LOS ANGELES—Visual
effects production for the first season of AMC’s drama Preacher is in high gear at FuseFX, Los Angeles, as artists work to
enhance the series’ ample servings of supernatural mayhem. The pilot episode alone
featured more than 250 VFX shots with a high degree of integration that achieves
a seamless marriage between the practical photography and the digital effects.
A co-production of Sony Pictures Television and AMC Studios, Preacher is based on the
popular 1990s Vertigo/DC Comics comic book series (created by writer Garth
Ennis and artist Steve Dillon) and was developed for television by Seth Rogen
& Evan Goldberg (“This Is the End,” “Superbad,” “Neighbors”) and showrunner
Sam Catlin (“Breaking Bad”).  The series
follows a Texas preacher named Jessie Custer who is inhabited by a mysterious
entity called Genesis that gives him the power to make people do whatever he
commands. Once this power attracts the attention of two mysterious angels,
Fiore and DeBlanc, Jesse, his badass ex-girlfriend Tulip, and an Irish vampire
named Cassidy are thrust into a crazy world populated by a cast of characters
from Heaven, Hell and everywhere in between.

FuseFX’s Kevin Lingenfelser
serves as Production
and Facility VFX Supervisor on the series (Paul Linden was Production VFX
Supervisor for the pilot.), with Casey Conroy as VFX Producer. They lead a
compact but focused team of animators, visual effects artists and compositors
whose work includes FX
simulations, CG animals, blue screen/green screen composites, digital set
extensions, fully-realized matte paintings, CG chainsaw blades, muzzle
flashes, and elaborate blood and gore, or as Lingenfelser puts it, “everything
AND the kitchen sink.”

Lingenfelser explains his passion
for the project by noting that he has been anxiously waiting for Preacher to come to the screen since the
comic first published in 1995. “I’m a huge fan,” he says. “When I learned that Evan
Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin were turning it into a television series, I
knew I had to be part of it.”
Preacher includes a large number and variety of visual effects
shots, and while many are complex, few are obvious.  Many of the shots span hundreds and hundreds
of frames, which for TV is an eternity.  For
the pilot, FuseFX’s task list included a lengthy fight scene—carried on with
spears, knives, swords, crossbows and golf clubs—in the cabin of a Learjet.
Digital elements included flames, breaking glass, penetration wounds and lots
of blood.
“The scene was shot without a single drop of blood during
the fight,” notes Lingenfelser.  “All the contact hits had to be sold through
a very tedious compositing process using existing practical blood elements. We
also added CG crossbow bolts, a spear, a machete blade and a champagne bottle
put to unique use.”
“At the same time, we added sky with moving atmosphere
outside the windows to show the direction of flight,” he adds, “all the while
going from the dead of night to full sunrise over the course of 66 cuts.” 
The pilot included a second fight
inside Tulip’s Chevelle racing through a cornfield.  The cornfield scene was shot in Holtsville,
California and doubled as Kansas once the palm trees and other anachronistic flora
were digitally removed and replaced with a CG cornfield in a sweeping drone
aerial.  Background plates were shot
using a wasp camera rig mounted on the hood of a Hummer. Five camera heads provided
a full 270-degree field of view as the Hummer plowed through the cornfield in
several passes.  Those were than stitched
together and composited over blue-screen plates of the actors fighting in the
backseat of the Chevelle.
One recurring effect is Custer’s
faded white clapboard church. The
church featured in the pilot was built on location in Estancia, New Mexico and
was a rectangular partial set with two finished sides and no roof or steeple.
FuseFX artists created the roof and steeple (which was spatially offset to left
side of the roof rather than in the traditional center position) as a CG asset
and it was composited into some 20 shots. After the series was green-lit, the
church was reimagined to look more like the one featured in the original comics
and required no CG augmentation. It was built to scale on location on New
Mexico State land behind Albuquerque Studios.
“But the new church meant, for continuity’s sake, that the
building in the pilot had to be replaced,” Lingenfelser notes. “Over the course
of numerous trips to Albuquerque, I was able to take hi-res still images of the
new church, taking into consideration the necessary angles and lighting
required to composite them over the church in the pilot.”
The pilot’s opening sequence was
implemented as a fully digital sequence and was produced in its entirety by the
FuseFX team. It is a view from space of a comet that is the source of Custer’s
otherworldly powers, which careens through the solar system and passes through
the rings of Saturn before crashing into central Africa.
Lingenfelser explains that the
sequence is meant to recall science fiction films of a bygone era. “It’s an
interesting combination of a retro look with a complex effects simulation,”
Lingenfelser explains. “We created the rings of Saturn as well as the debris
that explodes when the comet punches through. It’s a fun sequence.”
For the most part, FuseFX is
focused on creating effects that are meant to improve scenes without drawing
attention to themselves. “If the visual effects are invisible to the audience,
that’s fine by me,” Lingenfelser says. “Everything we do is done to serve the
story. If we keep viewers’ attention on what’s happening to the characters,
we’ve done our job.”
About FuseFX
FuseFX is a full-service visual
effects studio serving the television, feature film and advertising industries
from facilities in Los Angeles, 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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