The VFX behind the show’s biggest shoot-out scene TO DATE
“Shades of Blue” airs its final episode of its second season this coming Sunday, May 21st. For those who are unfamiliar with the show, it centers on two cops (played by Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta) who bend the law to satisfy their own self-interests.
Ahead of this season’s finale, The Molecule is looking back at one of this season’s most intense moments – the shoot-out scene in episode 9.
The following breakdown contains spoilers, so if you currently have “Shades of Blue” on your to-watch list, you may want to bookmark this post for now.
The scene was originally written to take place in a local bar in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. However, the bar was a real, functioning establishment, and we didn’t want to damage the structure with squibs and stunts. Instead, the writers changed the scene to Woz’s house so it could be shot at the stages.
“Originally the intention was to have more Special Effects than Visual Effects enhancements,” says VFX Supervisor Luke DiTommaso. “But that ratio flipped.”
Special Effects still played a crucial role, providing key impacts like windows shattering and paintings falling. SFX also used cork, dust, and rubber glass to provide important interaction with the actors, especially on close up shots. However, staging a gunfight with several actors in close quarters comes with some obvious safety concerns, so we opted for a larger volume of VFX enhancements in post-production.
Including more VFX gives us more flexibility in post, but the actors have to react to bullet hits and muzzle flashes that aren’t happening around them. Luke explains, “I tell them that they’re Fred Astaire and we’re Ginger Rogers. They have to pretend they’re getting hit and trust that we’ll match the effect to their performance.”
After we filmed what we needed with the actors, we sent them home. On the empty set we filmed real bits of exploding wall, splintering wood, and as many practical SFX elements as possible. Filming the elements in this way helped our team seamlessly integrate them into the scene. The geometry and lighting were exactly the same as what we had just filmed with the actors.
Finally, we had one day of pick-up shooting. The house on the sound stage had green screens beyond the windows. Luke is a DGA-certified director as well as a VFX Supervisor, so he directed the second unit shoot, including the moment with the actors getting into the car. We also filmed reaction shots from the actors to help keep up the pace in the final cut of the scene.
Compositing and Choreography
The choreography of the scene took place even before we started putting Wacom pen to tablet.
“The client gave us a lot of freedom with how the scene should look,” says VFX Producer Chris Luttrell. “They said, ‘Just make it look awesome.'”
We took each shot and wrote out exactly what bullet hits needed to happen when and where. For continuity’s sake that step was important in making sure damage remained consistent through the scene. From there we were able to build the chaos to a crescendo as the scene progressed.
First we comped in the damage that we filmed on set in the empty house. Then we began to add in other details such as muzzle flashes and bullets hitting various materials. For the kitchen table we added wood chunks, and for the pillows we added feathers. Many of these supplemental elements came from our own extensive VFX library.
We also added in some camera shake to heighten the tension and confusion.
Our team was also heavily involved in the moment when Woz’s son Nate is shot. Blood hits are almost always done with Visual Effects, and we auditioned a few different looks with the client of varying size and density. We created the growing blood spots on his clothes as well as the giant smudge of blood on the carpet when Nate is moved.
One of the finishing touches on this scene came from Compositing Supervisor Rick Shick. “We increased the level of dust as the scene continued,” he says. “The haze in the air really adds to the reality of it.”
VFX and Storytelling in “Shades of Blue”
Visual effects artists love moments when we can be a part of storytelling, and this scene was a perfect example of one of those moments.
“It’s nice when the client trusts us to accomplish what they want,” says Rick. “We’re on their side in wanting to use VFX to enhance the story.”
From day one we made sure to involve all of the artists in the planning of this scene. The shoot-out comprised 80 total shots, so it was important that the artists could see the bigger picture and see their shot in context. In that way we were open to including input from the artists themselves.
We’re already gearing up for season 3 of “Shades of Blue.” We had a ball with the cast and crew this season and can’t wait to see what challenges the next season will provide.