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Crusade questions


I know, I am very late to the party, but I just decided to watch Crusade. So what the heck happened to the great effects and CGI in B5? The standard is wayyyy lower here. Was it lack of funds? The studio sticking it's nose in, what? I am really surprised...
By the time you got to Crusade the FX were being produced by Netter Digital. There was some beautiful stuff made for Crusade but there was a lot of truly terribly put together shots as well – full of silly mistakes and inconsistencies. Basically the balance (and talent) that had existed in the first three season of B5 had been lost. Televsion producers rather than FX guys were running that side of things in the last two seasons and Crusade, and wanted the maximum bang for buck, putting the (now) less experienced FX guys under a lot of pressure. The company also didn’t benefit from the basic quality control present at Foundation Imaging either.

Extracts from the interview with one of the animators.


I'll paraphrase what John Copeland said once, when there were some complaints about the increasing shot load. "It's a challenge we face to be proud of every single shot we do for television, and still deliver on- time. We have to try and be perfectionists, yes, but at the end of the day, we still have a show to deliver." (insert grumbles from animators). Pat and Shant were in control of the CG work, as much as possible in production. That being said, there was tension between them and the upper management at times. It's the classic "suits vs. the artists" syndrome. It's art, but it's commerce…….

We should have had a continuity person such as Tim Earls checking shots for ship scaling issues; some animators were occasionally sloppy with the scaling and - like Copeland said - way too much license was given and (much to our chagrin), when we had a newer B5 animator come in, they would make basic mistakes. I did myself early on.

These would usually be discovered and yelled out at the studio: "Someone saved over the Starfury!" Sometimes animators saved things locally if they 'tweaked' something, because we were all linked to the same pool of assets. (Lightwave did not save objects within the scene file). But (the mostly 'green') animators would save over existing 'final' versions of the ships. Adjust a scale then 'save' over the proper one, overwrite with custom textures or simply just scale ships at will for their own scene file, without being careful.
I always felt the over-reliance on CGI sets in Crusade didn't help either. I do have one question though for Triple F. When Netter took over from Foundation in season 4 I thought their stuff was really good and creative. Stuff like Into the Fire and No Surrender, No Retreat looked brilliant. But – at least to my eye – by season 5 their effects had turned to crap, with terrible compositions and camera angles, cut and paste ships, scale all over the place and so on. Was this just the result of the lower budget in S5 or did some key personnel leave between seasons?
That’s exactly how I viewed the change in the CGI stuff – long before ever talking to anyone who worked on the show. At first it looked pretty good but got progressively worse as time went on, or at least included more an more mistakes.

I don’t know the details, but I feel a potential lack of budget is less likely to be the cause. There was a couple of other factors which I think may have played a part – and the irony in that is pretty thick considering the reasons given for why FI was removed from the show.

Part of the possible reason is that by the time you get to season 5, Netter Digital was trying very hard to get into other shows, and were putting their best people on them. At the time there was a big move to motion control (MOCAP), and most of the FX houses were investing heavily in it for shows like Voltron: The Third Dimension which Netter Digital worked on, as well as stuff like Max Steel….. The interview with both Josh and Paul touched on events surrounding that…..

Another factor is that new folks were subsequently brought into Netter and they made some really quite unbelievable mistakes because of the way it was set up and run by people with basically no experience. The two senior animators at Netter where juniors brought on by Foundation Imaging to work on Hypernaughts, and their new position was basically their reward for the part they played in getting FI kicked off the show (that and ultimately what happened to them is another story) – but as time progressed the short comings in the internal organisation become more pronounced and spilled onto the screen more regularly. I mean, ffs, the master copies of the ship models and textures they used were overwritten on a regular basis, so scaling became a joke and is why Tim Earls eventually tried to come out with those size charts.

The third big part was that the balance was lost. With Foundation Imaging being run by Ron Thornton and Paul Bryant the VFX artists had a strong voice at the production meetings. So a sort of balance was achieved between the “money men” and the artists with each of them being able to keep the more extreme actions or ideas of the others in check…. And it worked well. But when Netter took over the VFX it meant that an artistic department was now run by those same money men and they really didn’t understand the art form and thought it was just a matter of pressing buttons. Like you say, later seasons became full of cut and paste jobs to fill the screen. Quantity became more important than quality. Then there was the drive to continually push the envelop and the desire to get the maximum bang for their buck, which basically translated to pushing out a higher shot count….. and there was no one there to just say no, too much.

So it was a combination of things. The best talent (and there was some at Netter) was moved over to the new MOCAP shows by producers who didn’t understand the industry and who hadn’t introduced basic quality control to the process while bringing in inexperienced animators to produce a higher number of complex shots for B5. Its basically a classic example of grasp exceeding reach. Good intentions that resulted in a steady downward spiral in quality.

You might find this interesting as it sheds a little bit of additional light on Netter and FI.

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