FuseFX’s Brian Kubovcik talks POSE and the art of VFX.
Q: The myth about VFX is that it’s just technical. It IS part of the ethos of the whole show, right? So it must feel very much of the ‘now’ to be part of POSE, given its socio-political themes?
It’s been an honor to contribute to the entire Pose series. The show is a watershed moment in entertainment history, and a major jump forward for inclusivity in our industry and culture. I’m thankful to Steven Canals, Janet Mock, and Ryan Murphy for inviting us to be a part of the journey these past 3 seasons.
The Black and Brown Trans and Gay community that was cast aside by family and society created a culture and home of their own. The Pose “Do It Yourself” ethos shines through in a story of love and pain viewed through a lens not seen before. To be able to use our skills in Visual Effects to help shape that world on screen, often in invisible ways, has been extremely rewarding. It’s an important show that the entire FuseFX team has been proud to work on.
Q: How does one avoid anachronism in a period piece set of effects? The visual ‘look’ by nature will be of the present, even when incorporating images of the past…
On Pose Season 3, we took great care of choosing locations that fit in neatly into our mid ‘90s aesthetic. Having buildings in frame that feel worn goes a long way. The rest of the issues fall to us in VFX to solve. Our team removed, covered, or added buildings to a good number of scenes throughout the season to keep them authentic to the era.
Part of filming in NYC is the understanding that you can’t control everything and that you need to be ready to problem solve in the moment on location. Our persistent issue on Pose is non-period cars, signage, and building features.
Most exterior scenes either have modern cars removed, period-appropriate CG cars added in motion, or parked cars covered with photographed elements.
Additionally, there are a lot of little elements that viewers may not focus on that we alter. For example, all pedestrian crosswalk signals were changed to the “WALK / DONT WALK” signs, which didn’t change to the walking person symbols until around 1999. In addition, we removed all the surveillance cameras in NYC, and there are a lot of them!
Q: Do you therefore sympathise with those who make new iterations of Star Trek /Wars etc: how to be modern yet explain why, perhaps things look ‘better’ in our present day tech than what was once futuristic in say the 1960s or ’80s?
Unlike those films, we’re lucky that NYC is a real place that we can actually film! Plus there’s a lot of good references readily available for what Pose needed to look like.
We shot a lot in the Bronx, which lends authenticity to the story both in its historical accuracy and architecture for our story and timeline.
Q: POSE is set in the ‘90s. Do you have fond memories of that decade? It is, after-all, when CGI and other effects processes took off!
The beauty of Pose is it shines a light on a lot of fun memories from the ‘80s/’90s – but it’s most impactful reflection of the era is the struggle at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Living with our characters through their toughest moments is what makes their moments of happiness even more powerful. To have the determination to find joy in life through these immense struggles is the most touching part of Pose.
On a personal level, as an ‘80s baby, I love the music of Pose. Steven Canals, and all the directors, are always on point with their soundtrack selection. Mariah Carey at the end of episode 2 this season is a favorite so far!
Q: Is there a typical ‘day at the office’ for you and your team? Or is part of the charm of the job the fact that there is no 9-5 normal routine?
For me there is no typical day on the job, and that’s definitely an appealing part. I’m lucky to have a family who supports me through my hectic schedule.
On Pose, I could be on set for a couple of scenes, reading scripts, pulling references and location scouting, all while fitting in calls with our lovely post-production team in LA and connecting with the amazing FuseFX crew around the country to look at shots and discuss creative challenges. Each day in VFX is a new puzzle to solve.
Q: How has the pandemic been for you? You all got your work done, for sure. But how has it felt as an artist?
The pandemic presented challenges that weren’t anticipated at the beginning of the season in February 2020. When we resumed production in September 2020, crowd duplication and seasonal changes through VFX came to the forefront.
The heart and soul of Pose are the ballroom scenes. In previous seasons, we’d pack 120-150 cast and crew into a tiny space. COVID protocols obviously wouldn’t allow those numbers when we resumed in the fall. Starting in the summer I combed back through the first two seasons to study the classic ballroom shots. I arrived at 40 people being the magic number to achieve almost all of a ballroom scene practically, and we were actually able to accommodate that number within the safety protocols. Then whatever wide shots saw the whole room we’d do crowd duplication in VFX. In the end, due to background actors’ detailed wardrobe and actions we decided on a tiling crowd extension approach. It’s a method of crowd extension where we shot separate passes of our 40 actors in different positions, then combined them all in VFX to create a full room.
The other big challenge presented by COVID was the story arc and it’s seasonal timeline. We were originally scheduled to shoot through the summer with the story taking place in that season. When production resumed in fall 2020 it became clear that seasonal changes would need to be created with VFX. In season 3, we shot during fall/winter for scenes intended to be perceived as spring/summer. We used a combination of CG trees and photographed elements to fill bare trees. We also altered the foliage color to achieve an early spring look with pops of yellow, pink, and white blossoms along with our greens.
Q: If you are a ‘fan’ of a show you work on, how do you avoid spoilers? Or is that an additional bonus..getting the gossip, first!
I am a fan of Pose outside of my role as the VFX Supervisor, which makes it really fun to play a part in the creation of the story. As with any show I work on, I’m reading all the scripts well in advance to prep. But there’s always a difference between reading the words on the page, to seeing it come to life before you on set, and then watching the final edit with completed VFX and sound. Even though I know the story, every stage is exciting in its own way – I am constantly discovering something new about the characters and their emotions.