‘Westworld’: what it took to transform the Los Angeles skyline

Pixomondo on its future LA VFX work.

Season 3 of Westworld features a number of scenes set in a future Los Angeles. For flying or aerial view moments, Pixomondo was brought on board to help create a new landscape for the city, where original plates were often supplemented with extra CG buildings and other additions.

The VFX studio also provided scenes directly for use in an LED wall shoot to help with flying air pod shots. befores & afters asked Pixomondo visual effects supervisor Nhat Phong Tran to describe some of this work. Check that out below, along with Pixomondo’s VFX breakdown of its shots for season 3.

b&a: When you were implementing CG buildings and additions into the city landscapes, can you talk about the ‘spotting’ side of that work (ie. working out where buildings and pieces should go?)

Nhat Phong Tran: Extrapolating recent real estate trends, coastal properties would’ve continued rising in demand and value which is why we built up the buildings right along the beach with very luxurious looking highrises. There was also the thought that certain pockets in LA started building up and formed a skyline with clustered highrises. Downtown LA would’ve grown tremendously compared to what it is right now.

Original plate.
Final shot.

b&a: What were some of the challenges in integrating Pixo’s CG work into these wider environments, say, from the point of view of tracking, matching lighting in the plates etc?

Nhat Phong Tran: Integration of the CG was less a challenge of getting the shaders and lighting right, than the challenge of setting up a believable distribution of buildings. We didn’t want the choices of where we’re putting what kinds of buildings of whichever heights to cause a conflict with the real world limitations of planning, permitting and constructing such buildings. In that regard, we had a 3D low-res representation of each current building in Los Angeles which we then used as a raster to add our buildings. This way there’s always a cohesion provided to the city’s blocks and streetgrid.

Original plate.
Final shot.

b&a: Can you talk about any of the particular challenges in environments you were providing for LED wall shoots?

Nhat Phong Tran: Certainly some of the more difficult to track shots were 3 camera digital array plates or the single camera aerial plates shot on film. So not only do you have 3 lenses with slightly different lens distortion, but you also have 3 different optical axis’ and plates have their own discrete filmgate jitter. We were also stitching those plates to a seamless 11k render which proves to be a data bandwidth issue.

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