With a demanding slate of visual effects, UPN’s new science fiction
series Jake 2.0 demanded superhuman effects work. It was a perfect fit
for veteran visual effects producer Sam Nicholson ( C.S.I. Miami,
Fastlane, E.R.), president and founder of Stargate Films, an effects
production company with studios in Pasadena, CA, and Vancouver, British
" Jake 2.0 is a very high-concept show," notes Nicholson. "The pilot
was directed by Rob Lieberman, who we’ve done many projects with,
including the original pilot for The Dead Zone and Second String for
Turner. He’s a very demanding, very talented guy, so whenever there’s a
very demanding high concept such as this one, where Jake gets
nano-robots orÃ¢Â€Â˜nanobots’ injected into his body, we get the call. I
think we’re the only guys who can keep up with his vision and the
The titular Jake is a tech-support flunky at the National Security
Agency who is infected by nanites, a concept based on real-life
nanotechnology, that give him mind-boggling powers. The challenge in
question was "how to get down to nanobot scale, and go into the blood
stream and see the nanobots fusing," he explains. "And then
convincingly build the premise visually of Jake 2.0, that it could
Realizing this vision required a combination of creative
cinematography, cutting-edge computer graphics and careful
pre-production design, "all done on a TV schedule and budget, which is
very tight," notes Nicholson.
Another key part of the equation was the company’s use of a virtual
backlot. "Although the show is set in Washington, D.C., it’s actually
shot in Vancouver," he says. "So by using what is totally unique to our
company, the virtual backlot, we shoot and virtualize entire
Washington, D.C., sets and then matte people into them to convincingly
set the show in Washington without ever having to go there."
To this end, the team shot 36 hours of HD tape that is used to create
360-degree sets. "So now we can have any rooftop location we want in
Washington, D.C.," he says. "We can have a cafe on the steps of the
Congress, we can have a meeting on the White House lawn, and so on.
Basically we’re bringing Washington to the production instead of the
other way around."
For the pilot alone, the company created some 60 to 70 effects- a huge
amount for a TV show. "Technically, the most difficult was the scene
where the nanobots enter Jake’s bloodstream, and you have to do the
same thing we use a lot in CSI, which is the snap-zoom into the body,"
says Nicholson. "Then you go into the bloodstream, so all of that has
to be modeled, and then you go down to a nanobot size and create CG
nanobots which look like complex little machines full of pincers."
The company maintains a large render farm. "We use PCs with Maya spread
over 100 machines, and then composite on After Effects on a similar
network so that the composites can be extremely complex and the CG work
can be totally photoreal," he explains. "And again, they can be done on
a very fast turnaround for TV, and on an economical basis. So it’s
delivering feature film quality visual effects on a TV schedule and
The pilot took four weeks of post to complete from picture lock. "With
a pilot, you’re also stretching as far as you possibly can to help the
show get picked up. So in pilots you’re generally stretching twice as
far, for basically the same money, as you do in the season. And there’s
no amortization on effects. Once we’ve done an effect like the
nanobots, we can use them in another applications throughout the
season, as they’ve already been modeled. But everything is a unique
effect in a pilot, which makes it even more difficult."
Nicholson says the quality of TV visual effects is now approaching that
of feature films. "That’s the challenge, and the gap’s closing," he
sums up. "In fact, I think it’s one area where TV can actually
accelerate past features, because it is the original digital medium.
And there aren’t nearly so many cooks in the kitchen, so you can move
much faster and more efficiently."
- Producer: Viacom Productions in association with Roundtable Entertainment
- Creator: Silvio Horta
- Executive Producers: Horta, David Greenwalt, Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo