Inside Joke: The Hidden VFX in Aziz Ansari’s Award-Winning Series
WARNING: SEASON 2 SPOILERS AHEAD
Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series “Master of None” doesn’t seem like a show that would have any VFX at all. But there are a several key moments during Season 2 when Visual Effects were integral to the telling of the story…and for setting up the joke.
Dev and Arnold’s Car Gets Stuck IN ITALY
In episode 2 Arnold arrives in Italy to eat pasta with Dev and to attend an ex-girlfriend’s wedding. Dev and Arnold travel through the impossibly narrow Tuscan streets in a rented Fiat, and inevitably their car becomes wedged in between two buildings.
“For this shot we worked with a local VFX Supervisor from EDI who was on location for us in Modena,” says VFX Producer Jamie McIntyre. “We developed style frames ahead of time so we could communicate which plates and stills we needed to extend the wall.”
We needed to position the Fiat on set without incurring any damage. The production designer from “Master of None” suggested a wedge that the on-set team could build and fit in between the car and the wall. The DP sketched out how the wedge would be placed.
Once the footage came in, we extended the walls toward the camera to escalate Dev and Arnold’s predicament. The car is not only wedged in between two buildings, but it’s also stuck down a very long alley as neighbors scold them out their windows and the line of cars behind them continues to grow.
Compositor Jon Doyle reflects, “the most challenging part was trying to get stills from the location lined up. I also did a lot of painting to blend the different textures of wall, maintaining the damage and weathered look. It was fun to work on.”
Dev Walks along a Snowy Street
In episode 9 a crippling blizzard hits New York City, and we see Dev walk alone at night down a street of cars encased in snow.
Because the shot was quite long, we used Nuke’s own particle generator instead of pre-filmed plates or CG to generate the falling snow.
Compositor John Seppala generated the VFX snowflakes. He explains, “I basically rendered 4 differently-sized layers for depth and rendered about 50% extra frames of snow. With the extra frames, I offset them in time and layered them over themselves. This gave me much more control over the aesthetic of the snow and allowed me to render it faster.”
Our matte painter gave the street the blizzard treatment. He painted snow over the existing trees and buildings and gave that freshly plowed-in look to the parked cars.
Dev’s Chest Explodes
In a metaphor for Dev’s heartache in episode 9, Dev’s chest explodes. Francesca laughs as she rips his heart out of his open chest and tosses it nonchalantly into a wood chipper.
Charlotta Forssman was the on-set VFX Supervisor for this scene, and explains, “the first task was to divide up the workload between practical SFX and VFX.”
“Special Effects molded a chestpiece from Aziz,” she continues. “This piece had a door that whipped open exposing the open chest. On the day we shot Aziz with tracking markers reacting to his chest exploding. We then moved to a greenscreen area and filmed the exploding chest.”
Compositing Supervisor Vicky Penzes explains how we implanted the prosthetic chest into Aziz’s chest with VFX.
“We used a LOT of blood assets from our library,” says Vicky. “We also used one of Nuke’s newest features: Smart Vectors. Smart Vectors is so powerful it perfectly tracked the wrinkles in his shirt. This enabled us to integrate the practical chest plate without it looking funky.”
After we integrated the SFX chest with Dev’s chest, we needed to add a few more VFX details to really sell the look of the chest exploding. We integrated more glistening VFX blood to the chest cavity and animated the prosthetic heart so that it appeared to pump.
Finally, we added extra blood drips and spurts, focusing especially on Francesca as she holds Dev’s heart and his blood trickles down her wrist and arm.
More from The Molecule in “Master of None”
To round out our work for this season, we employed the talents of our Motion Graphics department.
Towards the beginning of the season Dev hosts a show called “Clash of the Cupcakes.” The fictional TV show needed a real graphics package, so our team developed the titles, lower thirds, and bumpers for the series.
As the season goes on, Dev convinces his friend Chef Jeff to create a different food TV show together called “BFFs” (Best Food Friends).
For this show’s titles the production wanted to riff on “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”
“The production wanted travel shots that aren’t too glossy,” says Chris Hayes, Motion Graphics Producer at The Molecule.
“We ended up cutting in our own vacation pictures,” he continues. “Most of them are from my honeymoon.”
It was an amazing experience connecting with the “Master Of None” crew for a second season. We’re thrilled for the entire team, and we’re honored to have been invited along for another ride.