Stargate Gemini nom reflects Vancouver’s hotbed of VFX artists

VANCOUVER -- Getting a best visual effects Gemini nom for Stargate: Atlantis has turned VFX supervisor Mark Savela into a believer.

VANCOUVER — Getting a best visual effects Gemini nom for Stargate: Atlantis has turned VFX supervisor Mark Savela into a believer.

‘Years ago, you’d see very few entries in visual effects, or even very few awards or categories,’ says Savela, regarding the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television’s upcoming English-language TV awards. ‘That’s all changing, and it’s great to see the talent being recognized.’

Stargate: Atlantis had help from Vancouver-based vendors Atmosphere Visual Effects and Rainmaker on the nominated season three opener ‘No Man’s Land,’ which is competing against the miniseries Above and Beyond and the documentary The Great Canadian Polar Bear Adventure in the VFX category.

No less than eight artists, including Savela, are named in the nomination.

‘Visual effects is a team sport,’ laughs Savela. ‘You don’t play it by yourself.’ He says that going out-of-house is not only necessary, but adds to the otherworldly magic on the screen.

‘We choose [outside vendors] based on the strength of the shop – which episode they’re best suited for,’ Savela explains. ‘We keep the work flowing. It’s kind of a balancing act, making sure that no one gets overloaded, keeping the work fresh.’

Stargate: Atlantis draws on four main outside Vancouver vendors: Atmosphere, Rainmaker, Image Engine and Spin West VFX. That roster is based on relationships and past experience.

‘The visual effects industry in Vancouver is a tight-knit community,’ says Savela. ‘We all know each other, and there’s more than enough work to go around. Vancouver is a visual effects hotbed.’

Savela says creating the images and special effects for ‘No Man’s Land’ was especially fun.

‘I changed things up, made it more claustrophobic, not just a wide outlook where POV sees everything,’ he enthuses. ‘You’re part of the action, like the scene where Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) is being chased by [one-man attack crafts] The Wraith Darts. The shot is tight on him in the cockpit, Darts flying past him, he’s shooting at them. You feel like you’re in it, not just watching it.’

Savela is the quintessential kid-in-a-toy store, and his toys of choice are housed within the imaginations and expertise of the eight-person VFX department at Burnaby’s Bridge Studios, home base to defunct Stargate: SG-1 and its spin-off Atlantis.

‘But with 80 shots per episode, there’s no way we can do this on our own, in-house,’ explains Savela. Each episode has creatives clocking in eight- to 10-hour days, five days a week, for two months.

Rainmaker has logged in on SG-1 (11 years) and Atlantis (four seasons) since each series debuted.

In choosing artist-run Atmosphere, Savela explains: ‘I was shopping around. I like their work. They’re a small shop with [now-defunct] GVFX alumni, whom I worked with on other projects.’

Atmosphere recently picked up this year’s Emmy Award for outstanding special visual effects for a series for Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica ‘Exodus, Part 2′ (NBC Universal), marking the first time a Vancouver-based show has brought the award home. *

Gemini nominees

for best visual effects

* Stargate: Atlantis ‘No Man’s Land’ – Mark Savela, Tom Brydon, Brenda Campbell, Debora Dunphy, Shannon Gurney, Andrew Karr, Todd Liddiard, Alec McClymont.

* Above and Beyond – Peter Evans, Darryl Couch, Chris Darlington, Mike Momberquette, Michael Skiffington, John Vatcher, David Woodrow.

* The Great Canadian Polar Bear Adventure – Mohammad Ghorbankarimi, Mike Brown, Laurence Cymet, Mark Driver, David Hedley, Sam Javanrouh, Filip Kicev, Paul Moyer, Leonardo Silva, Mahvash Tehrani