The virtual world of ‘Sanctuary’


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On Sci Fi, the network renowned for ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and the now-canceled ‘Stargate Atlantis,’ the new show ‘Sanctuary’ has been chugging along successfully since its premiere a little over a month ago.

The show has been renewed for a second season after getting a fair amount of press attention (like on David Strick’s Hollywood Backlot), but not a lot of it has been regarding the premise (‘Even things that go bump in the night need protection...’) or even the cast (Amanda Tapping, Robin Dunne, etc.). The main attention had been on the production approach: The series is pushing the envelope by shooting extensively on green screen with virtual sets.


The general perception is that effects cost money, which would make this an expensive show. But that perception may be off. Hero Complex contributor Jevon Phillips had a quick phone chat with Lee Wilson, the show’s visual effects supervisor and co-producer, director of photography David Geddes (‘Halloween: Resurrection’ and ‘Dark Angel') that revealed the true colors of the green screen venture.

On the cost of the show

Wilson: The show, in comparison to some of the other science-fiction shows on, has way more effects than they have and considerably less ‘to-do.’ That has a lot to do with our plan for global domination ... we’ve been asked if this is the way of the future, is everybody going to do ...

Geddes: I don’t think everybody else can do this. It’s just you and me!

Wilson: That’s right! ... Everybody is so keen on the show, we’re just looking to push it that much further. The magic is just lots of hard work and enthusiasm. Certainly it’s less expensive for us to create some of these impossibly large locations as a visual effect than it would be to go on location

Geddes: And by the way, we don’t have any money to do it!

Shooting ‘Sanctuary’ using the RED camera

Wilson: In all fairness, had we had to do the show on film or on HD or whatever, we would’ve found a way to make this work. But the thing that appealed to you most about going with the RED camera was having the initial resolution that was high enough that all of the detail that we would ever need would be right there in the original plate.... It’s just, you know, having the best possible pristine image to work with.

Geddes: It makes total sense ... Because the system allows me to work with my cinema lenses, so that part of it never changed for me stepping away from film into the digital medium. A capture medium is a capture medium, but if you put a piece of plastic in front of it it just doesn’t work as good.

On the complexity of shooting the show for the actors

Geddes: I guess we all sort of put ourselves in the actors’ position. We imagine where we are when you’re standing there in the green sets. I know I’ll just imagine that it’s the lab or it’s the sanctuary ... I just make myself feel that I’m standing in that place, and then light it accordingly.

Wilson: The moves that we’re making and things, we just have to remember or try to picture strongly enough, ‘Oh right, we’re gonna have a city that’s going to be a quarter of a mile away’ in this background of this shot, or we’re gonna have a wall that’s going to be 15 feet away. And it doesn’t feel that much different when you’re making that move and you’re surrounded by green.

The next step?

Geddes: The next step from my perspective would be to have a little more money so that we could have more of a schedule. We could have a little more depth, a little more story, a little more action ... just to hype it up a bit.

Wilson: If in fact we can go anywhere and do anything, then let’s do that ... The last show that Anthem [FX company that Wilson is affiliated with] did was ‘Tin Man’ and it was for SCI FI as well, and in terms of visual effects, we’ve surpassed that already ... It’s been one of the most fun projects to do ... We’re pretty proud of what we’re putting out.

-- Jevon Phillips