We've Got Hollywood Covered

How ‘Foundation’s VFX Supervisors Battled COVID-Induced Labor Shortages to Conjure New Worlds

TheWrap Magazine: Visual effects supervisors Chris MacLean and Michael Enriquez underline a unique challenge the Apple TV+ series faced

This story about “Foundation” first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

The industry was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the production of the Apple TV+ series “Foundation” faced a unique challenge. The ambitious adaptation of the Isaac Asimov sci-fi book series needed to conjure unique worlds, locations and even alien beings, but visual effects supervisors Chris MacLean and Michael Enriquez ran into a problem: The number of available visual effects vendors dwindled as a result of the pandemic halfway through the Season 1 shoot.

“Basically, every large vendor that we already had on the show, and that we were expecting to take on the rest of the show, was like, ‘We don’t have any more capacity. We’re full,’” Enriquez said. He added that it ended up being a challenge in terms of “getting everybody on the same level,” because they were now working with double the number of individual vendors that they had planned.

Apple TV+

The labor force of the VFX vendors dropped by a third, MacLean explained, “just due to layoffs, furloughs and people leaving the industry.” DNEG was one of the show’s big vendors in the beginning, but when they were faced with a labor shortage, the production brought on Rodeo, “which started to knock it out of the park,” MacLean said.

And contrary to what it may look like, the series did not have a big visual-effects budget. MacLean estimates that “Foundation” had around 3,750 visual effects shots, compared to 6,000 or 7,000 for some other sci-fi shows.

They eschewed set extensions and paint-outs in favor of filming in real locations with real sets. “We couldn’t eat all these volume-heavy shot types,” he said. “Because if we did, we would’ve blown our budget in the first four episodes and wouldn’t have been able to do the big stuff later on.”

Despite the epic scope of “Foundation,” showrunner David S. Goyer always intended to lean into tangible aspects whenever possible. “Our mantra from the beginning was we shoot it for real until we can’t,” MacLean said. And the joy for him and Enriquez was in building a sci-fi world from the ground up with no existing template, which they hope will continue on for many seasons to come. “This wasn’t ‘Star Wars,’ this wasn’t Marvel,” Enriquez said. “We really had a good opportunity here to turn everything upside down and figure out what we wanted it to be and what effects this would have in future seasons, if it happens. And that was the coolest part of the whole damn thing.”

Read more from the Below-the-Line Issue here.

Wrap Below-the-Line issue - Dune
Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap