HBO's dystopian sci-fi Westworld is set to return to our screens for Season 4
Johnathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s sci-fi Western continues with season 4 of Westworld; the story of artificial consciousness and human desire.
This season picks up seven years after humanity’s victory against Incite and Rehoboam and on the surface it looks like order has been restored. At least, that’s how it appears…
As the season unfolds, we watch the continued struggle between sentient AI and humanity reach boiling point as Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) seeks revenge on those who held her and all other hosts captive.
Returning for this season alongside Thompson is Thandiwe Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, and Aaron Paul.
Outpost’s VFX Producer, Danielle Malambri, details Outpost’s main body of work on the season: “For season 4, we were primarily tasked with creating assets, environments and worldbuilding. Our teams worked on Hale’s Host City, the new 1920s Chicago-themed park, Temperance, and a futuristic New York, including Christina’s neighbourhood.”
Altogether, Outpost completed 235 shots across all eight episodes and worked on many more, collaborating with other vendors on tasks like providing assets for use in Christina’s game.
Outpost VFX Supervisor, Jeremy Fernsler, adds: “This is the third season of Westworld that I’ve worked on, second as a Supervisor, but this season was very different to prior seasons.
“Our biggest task for season 4 was building an asset of the host city, complete with Hale’s Tower, as well as the futuristic landmark buildings of New York."
"We were able to build this as one asset that we could drop into our match moves so it sat really nicely each time we used it. Although, it did require some occasional modification due to our CG buildings getting in the way of real landmark buildings, meaning we needed to nudge the host city over to make it more visible. The overall approach of building this big asset worked really well.”
As a part of the host city, Outpost were also tasked with the creation of Hale’s tower, a massive story point in the season. Fernsler details the creative process the team took: “We were handed quite a bit of concept art for the tower including some 3D models that we had to pull in and rebuild.
“It didn’t have as much detail in the top end in the concepts, so our artist was able to add a lot of his own details and flare and we crafted it into a place that they were really happy with,” he continues.
“Part of the challenge is that it’s completely white and so you don’t have a lot of scale details to grab onto to understand how large it is," Fernsler recalls. "When we built it, we didn’t exactly know how far or how close we would be at times, and so we constructed it to hold up fairly close but even with what we realised that we needed a lot more detail touched in to make it feel a little weathered and that it had been around for a little bit longer. So we gave impressions of things like little puddles on top which had dried and left marks there, I think all of those small details really help, no matter how far you are from the tower.”
One of the bigger challenges of this asset build was creating the right scale. “Over the course of the season, we worked with the creatives to determine the scale of Host City and its overall finish, deciding on details like whether the city would reach across the bay to touch both Brooklyn and Jersey. Ultimately, it was scaled so that it lived between Brooklyn and Liberty Island,” Malambri says.
The tower asset itself sits at 15,090 feet tall, sitting slightly shorter than the Freedom Tower. “The size did create a lot of challenges because when they came to shoot the plates they would pan up but never far enough, and so we would always have to take over the camera, push it further and replace the sky, put the tower in place and make sure it felt like the proper scale,” Fernsler explains.
“We would also have conversations about how the tower would feel in the shot, for example, how low, how dominating would it feel in this shot,” Fernsler continues. “The other thing we needed to consider was making sure the tower always reads as white. This was interesting because of the variety of different lighting it’s in because it always absorbs the light of the sky in that moment but that doesn’t always come across as white so there was a lot of back and forth with that and balancing the colours to get it where we needed it to be.”
As for the futuristic buildings of New York, the team worked from concept art created by the client. “Future New York concepts from the client helped us explore how the city would change structurally with both human and host urban planning designs,” Malambri explains.
“If you look closely, you’ll see car lanes have been reduced and replaced with green walkways and outdoor seating in anticipation of significantly less traffic in the future,” Malambri continues. “A fun behind-the-scenes fact is that Christina’s apartment exteriors were shot on the Warner Brothers backlot which the LA Outpost studio overlooks. There were many times that we would look out of the kitchen window to pinpoint where the camera would have been placed on Christina’s street.”
The team carefully considered their futuristic additions to the New York skyline: “The New York skyline is so iconic that you can’t step all over it, you want to see the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower, the Chrysler building, Times Square etc. People know those landmarks and so a lot of our new buildings were on the outskirts,” Fernsler explains. “The work we did was fairly subtle; we’d be reviewing a shot and it would take us a while to realise which buildings were ours and which already exist in New York. I’ve lived in New York for six years, a long while ago now, but I never got used to the really tall pencil buildings and so I would often have to remind myself that they weren’t part of our asset.”
Outpost also helped to create the new Delos park, Temperance, a park based on Chicago in the twenties. For this asset, the team worked from both LIDAR scans and reference photography of the set. “The LIDAR scan of the entire set told us exactly where everything should be sitting in space, so the conversation was more about what buildings felt right and where,” Fernsler explains. “The train that everyone pulls up on is full-3D which our build artist, Bill Arance, worked on. He’s actually a huge train fan, so he was just in heaven for a few weeks where he could build something that he knew so much about. He made a few suggestions that were just spot on, and so we just said 'go for it Bill', and it turned out great.”
Watch Outpost LA's VFX work in action; Westworld S4 is available to stream on HBO Max now.