Madam Secretary – recreating Washington for this White House drama
The season finale of CBS’s political drama ‘Madam Secretary’ recently aired, closing with Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) revealing her plans to run for president to her husband Henry (Tim Daly). VFX Legion followed up the cliffhanger with the release of a breakdown reel that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of some of the most complex and exacting photorealistic computer-generated environments created by the Los Angeles-based studio for the show’s fourth season.
VFX Legion’s first task was to create a CG replication of the White House for a large green screen set up. Helmed by founder, creative director, and senior visual effects supervisor, James David Hattin, its artists met the challenge, as well as the show’s tight deadline, and went on to create a variety of true to life CG shots from the ground up. Legion’s library enabled the company to expedite the production of many the effects by building on existing assets.
The studio helped take the role of visual effect to the next level, augmenting footage with shots that would have been impractical or impossible to shoot live. Its team created a digital doppelganger of Joint Base Andrews, the US military facility that houses Air Force One, and a real-world inspired digital rendering that used the Mosul Dam in Iraq as its frame of reference. The CG assets supported expanded storylines with scenarios that included the Secretary of State visiting these off-limit locations.
Legion’s sophisticated pipeline enabled its on-set supervisor in New York to gather data on tracking, camera angles, green-screen placement and other specs, while efficiently working with the LA team as a single unit to ensure that the computer-generated scenes precisely matched the live-action, as well as the look of the show.
“The bookends for season four’s finale were a digital reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The iconic landmark is familiar to millions of people throughout the world. Viewers have would instantly pick up on any inaccuracies, so every detail had to be spot-on,” says Hattin. “It was a challenge to perfectly align the elements built on the stage with the CG renders so that they blended seamlessly.”
Legion’s team used a variety of tools that included Maya for creating 3D, Redshift for 3D rendering, Syntheses for tracking, and Nuke for compositing.
“VFX Legion is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to work on ‘Madam Secretary’ and elevate the role of visual effects on the series,” says Hattin. “Working with the show’s team has been a great experience. We’re very proud of the quality of work that we the contributed this season.”
Madam Secretary VFX Breakdown
VFX Legion Spring Reel 2018