Making a Blizzard in April

Things get snowy¬†on the set of CBS’s “Elementary.”

Last night’s “Elementary” was a snowy one. If you don’t follow the show, Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Joan Watson try to solve a crime in the middle of a massive blizzard. The city has shut down and the roads are treacherous…It is the worst blizzard the city has seen in years…

In reality though, the city was totally fine! That’s where we helped out.

On-Set Supervising

Some of the biggest shots were filmed at Broadway Stages in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The fearless “Elementary” crew parked a snowplow in the middle of the stage and surrounded it with green and white screens, and they recreated a brownstone staircase with nothing but wood, green and brown paint, and an exact replica of the door found on the real brownstone.

On a separate day we went up to Harlem with a second unit crew to shoot the background plates of the brownstones. We triangulated the location of the cameras as they were in the studio, and we recreated the camera positions.

Compositing

Back at Molecule HQ, we selected the best Harlem plate for the background and gave the image to a matte painter who added snow to the further away elements – parked cars, buildings, and trees were covered in inches of snow. Meanwhile, we worked on the foreground snow that the actors interacted with as well as the falling snow.

The hardest part, our VFX artists say, was to build up the right volume of that “angry snow” that comes with a blizzard. Snow falling in the distance looks like it falls slower than snow falling in front of your face – so for this reason, some shots used 30 to 40 layers of snow, each with a different scale of flakes and falling at a different speed.

Getting snow to look realistic isn’t easy, and Compositing Supervisor Austin Meyers gives this advice – just watch real snow. He says, “there’s a perception of what things look like and then there’s what things actually look like.” If you want to make your own VFX snow, just watch a snowstorm.

Many thanks to the incredible cast and crew of “Elementary” – we had a lot fun playing in the snow with you!

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