VFX house applies CG face replacement technique for US TV series


The Knick is a US medical drama series set in the 1900’s which features surgeons and medical staff who push the limits of medicine in a time of high death rates and no antibiotics. The series, starring Clive Owen and directed by Steven Soderbergh, features a number of effects to show character augmentation, period set extensions, medical enhancements and period anachronisms. Phosphene, an independent New York-based design and visual effects company, served as the lead VFX house on the Cinemax series with creative director John Bair and VFX executive producer Vivian Connolly at the helm.

The Phosphene creative team included Aaron Raff, Kim Lee, Vance Miller, Rebecca Dunn and digital artists Luciano DiGeronimo, Kevin Jones, Christian Lowe, Thomas Panayiotou, Eddie Porter, Greg Radcliff, Tonya Smay, Tommy Smith, Jason Tsang, Tim Van Horn and Scott Winston. 3DS Max was used for modelling and animation, V-Ray for rendering and Nuke X for compositing.

Deluxe’s Martin Zeichner served as colourist and Sam Uber served as conform editor.

One effect which appears in the series is a CG face replacement for one of the central characters played by Jennifer Ferrin (Abigail). The effect substitutes her nose with a CG version to mimic a face deformity caused by Syphilis.

VFX supervisor for The Knick, Lesley Robson-Foster explained, “We solved a tricky series of shots together using a combination of CGI, special effects prosthetic elements and compositing. Phosphene has a very talented group of artists and Abigail’s nose was a real challenge. I was very pleased with the result, as was Steven Soderbergh.’

Lead digital artist Raff described the process, “First, we used PhotoScan to convert photos of the cast to a detailed 3D model.’ Lead CG artist Miller then lit and rendered a physically-accurate version of the character’s nose-less face in V-Ray and CG artist Lee animated the subtle nose cavity twitches which viewers see as she moves her face or speaks.

“Using Nuke X, I integrated these renders of Abigail’s nose cavity onto the footage of the actress, maintaining photoreal lighting across shots that had Abigail moving her head from side to side and passing through light and shadow,’ added Raff. “The effect had to be seamless since Abigail’s altered face stayed at the centre of the frame for an extended dialogue scene.’

At times the show called for interaction of surgical instruments within the nose cavity and in those cases, Phosphene created CG extensions for the practical surgical instruments and then animated the side flaps of the nose to match the interaction of the CG instrument tips.

Visual effects producer/compositing supervisor Dunn said the sequence in which the lead doctor inspects the wounded nose was one of the most demanding visual effects sequence completed for season one. “Phosphene’s VFX team met early with Lesley Robson-Foster and Parker Chehak to determine the best way to approach this effect which had to appear highly realistic, always maintaining a fine balance between showing Abigail’s disfigurement whilst letting the natural beauty of her character shine through.’


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here