Mastering the Elements for Avatar: The Last Airbender

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NEXODUS lent their VFX expertise to Netflix’s highly anticipated live-action series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Following their successful collaboration on Stranger Things, NEXODUS worked closely once again with Showrunner & EP, Jabbar Raisani and VFX Supervisor Marion Spates. Led by NEXODUS VFX Supervisors Frank Fieser & Ryan Smolarek, and VFX Coordinator Cindy Ormondroyd, the company provided a fully-remote VFX team of compositors, environment artists, and FX artists for the series. 

Airbender VFX Producer Adam Chazen opted to partner with NEXODUS as an extension of the production's in-house VFX team and utilize NEXODUS' extensive network to bring in specialized talent. “Over the years I have found myself chasing artists over companies which is exactly where NEXODUS excels,” says Adam. “I can take comfort in knowing the work will be done right because of the people doing the work.” This decision expedited the Look Development and Shot Production process by giving them direct access to a bespoke team with a robust pipeline from day one.

“We hosted collaborative PCoIP sessions with Marion and Jabbar, giving them access to the same high-quality view of our remote workstations that we have,” says Frank Fieser. “This allowed them to explore ideas with artists interactively in a live Nuke session as opposed to traditional review sessions on pre-rendered images. This workflow reduced iterations during Look Development, and enabled us to collaborate with them to reach the look they wanted much quicker.”

Several challenges emerged following the completion of the original shoot that gave the NEXODUS team opportunities to flex its problem-solving prowess. One sequence was shot with an in-camera effect to haze the lens for the “spirit world” look, however, the creative direction proved more intricate than initially planned. Once the in-camera haze was no longer part of the desired look, NEXODUS artists developed a procedural solution to rebuild the details missing from the hazed plates. Once the plates had been restored, NEXODUS artists designed the enchanted aesthetic which significantly elevated the style of the scene.

The 8-Episode Series utilized virtual production techniques to great success throughout its production, however, changes during post production required alterations to a few virtual environments that were captured on set. The “burnt forest” environment featured in several sequences needed all-new topography to better support the story that there was a distinct path of destruction through the forest. NEXODUS environment artists Matt Conway and Zach Mandt created two fully-CG forest environments in Unreal Engine and rendered views that aligned with the LED-stage photography. Extensive rotoscope, supplied by longtime NEXODUS partner, Pix Rock VFX, helped layer the new environment behind the practical stage and actors to replace the environment displayed on the LED walls. NEXODUS Compositors shaped the lighting of the environment with layers of fog and utility passes rendered from Unreal to create a deeper and more picturesque landscape. 

NEXODUS was able to seamlessly integrate with Airbender’s production-side VFX workflow, providing the agility of an in-house team while bringing specialized expertise and technology to address creative challenges. “NEXODUS had a key role in helping us work out various looks for [the series], including the Avatar state and the look of the spirit world,” says Adam Chasen. NEXODUS completed 140 final shots throughout the series and supported the Editorial Team with postvis and temps for many other sequences.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is now streaming on Netflix.

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  • VFX Supervisors
  • Frank Fieser
    Ryan Smolarek
  • VFX Coordinator
  • Cindy Ormondroyd
  • VFX Production Assistant
  • Maddie Kramer
  • CG Generalists
  • Mike Oakley
    Stephen Pavelski
  • FX Artists
  • Matthew Benson
    Val Kharitonashvili
    Nick King
  • Unreal Environment Artists
  • Matt Conway
    Zach Mandt
  • Previs Artist
  • Michael Maker
  • Compositors
  • Matthew Steidl
    Nick Joseph
    Sharon Marcussen
    Robert Rossello
    Vivian Wei
  • Studio Support
  • Donald Strubler
    Anthony Kramer
    John Baer
    Jospeh Bell
    Mihai Satmarean