B.C. post shops create series’ alien worlds

At 200 episodes and counting, Stargate SG-1 isn’t just a sci-fi institution – it’s also helped provide a foundation for the burgeoning Vancouver post and FX industry. Over the last 10 years, several Vancouver post houses have been able to flex their creative chops and grow their businesses on MGM Television’s flagship series, along with its Stargate Atlantis spin-off.

‘Stargate is one of the biggest employers in the Vancouver market,’ confirms Andrew Karr, in-house digital director for Atmosphere Visual Effects, which works on both franchise titles. ‘It’s certainly been good for our business. Today, I would estimate that a good 30% to 40% of our business comes from both Stargate series.’

Meanwhile, Image Engine came in to provide FX for SG-1 back in its second season, and remains on board.

‘Today, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are mainstays of our TV operations, which have grown tremendously since they became our client,’ says Chris Mossman, Image Engine president.

Lost Boys Studios worked on the very first episode of SG-1, and contributed to several seasons thereafter. Shop managing director Mark Bénard cites the sci-fi show and fellow MGM series The Outer Limits and Poltergeist: The Legacy as clients that kept B.C. post shops busy for many years.

‘More importantly, Stargate gave the Vancouver VFX talent the opportunity to hone their skills, which put us on the radar of the international scene,’ Bénard says.

But of all the Vancouver post houses that have guided Major General Jack O’Neill and his SGC teammates through the universe, none has played a larger role than Rainmaker.

‘Since the first season of SG-1, Rainmaker has received the footage we’ve shot and taken it through the entire post process,’ recounts SG-1 associate producer for post Jennifer Johnson. ‘They are vital to both Stargate series.’

Rainmaker does everything from synching the show’s dailies to online editing, color correction and the completion of broadcast masters.

‘They are so committed, it’s like they’re part of our team,’ says Kerry McDowall, SG-1′s post-production coordinator.

MGM has been a major driver in Rainmaker’s growth over the past decade, but that’s not all, according to Barry Chambers, the post shop’s president.

‘They allow us to work with some of the best people in television who are doing really interesting, envelope-pushing work,’ he says.

Besides being good for business, Stargate has won the local post shops some industry recognition. Rainmaker has received a Gemini Award and four Emmy nominations for its work on the franchise, while Image Engine also has a Gemini and seven Emmy noms.

‘The fact that SG-1 and Atlantis have consistently been nominated for VFX Emmys says a lot about the people who produce those effects,’ notes SG-1 visual effects producer Michelle Comens. ‘The post people in Vancouver always go the distance for us. Our success in large part is a tribute to them.’

Not surprisingly, each post house has its own favorite Stargate memory.

For Rainmaker’s Chambers, it’s not a specific episode that stands out, but rather the announcement of the show’s transition from film to HDTV.

‘In the early days, they were shooting on 35mm and transferring to Betacam,’ Chambers recalls. ‘They switched to 1080 24p HDTV a few years ago – which we post in – then dub to 1080i for the air master. However, Stargate has been shot in 16:9 for the last seven or eight years, because the people at MGM Television were thinking ahead.’

Over at Image Engine, it’s the creatures that stick out for Mossman.

‘We’re known for our creature FX, and with Atlantis, the creatures have become a little more extreme and bizarre,’ he says. He cites ‘Inferno’ from Atlantis’ second season as his favorite episode.

‘On the planet of Taranis, the entire Stargate complex is built inside the caldera of a super-volcano. Creating the visuals was extremely challenging, and very satisfying,’ he explains.

This said, the post folks say it’s the relationship with staff at MGM’s Vancouver offices that they like best about collaborating on the Stargate shows.

‘They’re one of the easier shows to work with,’ says Atmosphere’s Karr. ‘After 10 years, they’ve become a well-oiled machine.’