Burbank-based visual
effects studio helps to recreate colonial American for AMC’s “TURN:
Washington’s Spies.”

BURBANK—AMC’s critically acclaimed
Revolutionary War drama TURN:
Washington’s Spies
transports viewers back to the cities, villages,
plantations and battlefields of colonial America. Ensuring that all those
locations, their buildings and geographic features are historically accurate,
that the ships, flags and musket shots are correctly represented, is the result
of careful research and clever work on the part of the show’s production team
and visual effects artists from FuseFX.
Having just completed production of its third season, TURN was developed by Craig Silverstein,
is executive produced by Silverstein, Barry Josephson and Michael Taylor, and
is based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies: The Story of
America’s First Spy Ring
. It
centers on an unlikely group of espionage agents based in the small town of
Setauket, New York, who help turn the tide of the war.

The show is shot on
location, using Williamsburg, Virginia as a stand-in for Philadelphia and
Petersburg, Virginia for New York. Setauket scenes are shot on a location-built
set. Much of the work for the visual effects team centers on adding details in
the form of set extensions, matte paintings, water and other elements to make
the real-world locations conform to the historic sites.
“Our job is to
create things that are either too expensive or too large to build,” explains
Production Visual Effects Supervisor Terry Windell. “We aim for feature quality
in the visual effects, but we are working with deadlines and budgets that are
not what you get on a feature, so we have to be very efficient and smart.”
FuseFX’s work for TURN
involves close collaboration with production staff, including Windell, the
executive producers, the show’s directors, Production Designer Caroline Hanania, Cinematographer Martin V. Rush and Co-Executive
Producer/Unit Production Manager Henry Bronchtein. Hanania’s set designs and drawings, for example,
serve as the starting point for set extensions and matte paintings.
In crafting its
contributions to these historical illusions, FuseFX relies on Caroline Hanania’s extensive
research and conducts additional
research of its own. “Many of our building references come from photos of Dutch
buildings that used to be in New York,” recalls FuseFX VFX Supervisor Jon
Massey. “Since nearly all of those are gone, we look at European buildings from
that same time period, for instance from the Dutch Quarter of Potsdam,
The matte paintings
used to turn Williamsburg into colonial Philadelphia and Petersburg into New
York also feature digital representations of iconic structures such as Independence
Hall and Trinity Church. Additionally, the VFX crew is responsible for removing
any modern elements, wires and telephone poles, captured in the production
footage, and for adding musket smoke and blood wounds that production is not
able to capture.
Careful research also
goes into the creation of CG ships. “The HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s
flagship, which dates from the same era, still exists in England and there is a
lot of good reference related to it,” notes Massey. “That has been very valuable
to us.” He adds that the attention to detail extends to the flags flown by the
ships. “The flag used by the British Navy in North America at that time was the
Red Ensign, where the Union Jack appears in an upper corner against a red field.
It was the precursor to the flag of the United States.”
The VFX team has
adopted an almost fanatical devotion to historical accuracy. “A mistake will be
noticed,” Massey observes. “There are websites dedicated to research on the
show and a lot of history buffs who watch it. Production invests considerable effort
into getting the details right and we try to hold up our end as well.”
One of the biggest
challenges for the VFX team is water. The real-world Setauket is a harbor town
on the Atlantic, but the set representing it is inland. Waterfront views
therefore need to be added to most exteriors. Convincing CG water effects can
be time-consuming to produce, but FuseFX has developed a hybrid approach where
CG and practical elements are combined.
“Ten years ago, you couldn’t have done CG water for an episodic
television show, but our technology has come a long way,” explains Massey. “Now
you can get 80 percent of the way there using the existing software tools we have at FuseFX. Still, it’s the
last 20 percent, where you are fine-tuning and integrating practical waves,
foam and swells, that takes the most care and effort.”
“We chose to work with FuseFX because of their ability to
create water effects and what they’ve been able to accomplish on a television
time-frame is amazing,” says Windell. “Their matte paintings and recreation of
iconic buildings and ships add production value.”
“Across the board, everyone who works on this show is top
notch,” he adds. “The quality of the writing sets the tone and inspires us to
do great things.”
Still, if all that hard work goes unnoticed by viewers, Windell
won’t be displeased. “I find it incredibly fulfilling to work on a period piece
where the job is not to be seen,” he concludes. “If viewers accept what they
see as reality, that’s the highest compliment.”
Washington’s Spies”
premieres its third season on Monday, April 25th at 10:00
p.m. ET/PT
Three of “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” the Revolutionary War spy thriller,
builds towards one of the most notorious moments in American history – the
treasonous defection of Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman).  Behind enemy
lines on Long Island, Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is a spy for the Patriots,
reporting directly to George Washington (Ian Kahn).  Embedded within the
Continental Army, Benedict Arnold is seduced to become an informant for the
British.  As the consequences of their espionage ripple through the
battlefield, the spy game becomes a heart-stopping race to see which mole will
be unmasked first.  In 1778, there is only one fate that awaits a captured
spy — the hangman’s noose. The price for treason is blood, and not all of our
heroes will survive.
About FuseFX
FuseFX is an Emmy Award-winning, 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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