water dynamics were not traditional bill-of-fare for weekly television, but David Alexander had some in-house techniques for synthetic environments that allowed the CG mass of water coming from the dam break to interact believably with the CG bridge, before it smacked into camera with, literally, a lot of impact." - Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor, Entity FX

The completed shot. Another water-related favorite (not pictured) came in the same episode as dead bodies floated in water. “This an another example of one small, real element being expanded into a synthetic environment with a lot of scope. The only live-action element was Lois Lane's face in the window, with the camera pulling back to view a large, CG-flooded room full of bodies that, we hope, felt appropriately creepy.” - Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor, Entity FX

Clark super-leaps from a roof in "Insurgence." - “Clark does his first super-leap, and it was great fun. The challenge was to make the audience aware when we were manipulating time so that they understood the action, and were involved in it. When Clark goes into superspeed, the camera goes into hyper slow motion, so that it becomes a 'bullet time' moment, where everything is barely moving. But then, within that moment, we made the camera capable of whooshing around to different spots. That whooshing added energy and a sense of vertigo looking down the building. We also added some birds that froze in flight as another signal of when time slowed down." - Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor, Entity FX (The CW)

Blue Beetle Transforms in His Suit (Season 10, Episode 18 “Booster”): “I like the Blue Beetle transformation shots from this season because it gave us the chance to bring in one of the producers' favorite comics characters and add a new member to the stable of animated CG performers.” - Trent Smith, senior visual effects producer, Entity FX

Justin Hartley in the "Smallville" finale (green screen). Hartley's Green Arrow was one of the heroes who helped form a fledgling Justice League in Season 6's "Justice." "With Aquaman, Green Arrow, Cyborg and Flash, this episode had a great variety of visual effects. I love the slow-motion 'power shot' as they leave the facility they've just blasted. Behind them, the frame is filled with billowing explosions, part practical, part digital and part painted clouds. The actors were extracted from greenscreen and placed into the scene." - Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor, Entity FX

Justin Hartley in the "Smallville" finale (completed). Hartley's Green Arrow was one of the heroes who helped form a fledgling Justice League in Season 6's "Justice." "With Aquaman, Green Arrow, Cyborg and Flash, this episode had a great variety of visual effects. I love the slow-motion 'power shot' as they leave the facility they've just blasted. Behind them, the frame is filled with billowing explosions, part practical, part digital and part painted clouds. The actors were extracted from greenscreen and placed into the scene." - Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor, Entity FX (The CW)

An ominous fireball approaches Metropolis on the "Smallville" finale. (The CW)

We’ve heard from the main star of “Smallville,” Tom Welling, producers and even a few heroes (Eric Martsolf and Justin Hartley), but the people that make the show fly — the visual effects team — are also closing a chapter in their lives.

For Entity FX, the visual effects company that has crafted everything from a Metropolis skyline to the expression of Clark Kent’s powers since the second season, it’s a bittersweet ending.

“We did 4,500 visual effects shots across 195 episodes … It was one of the longest-running vfx-centered shows ever. Longer than ‘X-Files,’ ‘Twilight Zone,’ ‘Lost,’ ‘Buffy’ and a whole bunch of others,” said Mat Beck, senior visual effects supervisor of Entity FX.

The show not only taxed them creatively, it also expanded their respect and knowledge of the Man of Steel.

Tom Welling (The CW)

Tom Welling as Clark Kent. (The CW)

“Over the years, I’ve definitely grown to have much more of an appreciation for it and learned a lot more. Of course, now I feel like I’ve made a mark in history since I’ve contributed to the way those effects are viewed by some individuals,” said Trent Smith, senior visual effects producer of Entity FX.

“I don’t know that this is the first show that’s ever combined teen angst with being a superhero, but it certainly did the most exploration into that.  Superman‘s a more rich and complex and conflicted character than I was used to growing up as a kid,” said Beck.

“Smallville’s” look often has a cinematic quality, a mini-movie each week, and those responsible for it know the demands that come from producing a show like this. The company, Beck said, had to grow in how it did things onscreen as Clark’s powers grew.

“They hadn’t been introduced yet … so while he’s trying to figure out what’s going on, we’re trying to figure out how to do it as well,” said Beck. “The challenge was to come up with something that would withstand the test of time but still be capable of evolving as the needs of the effect change.”

And not only did they have to create a certain look for Clark and his powers, but also for the myriad powers that were presented when different guest stars showed up — as with Impulse and his super speed.

“He was a character that we had to take a look at because he moves just as fast as Clark, which we’ve already established a look for, but we wanted it to be different. So, we took our thoughts and our feelings and put it toward what we thought would be the different attributes you’d see on screen if you were going this fast. That’s where we developed something more like a fire trail coming off of him because he’s traveling so fast,” said Smith.

Visual effects shot of the Daily Planet. (The CW)

Visual effects shot of the Daily Planet. (The CW)

That manipulation of space and time became a central theme for the effects company, and something that it honed to perfection over the years with various techniques to display different scenarios.

“There’s frozen moments when nothing’s moving; and there’s bullet-time in which things are moving very, very slowly. Then there’s ultra high speed in which the camera is moving faster than [Clark] is; and then there’s super speeding, in which he runs so fast that he becomes a blur and the camera’s in normal speed… It’s like writing, in a way. How do we convey to the audience that at this moment, though Clark is moving in slow-motion, he’s actually moving faster than everybody else in the world,” says Beck.

After all of that, the mood at the effects house is similar to that of many on the other side of the camera: It’s been fun.

“I’ll equate it to graduating high school. You’ve enjoyed those years and you’ve learned and you’ve grown, but it’s time to move on and go on to the next challenge. Working a show this long, I know a lot of the people pretty personally, and I expect to continue keeping that relationship with them,” said Smith.

“It’s true. The best part of any working relationship is not just the cool stuff you churn out, it’s the cool people you get to work with,” says Beck. “This has been really, really great, but there’s a whole world of really cool effects to do that don’t involve a kid from Krypton.”

– Jevon Phillips

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Comments


5 Responses to ‘Smallville’: Visual effects gurus who made Clark super

  1. MARK GEORGEFF says:

    Hoping there’d be an article about the SMALLVILLE FINALE.

    As a comic book and graphic novel fan, movie fan and all around nerd and storyteller fan; this is the night a truly great American myth ends.

    Everyone from Tom to Michael; the producers, cast and writers for over 10 years really and truly gave this series the bets they could. We’re talking about before SUPERMAN become SUPERMAN folks.

    That’s not a hat trick anyone can pull off. And they did. And more than that.
    They did it with a lot of love and respect for SUPERMAN.

    I know there have been naysayers about this series, etc.

    I don’t give a flying F.

    There wouldn’t be SUPERMAN if it wasn’t for a little, Midwestern, All American town called SMALLVILLE.

    Go on and fly Clark! You’ve earned it.

    MARK

  2. Daniel Smith says:

    I've been a fan of Superman ever since i was a boy of 10. At that time comic books were only a dime. That's a long time ago to some and yet seems like yesterday to me. I was so glad to see the story of Clark Kent growing up and learning how to release the Real Superman inside. Having special powers is great, but they can be misused and turned to evil purposes. All of us know this deep inside, and the inspired creators who brought this show to us at a critical time in our life's journey were truly inspired from a much higher Spiritual plane. Call it Muse if you like.
    The point is "Smallville" is a prelude to what is coming to our planet in a positive way, even in the midst of all this seeming chaos and destruction around us. Stay in your Heart not in your fear and just like Clark, Lois, Chloe, Oliver and all the other heros of this 10 year series , we will all help each other walk forward into the Light of a brand new and much better day.

  3. ROBERT says:

    Give us a Smallville spinoff and please somebody, some net work out there please pick up the Wonder Woman show that stupid NBC Cancelled. . .
    give us a Superman tv show and or a Justice League tv show with Tom welling cast as Superman in both pictures.
    Please cast Tom welling as SUPERMAN in the 2013-2014 Justice League Movie

  4. Kamal says:

    Tom Welling is so perfect for the role of Superman…. Thumbs up for Welling….

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