Burbank-based effects
house’s freaky work for hit FX series continues to draw accolades.

BURBANK— American
Horror Story
is a major hit for FX. The most recent season of the anthology
series, Freak Show, became the
most-watched show in the network’s history. The show has won the loyalty of
fans and kudos from critics for its smart, imaginative storytelling and superb
performances from its stellar ensemble cast.

The show also features some of the best visual effects on television. Ranging
from photo-real set extensions to CG characters to all manner of blood and
gore, they are the work of Burbank-based FuseFX, whose team is currently
nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a
Supporting Role. Earlier this year, FuseFX won the VES Award for Outstanding
Supporting Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Photoreal/Live Action
Broadcast Program.

FuseFX has overseen visual effects for American Horror Story since its premier in 2011 and its role has
grown with each season. “(Series creator) Ryan Murphy wants us to outdo ourselves
every year,” says FuseFX VFX Supervisor Jason Piccioni. “In our first meeting
for this season, he said the scope of the work would be something never before
seen in a television series and he was right.”

The average 1-hour episode from the Freak Show anthology included more than 100 visual effects shots
many of which were complicated character effects. There was Edward Mordrake, a 19th
century English noble, who sports a second face on the back of his head, and
Twisty, a macabre clown who lost his lower jaw to a shotgun blast. Most ambitious
are Bette and Dot Tattler, conjoined twins, identical in every respect except
for their divergent personalities. (Both characters are played by actress Sarah
FuseFX works closely with the production’s special effects
and make-up departments in designing and executing those sorts of character
effects. “We go over the script together and work out a plan to divide and
conquer,” Piccioni explains. “The creative direction comes from Ryan Murphy. He
is very clear on what he wants.” Piccioni notes that many of the members of the
team worked together on a previous Ryan Murphy series, Nip/Tuck, and have developed a mutual “shorthand” that allows them
to quickly assign tasks and set protocols.
Depending on the workload, FuseFX might assign 25 artists or
more to an episode. Along with
Piccioni, creative members of the team include Dave Altenau, Justin Ball, Jason
Spratt, Tim Jacobsen, Tommy Tran, Mike Kirylo and Matt Lefferts.
For this past season, effects production was typically
limited to a week per episode. FuseFX would receive production media on a
Friday night and have it ingested into its pipeline by Saturday morning.
Artists would tackle scenes involving the conjoined twins first and deliver
rough versions to the show’s editors by Sunday afternoon. On Wednesday, they
would begin delivering shots for review to the producers. By Thursday, the work
would be done.

American Horror Story Freak Show – VFX Reel from Jason Piccioni on Vimeo.

“It’s a fast process,” Piccioni says. “To do the type of
work that we’re doing for a feature, where you might have eight months, is one
thing, but to do it on a television schedule is very challenging.

The nature of the effects in Freak Show required that FuseFX work in close collaboration with
the show’s editors. “We were creating character elements that involved dialogue
and expression and so were very closely entwined with the editorial,” Piccioni
explains. “There was a lot of back and forth with the editors, much more than
in years past.”
The conjoined twins required particular finesse. Artists
needed to marry separate elements of the characters’ heads and do so in a way
that made them appear to be part of a single body whose skin and muscles
functioned realistically. Piccioni notes that the twins shots would have been
easier if camera movement was limited, but they resisted that option. “We
didn’t want to compromise what was special about the show,” he says.  “Instead of restricting how things were shot,
we adapted our technique to the show’s aesthetic.”

The mandate to continually raise the bar creates certain
pressures for the FuseFX team. “Some of the things we did this year were
incredibly difficult to pull off,” Piccioni notes. “They were really great
episodes and they challenged us to reach deep into our bag of tricks.”
See FuseFX’s work for
“American Horror Story” https://vimeo.com/136674268
About FuseFX
FuseFX is a full-service visual effects studio serving the
television, feature film and advertising industries from facilities in Burbank,
New York and Vancouver. Founded in 2006 by David Altenau, the company encompasses
a staff of more than 100 highly talented and experienced artists, producers and
support personnel. Using its refined, custom database and pipeline, the company
can accommodate numerous, high shot-count productions while delivering high-quality,
on-time results.
For more information, visit http://fusefx.com/
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