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Green screen & CGI make ABC's "Once Upon a Time" 's fairytale settings seem real

Green screen & CGI make ABC's "Once Upon a Time" 's fairytale settings seem real

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So are you watching "Once Upon a Time" yet?

For Mouse House fans, half the fun of watching this acclaimed ABC Studios production is its funhouse mirror take on so many of Disney's animated classics. Take - for example - tonight's episode, "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree." Which introduced the Genie from "Aladdin" as well as some serpents from Agrabah that Jafar would have been proud of.

Or - better yet - "Skin Deep," the episode of "Once Upon a Time" which will air on February 12th. Which will brings Belle from "Beauty and the Beast " to the canvas. Emilie de Ravin of "Lost" fame has been hired to play this particular Disney princess ...


Emilie de Ravin dons that famous yellow dress in
a special Valentine's Day episode of "Once Upon a
Time." Photo by Jack Rowand. Copyright American
Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

... and you can expect Maurice, Gaston and the Beast to show up as part of "Skin Deep" as well. But not in ways that you've ever seen these Disney characters before.

Which brings me to the other fun aspect of "Once Upon a Time." This hour-long drama's rich production design. Some of which comes about because this show is shot in Metro Vancouver. Which gives the production team relatively easy access to the sorts of deep dark forests that are supposedly found in the fairytale realm.


Lana Parilla as the Evil Queen emerges from her coach.  Photo by Jack Rowand.
Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Not to mention the picturesque fishing village of Steveston, British Columbia. Which is where "Once Upon a Time" 's Storybrooke, ME scenes have mostly been shot.


Jennifer Morrison, Raphael Sbarge and Pongo during a last-night shoot in Steveston.
Photo by Jack Rowand. Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved

But when it comes to some of the more elaborate fairytale settings that you see on this show ... Well, that's where the visual effects wizards at Zoic Studios step in. They take the sets & props that set decorator Mark Lane has placed  on the green screen stage at Bridge Studios in Burnaby, B.C. ...


The Good King (Richard Schiff) accepts birthday greetings from his daughter, Snow
White (Ginnifer Goodwin). Photo by Jack Rowand. Copyright American
Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

... And then using their Environmental Unification System (Z.E.U.S.) , Zoic marries "Once Upon a Time" production designer Michael Joy's ideas for the overall look of this set with real time camera tracking.


The finished version of the above green screen stage shot with the virtual environment
now in place. Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

The end result is feature- film quality visual effects delivered on a television budget and schedule. What's more, Z.E.U.S. gives the cast and crew unprecedented creative flexibility while working on a green screen stage. Take - for example - how the director of photography can tailor the lighting for this virtual environment to create a specific mood in the scene being shot.


Emilie de Ravin on set for "Once Upon a Time" 's "Skin Deep" episode. Copyright
American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, it's sometimes a challenge striking just the right balance between "Once Upon a Time" 's practical and virtual sets. Figuring out just how many pieces of furniture & props to place on the green screen stage so that the actors then have a better sense for the virtual space that they're performing in.


Richard Schiff in the Good King's very green royal bed chambers. Photo by Jack Rowand.
Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Just so you know, Zoic Studios has been working the same sort of magic on ABC's "Pan Am." Using CGI and a green screen stage to create a replica of a New York City airplane terminal from the 1960s.


(L to R) Karine Vanasse, Michael Mosley, Margot Robbie, Mike Vogel, Christina Ricci and
Kelli Garner from "Pan Am." Photo by Bob D'Amico. Copyright American Broadcasting
Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Of course, delivering feature-film quality visual effects on a weekly television budget (not to mention its super-compressed production schedule) can get to be pretty stressful & pricey. But given how well this ABC Studios production has been doing in the ratings (EX: When "Once Upon a Time" returned from its holiday break, its already-impressive ratings actually went up by 11%), at this point, this serialized drama is now a virtual shoo-in for renewal for ABC's 2012 - 2013 television season.

So given that it's rumored that Robin Hood and Aladdin himself will soon be appearing in this twisted fairytale, what other characters from Disney's animated classics would you like to show up  in Storybrooke, ME?

Your thoughts?

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  • I know it's a TV show, but they really need to step up the visual effects in season 2.

  • Hmmmm... No mention of how utterly boring the how is?

    I live the references to classic tales but the show simply draaaaaggggggssss. I quit watching a while ago but will tune in for Beauty and the Beast. Maybe.

  • Once Upon a Time is...okay.  The show is taking itself WAY too seriously.  They could be having a lot of fun with the fairy tale elements, but they haven't so far.  The show has somehow completely managed to eliminate whatever joy existed in the original movies.

    I still love the concept of the show, but the end result hasn't been much fun to watch.  And both of the other commenters before me are dead on.

  • Which show are you guys watching?? I am absolutely hooked on Once Upon a Time! The writing is fantastic, the acting talent is brilliant (Robert Carlyle in particular. Watch episode 8, "Desperate Souls," again), and I love the whole "E True Hollywood" story spin on these fairy tales. The special effects are great, especially for a TV budget. Better than Grimm, better than Terra Nova.

  • Typos make your posts that much more credible... just sayin'.

  • The CGI and Costumes are very well done especially for something on TV. It gives light to the fairytales we all love, with a traditional twist. I can’t wait for the Beauty and Beast Valentines Day episode. But if I miss it on TV at least I have a place I can go watch it online for free, that’s DISHOnline.com. I first heard about DISHOnline because I work for DISH, but it’s free for everyone to use and there are thousands of titles to choose from. I don't think Rumple is really The Beast, I think it’s a trick, when it comes to him, things just wouldn't be that simple.

  • It's not really a 'typo', you're just using the wrong word.  It should say 'Emilie de Ravin dons that famous yellow dress!

  • They need to work on the lighting.  The most recent episode's early  outdoor scenes were so obviously done in front of a bluescreen, and it was just due to mismatches of the lighting of the actors and the colors of the CGI.  (This could also be solved with better editing, I suppose).

  • At times I do notice the green screen, and it can be annoyingly distracting. Most of the time it's fine, but time times it can be shockingly off. While I'm moderately hooked on the show, I'm hoping the writing gets better. It is getting a bit predictable. Accuse the mayor of wrongdoing, she has a logical explanation, followed by private confirmation of her sinister deeds. Let's up the quality, please.

  • I LOVE this show!  It's become our "water cooler" show at work; Monday mornings we all gather 'round to discuss what just happened and squeal.  I think the acting is top-notch and every time we think we've got it figured out, a new wrinkle comes into play.  I don't think its particularly slow - if they answered the big q's right away, what would I tune in for next week?  And its' far outshown Grimm, the other big fairy-tale themed show.  

    As for the effects, it's TV.  I'm not going to get the best of the best on network TV.  But I think they slide it in nicely (not garish - except for the castle exterior).  And I appreciate the costumes - WHOA!

  • The set itself is framed by light wood columns in a color that complement the green walls in the newsroom behind. A large anchor desk, fronted by matching wood and a metal plate ... with flat screen that anchor Will McAvoy uses for live interviews. Overall, the set and newsroom have a bit of a tired look, bland look and certainly lacks some of the “bling” that has become so popular on news sets today, though the wide rear project screen is a step in the right direction.

  • Recently, green screen rentals have been noted to gain popularity with most filmmakers in the country. This is primarily due to the fact that studios offering green rental services produce quality videos for their clients.

  • The CGI definitely needs an upgrade. Some scenes look comical with the terrible green screen. Other than taht great show.

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