The VFX of Westworld: World Building

by paradoxig

Westworld directed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have created some of the most original and unique storytelling worlds on television and film. And View Conference 2022 invited one of the masterminds behind these worlds, Emmy Award winner visual effects supervisor and producer, Jay Worth.
Jay Worth shared from his creative process and experience in building the Worlds of Westworld for season 3 and 4. And also, Jay Worth gave some advice for aspiring artists that try to break into the VFX world.

TechvangArt selected a few of his ideas that might be useful for artists that have to build worlds.

How you build a rich, believable, and immersive world

During his presentation, Jay Worth focused on the challenges VFX artist encounter in order to build a rich, vibrant and believable world in a “crazy show like Westworld”.

Some question that an artist will encounter are:
How do you translate into visual something vague that is written in the script – such as you look out the window and you see a nice and futuristic world, something that we have never seen before”.

Partnership between the departments
One big lesson learned during his experience is that in order to construct a world, constructing different key elements is becoming a partnership with most departments – art, and stunts, and effects and visual effects – all departments figuring out how to build the world.

Scouting for places, searching for inspirations

As a process of creation, the first thing is searching for inspiration. As season 3 is set in a future (Los Angeles, 2059), the team started with scouting for an inspiring place. They wanted to have a real place, an actual real place, to be the starting point – as such Westworld started with Singapore and Valencia, Spain. Singapore for the futuristic building, and Spain for the headquarter of the tech-company in charge of the themed parks.

“This is the fun part of working in the show, to go to this incredible places and fell what it is like () It was more about a sketch of physical location, it was more about walking around in the streets of Singapore, seeing what you feel and experiencing the green environment. ’, recalls Jay Worth.

The feeling of real. Make it believable

The team filmed the environment, and details that gave that special filming and translated it into the Los Angeles environment, so it feels like Los Angeles. But, another important aspect is to make it believable, tangible in the environment of Los Angeles. For VFX effects it is vital to know the places that need to be recreated and to be able to bring those back to Los Angeles.

One challenge is architecture, shared Jay Worth. Because if an artist is building fantastic and crazy buildings from scratch, sometimes, they don’t really feel real. As such, the team brought on board award winning Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels that helped to build the environment, and took multiple buildings from concepts, or buildings that haven’t been built yet.

Building sections and locations into the worlds

The futuristic buildings are nice, but they need to be integrated into a city. So the next step for the team was to be as accurate regarding all these mapping details. The team really planned where each building would be located, and all the details of the map. The entire city was planned, and wherever the team was in LA, on any street, so it wasn’t haphazard. The audience can really feel that the environment feels real and it is believable.

Storyboarding. And…. LEDs

There are a lot about amazing thighs like Virtual production and Unreal, but the team used a lot of storyboards. Storyboards gave the team the possibility to do quick iterations, but also camera positioning. This gave the team a basic set of rules where to put the camera, where it should be. There is a lot of planning that it takes, it takes time to have all these details worked out.

But, still…. What about UE5, LED and Virtual productions?
A lot of shows that are made now such as Star Trek or Mandalorian, they base their production around LED and Virtual productions. But for Jay Worth these are tools, even though he acknowledges that more people are looking as if they are silver bullets for creatives, instead of being just another tool.

The Delos headquarters – the company that manages the theme parks and created the robots – were shot in Valencia Spain at the The City of Arts and Sciences. And here the team experimented with LED technology for the Airpod, and utilized virtual production, real time rendering, camera tracking. As the team had only a few days to shoot in Spain, these tools proved to be so powerful.

Interested in more debates around Westworld, AI, and related topics?
Read our review of the debate “Machine Yearning” from Sundance 2022, featuring Lisa Joy (director and screenwriter Westworlds), Kogonada (director and write After young), Cynthia Breazeal (Associate Director, MIT Media Lab), Ashley Llorens (Vice President & Managing Director, Microsoft Research Outreach).

Advice for artists!

The visuals of Westworld were inspiring and it came to inspire a group of European artists, who created the Game of Thrones Intro, inspired by Westworld. You could see the slick sequence, which depicts Daenerys with a dragon egg, the Iron Throne and the Night King in place of imagery from Westworld’s season 2 intro. They had no assets from the show, they just had passion, time, and expertise to create this. And Lisa Joy and Christopher Nolan and the entire creative team loved it, admitted Jay Worth.

Belgian designer Gilles Augustijnen spent about eight months putting it together, having been inspired by composer Brandon Chapman’s “beautiful mashup” of the two shows’ themes, he wrote in the video’s description.He used a bunch of programs such as After Effects, C4D, Photoshop, Illustrator, Substance Painter, ZBrush, Fusion360 and DAZ3D.

And then the pandemic hit, but when Jay Worth was working on another project, The Peripheral (that actually premiered on October 21), just contacted the Belgian artist and involved him in the show.

So the advice of Jay Worth to artists is:

“Remember to be yourself, be unique! But also, if you ever post something online, make sure there is a way for someone to get a hold of you. It sounds silly, but it is really important. Because I literally saw this trailer, I was able to reach out to an artist. You never know, what is gonna hit, what is gonna go viral, so make sure, people can reach out to you. And then also, be ready, when the call comes!”

If you want to see the entire presentation, Tickets for View Conference 2022 On-Demand edition are now available!

About Jay Worth, VFX Supervisor, Westworld, HBO

About VIEW
VIEW Conference and VIEWFest is the premiere international event in Italy on Computer Graphics, Interactive Techniques, Digital Cinema, 2D/3D Animation, VR and AR, Gaming and VFX. VIEW will continue to focus on exploring the increasingly fluid boundary between real and digital worlds. Through lectures, meetings, tributes, exhibits, screenings and demo presentations VIEW will reveal the new digital frontier sweeping from cinema to architecture, from automotive design to advertisement, from medicine to videogames.

©Photo credit: Courtesy of View Conference 2022

You may also like