Who are you? Where do you work? What was your role in the Expanse?
My name is Cailin Munroe, and I work as the Visual Effects Coordinator on The Expanse . I don't work for Alcon or for one of the VFX companies, I was hired onto The Expanse production directly.
How did you and your team come to be involved with the Expanse?
It’s in the bloodline! My patriarch [Bob Munroe] is the Visual Effects Supervisor on the show, as well as one of his very close friends who is the VFX On-Set Supervisor, so we all come as sort of a package deal. Then we have all of the companies and individuals who are working on the effects - and they are all Canadian, which is super awesome! [She is correct. Canada is the awesomest.]
Were you familiar with, or had you read the Expanse novels prior to working on the project?
I had personally not heard of the book series before coming on board the TV show, but that is likely due to my lack of interest in reading! I have since read the first book, Leviathan Wakes , and am onto the second book now. I’m really enjoying them!
Did reading the novels change the way you might have worked on the TV series?
Absolutely, reading Leviathan Wakes gave me such a deeper perspective into the series, and I must say I think it actually helped that I read scripts and watched early cuts before reading the book, because I like to be able to picture what the characters look like and what they sound like. The books and the show are both so well written, they really just enhance each other in the best ways.
How do you see your role in VFX driving storytelling of the series forward?
This show is absolutely massive in terms of VFX. We did have lots of beautifully designed and built practical sets, but there were of course still some blue screens. Beyond blue screens and set extensions, people have to remember that the show takes place largely in outer space, so we have massive ships and battles happening that are fully digital. Lastly, we can’t forget the “small stuff” as well, things like comm units (the cell phones of the future) and drones flying around, these are the things that nobody really registers as a storytelling point, but they are still so integral to the show.
How much leeway did you and your team have from an artistic standpoint in your work? Were the shots you put together taken directly from storyboards, or did you have an opportunity to come up with new ideas for shots?
We had lots of leeway – we had little in the way of storyboards. For the most part, script direction was what we went by. Lots of collaboration between our VFX supervisor (Bob Munroe), the VFX vendors and our show runner (Naren Shankar). In terms of action, everything was designed within the VFX department.
Did you have an opportunity to visit the sets during principle photography? If so, what were your impressions, and did that visit inform your work in a tangible way during post-production?
Absolutely! I was on set every day during filming, as well as spending time in the production office. In addition to myself being on set, employees from the companies working on the VFX visited set often. I think it’s extremely important to be in the physical environment and get a feel for the world that was created because it can really help from a creative standpoint. I love seeing everything come together - from art department concepts, to the sets being built, and now in post production seeing how sets and scenes were completed by the visual effects team.
Much has been said in the last few months about the practical sets used for the ship interiors. This has been somewhat refreshing to scifi fans given many years of perceived over-reliance on greenscreen and VFX. Has the use of practical sets reduced your workload or just changed it? If so, how?
As I mentioned earlier, we did have some incredible sets built for ship interiors, and we were lucky to be working on some massive sound stages that allowed for these to be built. That being said, there were still many blue screens to help with things like extending hallways, and looking into massive engineering bays on the ships. This show is still absolutely huge in terms of VFX needs, so I would say fewer blue screens has given us the ability to direct our energy towards effects like battle scenes in outer space and EXPLOSIONS!
What are some of your favorite examples from other TV series or film of visual effects being used at their best?
The White Walker battle from season 5 of Game Of Thrones. Quite spectacular. Same with the opening 15 minutes of Gravity – tense, terrifying storytelling and stunning choreography of VFX - an amazing amalgam of so many things.
What do you feel those examples have done to elevate the quality of the final product we see on the screen?
VFX has always been held to a higher level of scrutiny than almost any other facet of film and television production. When VFX are that well executed, they are unimpeachable.
Did you and your team hide easter eggs in the background that fans of the book might recognize, but first-time viewers of the series might not catch?
There are definitely some Easter eggs hidden in the VFX, I won’t say whether they pertain to the books directly or not, but there is some fun stuff poking around that fans may catch.
What do you wish more viewers appreciated about the work you and your team do - not just in the Expanse, but in any projects you've worked on?
I think that visual effects can often be overlooked, especially when done really well. People notice when VFX are bad, but they are typically overlooked when they are good – which is a great thing, it means we’re doing our job right! I hope that people can look at The Expanse and see all the hard work that was put in by the visual effects companies and individuals who have worked on it – Atmosphere VFX , Keyframe Digital Productions ,Rocket Science VFX , Spin VFX , Switch VFX , John Mariella, Mark Thomas-Stubbs, and Paul DeOlivera. There are 2500 visual effects shots in Season 1 , nothing like this has ever been done before on television, and we are so excited for the world to see it!
Our thanks to Cailin for taking the time to answer out questions! Be sure to catch The Expanse premiere on VOD on November 23, and on SyFy and Space on December 14 and 15!