Leading design company Pixomondo just shared a breakdown role with AWN highlighting her Emmy Award-nominated VFX skills in HBO's futuristic sci-fi thriller Westworld, Season 3. Pixomondo VFX supervisor Nhat Phong Tran was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Special along with eight other artists this year. Visual Effects led the studio's team on the series and delivered just over 400 short films over the course of a production year. This is the third consecutive nomination from Pixomondo and Tran in the same category, winning The Orville last year and Westworld Season 2 in 2018.
Pixomondo's involvement in the third Westworld season was largely about building the world. In particular, they worked on the world outside Westworld, which audiences had never seen for the past two seasons but always knew it was there. "This season, Pixomondo was instrumental in building the future Westworld version of Los Angeles, including the larger metropolitan areas," explains Tran. “In contrast to other science fiction ideas of the future Los Angeles, Westworlds Los Angeles shows a beautiful symbiosis of art, architecture, urbanism and nature, which was mainly inspired by the city of Singapore and the architect Bjarke Ingels. We also designed some vehicles – cars that were part of the more indescribable background traffic and a superyacht that sat outside Santa Monica as part of a set-up sequence to LA. "
"We were also heavily involved in the development of LED screen antennas that show our future LA," he adds. "Creating the LED screen background screens required more tracking and stitching as the panels were captured with three 6k Sony Venice cameras, all of which were supposed to play together seamlessly on a large LED screen."
According to Tran, her biggest sequence was the establishment and convergence of LA in episode 301. "As we chase Dolores and Liam from Liam's superyacht off the coast of Santa Monica all the way into downtown LA, we wanted to make sure everyone was beautiful and there is realism in terms of building continuity and layout. We created a 3D model of the entire city as the basis for aerial camera tracking. With this city-wide tracking geometry, we were able to place and design all buildings on a large city scale. "
"It was also a challenge to build and design buildings that fit [Jonathan Nolan] Jonah's vision of the future of LA," he continues. “We went through several iterations to find the right balance between art, functionality and nature. In order not to make buildings repetitive, we also had to think about developing a procedural approach to generate any number of buildings that would all follow a similar design language without looking identical but unique. All images generated were inserted into live-action panels which were either used directly as recordings or on an LED screen as part of the main photography. This includes a lot of recordings when we are in the airpod with our heroes and watching the beautiful landscape outside the window or when we are on the ground and see the city skyline. "
As with so many other productions that AWN has written about over the past few months, Pixomondo's work on the series has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. "Another major challenge was the COVID-19 outbreak towards the end of the season and the requirement that we all learn and adapt to this new situation," reveals Tran. "Not only did technological and infrastructural updates and adjustments have to be made, but many personal changes were also required, which presented a challenge for everyone involved at several levels on several levels."
Dan Sarto is the Editor and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.