Sharks in Space, Earthquakes, and Zombies! Behind the Scenes with The Asylum: VFX and mocha Pro

The Asylum is a Los Angeles-based movie studio that works at a breakneck pace producing 10-15 films per year across a wide variety of genres including, fantasy, horror, disaster films, historical dramas….and shark movies – popular cult hits Syfy’s Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One, and the recently released Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (July 22nd).

Sharknado 3… one of the most disgusting, laughable yet weirdly beautiful visuals I’ve seen on TV this year.” –

“Our films leave little room for doubt as to what they are: action adventure that STARTS at Act 3 and ramps up from there,” says Joseph J. Lawson, Supervisor of the VFX Department. “At the end of the day most folks walk away not feeling like they do after a big budget film but as filling popcorn entertainment with a lighter touch and sense of fun…even if only as a drinking game…we tend to hit the mark.”


The over-the-top nature of The Asylum’s films paired with incredibly quick turnarounds – often 16-20 weeks from development to distribution – call for lots of visual effects. The team creates almost 2,000 VFX a year with a five to fifteen member team depending on the scope of each project.

“It’s an amazing machine and model that takes a LOT of juggling and practice to keep working efficiently,” notes Lawson. “mocha has, quite literally, helped change how and WHAT we can do in a fast-paced VFX environment. That mocha is so accessible and capable makes all the difference in the world.”

The Asylum fully adopted mocha in early 2014 after switching to an After Effects comp workflow which they use with Lightwave, their main 3D tool. The time-saving benefits of the entire team having access to mocha have proven tremendous. “mocha covers a lot of bases in tracking and replacement that has really opened our toolkit much more broadly than before. Things that were ‘impossible’ for us on our timelines (complicated location tracking, object removal, etc.) have now become commonplace and easier to contemplate,” states Lawson. “It used to be we told directors to lock the camera, always. We’re not as strict anymore depending on the shot.”

Thirty to forty percent of shots on bigger projects like the Sharknado series use mocha’s many features to one degree or another. “We use it for ground tracking, camera tracking, object tracking, anything really,” continues Lawson. “mocha allows us to do what we’re best at (the visualization) and to not have to worry about the technical side quite as much. The more we learn on it, the more we use it.” Daily tasks such as tracking phenomena like fog and explosion elements are also all done with mocha.


In any given month, The Asylum has two to five projects in some state of VFX production. “No matter what, it’s both a creative and technical challenge…It definitely helps to have a robust tool that WORKS like mocha in your kit,” ends Lawson. “Sure, it would be great to have everything run smooth without any problems or issues, to have FIFTY shots a show and get some rest time….but there is a good reason this place is called The Asylum!”


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