When most sci-fi fans think about their favourite TV shows, the first creators that spring to mind are usually the writers, producers, designers, and actors - the high-profile names that make the series soar. But there are also quiet heroes who steadfastly keep the quantum drives humming from the back of the ship: the post-production team.
This is especially true for Seth MacFarlane’s jet pet The Orville, which has undertaken an exploratory mission as both a show and a ship.
What initially seemed to be a Star Trek homage has incrementally grown into its own universe, establishing a distinct tone that feels light years beyond fellow sci-fi vehicles that clamor for binge viewers with gimmicks or tired reboots.
The series was created by and stars MacFarlane as Ed Mercer, the captain of the show’s namesake ship. He’s been given a second shot at a career that faltered after an untimely divorce.
Adrienne Palicki co-stars as first officer Kelly Grayson, the seasoned professional who shares the helm of command with her ex-husband and captain. The crew of the Orville explores the galaxy on behalf of the Planetary Union, with adventures that have included diplomatic assignments as well as the occasional scrap with the alien Krill and robot-like Kaylon empires.
One of the secrets of The Orville is that MacFarlane understands what it takes to build a classic, and he’s culled the resources and production teams to do so.
In the realm of post-production, this has meant having a staff that expertly balances attending pre-visualisation meetings, FX supervision on early morning location shoots, collecting special effects renders, and guiding scoring sessions with a 75-piece orchestra.
To give us a better sense of the process, we got Post Producer Andre Danylevich and VFX Producer Brooke Noska on the phone to break down their duties aboard The Orville.
Danylevich has previously produced on the film CBGB and up-and-coming Skywatch (which Gizmodo covered here), and Noska has served as VFX Producer for Barry and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Gizmodo: The show has been hailed for delivering sequences as atmospheric as its cinematic sci-fi counterparts. What are some differences between working in the medium of TV and film with a show like this?
Brooke Noska: The biggest difference comparing feature films and broadcast television is the schedule between pre-production, production and post. We had just shot episodes one through three and were already in post on them, and they’re off shooting episode nine, so we had to be working with all different episodes all at the same time.
Andre Danylevich: TV is a breakneck pace that doesn’t let up. With film it’s, “Oh, you’ve delivered it, you’re done,” but with TV you’ve delivered it and then you’re back on delivering it the next week and the next week and the next week. It doesn’t let up.
Noska: Essentially we’re making three movies in the timeline of one.
Gizmodo: The Orville hit a nice peak in season two with the two-part episode “Identity.” We had breathtaking sequences on the planet Kaylon-1 and the final battle pushed the boundaries of what a weekly sci-fi show could deliver. How many shots are the VFX team producing, on average?
Noska: There’s an average of 500 to 550 shots per episode, with a very, very close total of about 7,000 VFX shots for the entire season. (Laughs) We did some maths, everybody in the broadcast world and our fans saw 7,000 shots, but our little tiny visual effects team and our vendors pumped through 22,000 versions of those different shots. So there’s a lot of visual effects flying through little Building 310 on the Fox lot!
Gizmodo: If someone is looking to get into the post-production field, how many hours a day should they expect to be putting in?
Danylevich: [Laughing] Sixty to 90 hours a week.
Noska: Maybe 10 hours not working on the show during the week.
Danylevich: The closer to air date we got the more intense it became. There would have been no way to close the show out without that close communication and teamwork, daily.
Noska: I had about nine vendors, I know Andre had the mix team, the scoring stage team, the colour team, his own team, my team, then we had to answer to Seth and his team, so honestly I think we’re part immortal? [Laughs.] But we knew what we signed up for. This show is the extreme of TV production; we have really big dreams and we want to achieve them. Not every show is like this, not every movie is like this.
Gizmodo: Sounds like one heck of a career.
Danylevich: The beauty of our job is that we are supposed to make the impossible happen, and to make it look easy. It would take away from the experience of the show if you were watching it and you said, “Oh man, that must’ve been really tough.”
Noska: You almost don’t want to be recognised, so everybody can feel like they’re in that world, in that real place.
Danylevich: It’s like the water bottle and coffee cup in Game of Thrones. We legitimately have those issues as well. You gotta make sure that stuff’s not in there, we have to take it out in post.
Noska: Seth has recognised us on social media and in interviews, which is absolutely appreciated and, to say the least, quite rare to come from such a high-profile showrunner. We don’t need to be famous. We just doing our work in the background, and we’re fine with that. [Laughs.]
Gizmodo: So how does one keep the weight of the Planetary Union lasers on their shoulders without burning out?
Danylevich: For me, personally, my calming method number one was kombucha.
Noska: A borderline addiction.
Danylevich: It wasn’t borderline, it was full-on. [Laughs.] That and walks around the Fox lot.
Noska: I have my dog at work, Bruce, the best little visual effects co-pilot.
Gizmodo: Oh my God, look at him.
Noska: Yeah, I believe he’s the legit emotional support dog for me and the entire crew. No matter what kind of workload is in the office, he’s gonna love on everybody. He’s my little buddy. He was born into visual effects before I was even at The Orville and after a while he became part of the day-to-day crew.
Gizmodo: Beyond being a sci-fi show, which is already rare, much of The Orville is made, stem to stern, on the Fox lot. Tell us about how that has affected your overall workflow.
Noska: There’s a little bit of a misnomer that “post is post”—but we had somebody on set to make sure that dots were connecting smoothly: not breaking continuity, making sure we wouldn’t need to re-shoot. So even during regular production, we made sure to have either myself or a VFX representative on set. But being a new show and getting our feet wet, we were able to put in the extra time and effort to make sure that everybody was on the same page so that it wasn’t harder for us in post. We were a part of the process.
Danylevich: Although I hope we’re never gonna need reshoots, even reshoots are a chance to get out of the routine. There have been many times on this show when you can simply walk over to the actual set and see how things are going. Often times productions shoot out of state because of tax incentives, but because Seth is not just the showrunner but the star of the show, we have gotten to be right next to set here in LA. Which is pretty unique.
Gizmodo: I read that the green explosions from the Krill ship blowing up had to be cleared by Seth MacFarlane. How many of these final renders have to go through showrunners before acceptance?
Noska: All of them!
Danylevich: Every single one.
Noska: Seth’s a unique showrunner in that he has his hands in all of it. We’re still a pretty new show, so he makes sure that we are delivering his vision—he’s involved from visual effects, to colours, to mix, he’s part of it all. Seth also has a finger on the pulse of what the community and the fans are talking about. So it’s never been about just doing his own project, he also pays attention to what fans are talking about on social media.
Gizmodo: Are you also on hand for the scoring sessions?
Danylevich: Yes. Brooke and I are there to field any questions that Seth might have. It happens somewhat regularly. You get to sit there and listen to beautiful music being played for hours. Seth might turn around and say, “Hey, this spot right here, I want it to match the Previs a bit more,” which has to be communicated because we might already have something being worked on simultaneously over in visual effects.
Noska: It was also a creative way to make sure that we could sneak in a bit more VFX time without it being labelled as such. Plus it was just a nice change of atmosphere; we’re watching all of these incredible musicians and mix engineers. Honestly, that is the most exciting part of being on The Orville—we get to be a part of every single aspect of the process, and you don’t really get to do that on a lot of other shows. This show has opened up that ability to see the different departments and the various artists. Most other shows just have a VFX person sitting in a dark room pumping out shots. So it’s been cool to get out of that little black hole, actually see the people to get the feedback that we needed.
Gizmodo: The Kaylon have used head cannons, and in the season two finale we got to see them evolve with flight. Are we gonna get to see Isaac heating up hot dogs for Claire’s kids with Kaylon head rays?
Danylevich: Well, we can’t say much without getting in trouble. I can tell you that if you look at the progression between season one and season two, you’d expect similar progression in a lot of different ways. Seth MacFarlane has a unique vision for how he wants this show to go and that involves the show growing into itself. At the beginning of season one, we were figuring out what we were. And now we’ve settled into that and we’re trying to exceed expectations. People are going to be surprised with what they get.
Gizmodo: Over time, some VFX shows have come to look dated or cheesy. Do you think The Orville will hold up 20 years from now?
Noska: I think it will look fine! There’s a lot of detail and a lot of heart and soul that went into it. A lot of the times with our vendors, we look at who has the latest technology and who is gonna provide us the visual effects that are going to get us through the decades so hopefully our kids can watch someday. It’s like the guts under the hood of a classic car; the good parts are gonna run for a while.
Lee Keeler is the co-author of Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp and is a writer/educator based in Oregon.