BLP VFX Hacks the Creative Process on CSI: Cyber

Los Angeles-based BLP VFX thrives in the fiber-optic paced world of television much like the criminals on CBS’s CSI: Cyber, one of their main projects. The close-knit team, consisting of 8-9 artists with experience in all aspects of production and VFX, prides itself on its unique two prong approach – as an in-house team or as a vendor (or a combination of the two).


“We are artists first and foremost,” says Brad Powell, VFX Supervisor. “Our goal is to remove the technical hurdles and mystery from the visual effects process so that each show can focus on bringing their vision to the screen.” To accomplish this, Powell and his team prefer to work hand in hand as crew members as often as they can. “This allows the production to get the most out of their budget, gives them direct access to the artists, and provides the greatest ease during post production and the creative development of each shot,” continues Powell.

The design of the show is modeled after the look book BLP created during the extremely intensive pitch process. The process laid the ground work for portraying the cyber world, overall VFX, and the title sequence. “CSI: Cyber has absolutely been the most creatively satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on,” adds Powell. “The variety of work we get to do and the freedom we are given are fantastic.”


For effects and compositing, the team uses Adobe After Effects CC with the bundled mocha AE CC and full mocha Pro for beauty work, burn-ins, and digital sign removal/replacement; paint & fix work; and green screen and set extension tracking.

“It’s hard to find scenarios where we DON’T use mocha,” states Powell. “I’d say that 95% of all of our shots that require tracking go through mocha. It doesn’t really assist the process or our workflow, it IS our workflow.”

The artists track and roto in mocha, jump into After Effects for compositing, quickly preview tracks, and then head back to mocha if any tweaks are needed. They also take advantage of MochaImport+ (found on aescripts) to get the most of mocha’s tracking data and use the Stabilize Precomp function to visualize how tight a track is when doing paint and warp work.

The massive central set on CSI: Cyber is a prime example of how mocha makes BLP’s lives much easier. It consists of over 30 monitors of different sizes. Any given shoot may have one blank screen, all blank screens or anything in between. “This always includes moving cameras, snap zooms, foreground crossing and obstruction, shooting through glass,” comments Powell. “And a VFX favorite camera department trick – shooting through a foreground crystal to create refractions and lens artifacts. Knowing we’ve got mocha on our machines, we all came to realize if they shoot it, mocha can track it.”

“It’s easy to make pretty pictures but it’s much harder to make pretty pictures AND tell a clear and specific story. And then squeeze that story-telling into a very small amount of time,” ends Powell. “I honestly don’t like to think about the days before we had mocha. It helps me sleep at night. Ha ha.”

Learn more about BLP and its other current projects, including: CBS’s Elementary and Hulu’s The Mindy Project.


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