How Westworld's Subtle Special Effects Turned Actors Into Androids

Monday, 03 October 2016 - 3:55PM
Westworld
Monday, 03 October 2016 - 3:55PM
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Westworld finally premiered last night, and it was everything we could have hoped for. Well-acted, beautifully shot, character-focused yet thrilling, violent but not gratuitous, it's our new sci-fi obsession of the fall season. But one of the most impressive aspects of the show was the subtlety of the uncanny-valley robots, which VFX supervisor Jay Worth reveals was an effective mixture of special effects and great acting. 

While much of the affect of the robots was the work of the actors, some enhancement of their inhuman qualities was necessary. Old Bill, for example, needed lots of VFX assistance during his eerie conversation with Anthony Hopkins' creative director, since he's supposed to be an older model. He constantly glitches, and moves more like a jerky animatronic fast food mascot than a human being. 

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"We changed [actor Michael Wincott's] performance entirely, but it's really subtle," Worth told Inverse. "We gave him these little stopping and jerking things, his eyelids and hands and arms and how he moves. It was so effective in making it feel like this older model that was not quite as smooth."
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In order to pull off these effects, Worth and the digital effects team from Cosa VFX, who also handled the effects for Stranger Things and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., took Wincott's movements and broke them down into many smaller movements in order to make him seem less realistic.

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"It's all compositing," Worth said. "You take certain portions of it, speed ramp and freeze it and do it all two dimensionally."
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In addition, Sheriff Reed required a few digital effects when he short-circuited and half of his face became immobile, and Dolores' father, Peter, who also suffered a malfunction, was made to do "really subtle things with his pupils and eyelids" that "made it feel like he was off, but not so mechanical."

But that being said, Worth didn't want to take away from the performances of the A-list actors, which did most of the work:

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"Everything that Abernathy does in his conversation with Dr. Ford, that's all actor action," Worth said. "We made him freeze every now and then. But the actors are really good at not blinking."
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