Visual Effects Supervisor Bob Munroe talks to Jazz Tangcay about his creations for SyFy’s cult smash hit series The Expanse.
Our fans are awesome. They have called out errors that we have corrected and fixed for the DVD and Netflix.
Fans of The Expanse on Syfy know that next week sees the highly anticipated season finale. The show’s following doesn’t go unnoticed by the cast and crew, so much so that Visual Effects Supervisor Bob Munroe will host a viewing party at his house for Twitter fans and….SPOILER ALERT crew!
I caught up with Munroe recently to talk about the show, his work, and how Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced his work.
I didn’t realize until I watched The Expanse and went on social media how big of a following The Expanse has.
We have some pretty rabid fans. There are no ifs, and or buts about it. They love our show and what it comes down to is two categories. There are the rabid fans who are affected by The Expanse, and those who haven’t seen it yet. That’s it, and there’s no in between.
What’s it like for you? Your background is in a range of genres. You worked on The Tudors which I loved, and now you’re on The Expanse. How does that compare?
It’s interesting in that 30 years ago, even more, I was in school for Fine Arts. I was a painter and a photographer and a printmaker. The whole notion of doing art related on a computer was so foreign to me. I got into computer animation after university. I went to a small regional college to take this brand new course in computer animation and did not expect to fall in love with it the way that I did.
Given that opportunity and seeing how the industry has progressed and gone forward, I’m so lucky to be an early adopter. When I get into a show like The Expanse, this just another extension of what I do on a day to day basis. Believe it or not, I was doing sci-fi shows twenty years ago. I was doing VFX for sci-fi even back then. It’s a great place to be.
You talk about going from Fine Arts into effects. What’s your first memory of a visual effect that got your interest?
I would say, 2001: A Space Odyssey for sure. It’s the first thing I looked at and thought was awesome. Star Trek 100% and Star Wars. I was a teenager, and I still remember I was living in Orlando. I read the Orlando Sentinel’s review of the film, and I remember it said how this was the film that was going to change movies. My brother and I couldn’t get enough of it. Between the two of us, I think we saw it 150 times because rather than stay in theaters a few weeks, it was there for months.
I would say in terms of the general and cultural pop art side of things, it was Star Wars. In terms of, “Oh wow” and know what sci-fi was, it would be 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There are some superb effects on The Expanse. What conversations do you have and where do you come into the loop?
I begin very early in the process. I’m first on and last off on the show. It’s a remarkable place to be. Thankfully, with the relationship I have with everyone, they understand the contribution needs to start early. It’s not a post-production thing. Visual effects is long beyond the idea that it’s just a post-production thing. It goes across all the boundaries, and I’m on set every day. I work with the writers and the directors, and I got to the location and production meetings. We’re an integral part of the whole process.
Let’s talk about some of the effects. What about the effects at the end of the paradigm shift episode and how long that took to put together?
It takes an awful long time to put the bigger sequences together. They’re so complex. At the end of that episode, it was everything from planning the stage area we had to shoot on. There’s a lot of planning that goes on. We go to set and there are some surprises. One of the things we discovered was the outdoor temperature outside the studio in Toronto in the middle of summer compared to the indoor temperature and humidity levels. That combination did not work well with the actor’s visors.
I got there at 8am call time, and David Grossman who was directing that episode said he couldn’t see the actor’s faces because they had fogged up. There was nothing we could do, so I said to take the visor off. We shot the whole sequence without physical visors and added them in digitally later on. It was way more economically feasible than to do it any other way.
We had all those plans of how we’d do it, that was planned and organized, and we were thrown this curve ball. For the most part, those scenes were 80 percent what we expected, and that curve ball gave us the other 20 percent.
There was the other scene where Miller meets the alien version of Julie. That was a great scene with what happens in “Home,” Episode 5.
Here’s the thing we knew. Based on what we had done at the end of Season 1, we had to get to that realm. We had great concept artists, and they had created the image of Julie who was suspended by these molecules. We started by putting the actors in a blue room. The whole thing was blue. It was a difficult sequence with lots of challenges. That episode is probably the most difficult yet most rewarding episode of TV that I’ve ever done in my life.
A few months ago, my wife walked in to our home office and saw tears streaming down my face and said, “Are you watching the end of 2.05 again?” That’s how emotional it was. I’m so proud of the work that went into that episode. That was it.
That was a great episode, and you never saw that coming. What is it like for you live tweeting with the fans?
I love it. Someone tweeted the other day asking the favorite thing about working on the show. It’s really just the artistic satisfaction that I get. Secondly, it is the fan interaction. Other shows do it but not to this degree. The cast, the writers, myself and the others have this interaction that is so much fun, and it’s done on such a great degree.
Here’s a little spoiler. On April 19, I’ll be having a big viewing party at my house in Rural Ontario. We have many twitter fans who will be coming.
We’ll also be having cast here. That’s how much we love it. The Twitter fans don’t know the cast will be there. People will be showing up, and they’ll be walking in and cast will be there. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be big! People will be so thrilled, and that’s exactly why this show is different. Our fans are awesome. They have called out errors that we have corrected and fixed for the DVD and Netflix.
The Expanse season finale airs on April 19 on Syfy.