The Hollywood Reporter. September 4-10, 2001
By Melissa J. Perenson
The talented behind-the-scenes team puts it all up on the screen.
GOO MAN GROUP: Snappy dresser Thor gets an on-set lube job and body wax from Vancouver's finest in practical effects.
With producing partners Richard Dean Anderson, Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper, Greenburg oversees 22 episodes per season, each budgeted between $1.5 million and $2 million. A cluster of Vancouver-based vendors supply all the required production elements for the series - from sets and costumes to sound and visual effects, color correction, lab processing and transportation. Since the inception of "Stargate SG-1" five years ago, the crew, which includes some 300 regulars, has hit its stride: "SG-1" has received a number of industry kudos. (See sidebar.)
Five soundstages house the series, and at any point up to six weeks prior to an episode's shoot date, a stage might be buzzing, literally, with the sounds of set construction. "We have two soundstages at the Bridge Studio - our main sets are there - and then we have another studio, Norco, with three soundstages about five miles away. Our construction model shop, paint shop and welding shop are across the street from Norco along with all of our set decoration and storage," Greenburg says.
Although the series' creative demands may fire the imagination beyond what a weekly budget allows, Brad Wright, executive producer, knows how to reel things in. "At first we bit off a little more than we could chew; we would try to tell a story that was bigger than a television budget can effectively tell. But (now) I think we've been able to put more on the screen," he says.
The show's two cinematographers, Peter Woeste and Jim Menard (who shoot alternating episodes), get involved during preproduction to help determine which shots are doable as in-camera effects and which will require visual effects in post. Considering that "Stargate SG-1" averages between six to 100 visual-effects shots per show, planning ahead is key to the well-oiled "SG-1" machine.
"The process can be quite slow," says Peter DeLuise, creative consultant, who directed the 100th episode, "Wormhole Extreme," and 23 other episodes since he joined the show during its second season. "But that's why we get a jump so far in advance," he says, "so our art department has the chance to try and fabricate some of the incredible things that end up in the scripts." Not only are there lush surroundings to fabricate for new planets, but there are often complex designs to create for the spaceships and space stations. Then there's the gate itself, an impressive ringlike structure that stands 20 feet and is made of steel, covered by a fiberglass casting and weighs in at 2,500 pounds.
Unlike the gate in the feature film, the series' gate features 39 different symbols around the ring. Plus, the "Stargate" model is mechanized, so it simulates the action of "dialing" a new planetary location. "We can't move the gate because it's such a tricky piece of engineering. It's over 20-feet wide, and it has a gearing system hooked into a computer. It's worked perfectly and has never failed," says Richard Hudolin, the show's production designer.
Hudolin often taps into the annals of ancient history to come up with designs that match the writers' renditions of the stages of human evolution. "We can pick from historical or geographical locations or religious references. Just about anything that you can think of is a source for us. A tire track actually turned into one of the main designs for 'Replicators.'"
"Oftentimes, we'll matte the Stargate in with the background, so we can put ourselves anywhere we want," Wright says. "Pyramids, moons - whatever your imagination can dream up - we can put our cast right in the middle of it."
From the outset, "Stargate SG-1" made a splash with its visual effects. Its two-hour movie premiere, "Children of the Gods," was nominated for a Best Visual- Effects Emmy in 1998. "The level of visual effects and the level of production is equal to or exceeds anything else you'll see on series television," raves Hudson Hickman, senior vp of production for MGM Television.
The show has since been nominated for three additional visual-effects Emmys - including two nominations this year. James Tichenor, visual-effects supervisor, oversees an in-house graphics team of 10 people. "If effects were done as traditionally as they had been five or six years ago - for television at least - I don't know if they would have tried to mount the series. But as the series has progressed, we've done more and more effects," Tichenor notes.
It's no coincidence that the series alternates between heavy visual-effects episodes and those with lighter demands. "If we throw a $400,000 visual-effects budget at the visual-effects department for one episode, that episode takes these guys two or three months to complete," Wright notes. "That's why we subcontract out a lot of the shots and do a lot of in-house work with matte paintings and rig removal."
Among the regular shops "Stargate SG-1" hires are Rainmaker Digital, Image Engine, Lost Boys, GVEffects and Northwest Imaging.
Amidst the series' array of complex visual effects, the billowing effect that marks the Stargate's activation - dubbed the Kawoosh - remains one of the show's most eye-catching, second only to the "puddle" effect of the shimmering surface that the "SG-1" team walks through to transport themselves across the galaxy. These shots are the only stock shots the series uses from episode to episode, and the same five shots have been used since season one.
Perenson, Melissa J., "True Value." The Hollywood Reporter. September 4-10, 2001: p. S-4+.