Swamp Thing: CoSA VFX Supervisor Tom Mahoney Discusses Bringing The Swamp To Life

 
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA: JUNE 3, 2019 -- The sophisticated suspense thriller Swamp Thing premiered Friday, May 31 on the DC Universe streaming service (dcuniverse.com) and CoSA VFX is happy to have been the exclusive vendor for digital effects on the series.
 
Based on the DC Comics series originally created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing follows a CDC investigator named Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) who returns to her home town of Marais, Louisiana to investigate a mysterious illness. There, she encounters a biologist named Alec Holland (Andy Bean) who believes the bizarre swamp-born illness might be connected to his scientific work in the swamp for powerful businessman Avery Sunderland (Will Patton).
 
When Alec goes missing after investigating the unnatural experiments deep in the swamp, something else rises in his place: Swamp Thing (Derek Mears), a mysterious creature born of the depths of the swamp’s mystical and terrifying secrets.
 
CoSA VFX is very proud of our work on the show, and for an exclusive interview on our website we have talked to CoSA's in-house VFX Supervisor and Co-Founder Tom Mahoney about bringing this creature to life.
 
Tom’s background in VFX and motion graphics spans three decades, from Paramount Pictures’ in-house digital unit (“Pd2”) in the 90s, to feature work on films such as Swordfish (2001), Final Destination 3 (2006), and The Guardian (2006). Tom built Morgan Creek’s in-house VFX facility for the Exorcist prequels (2004) before co-founding CoSA VFX in 2009.
 
CoSA is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, and we have grown to a staff of over 150, spanning studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Atlanta. Here, Tom has supervised VFX on shows such as Fringe, Person of Interest, and Westworld, and has been nominated for multiple Emmys for series such as Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Gotham. In 2017, his VFX team won the 2017 Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Supporting Role on Gotham for the Season 3 finale “Heavydirtysoul.”
 
In addition to his key role in the VFX production of Swamp Thing, Mahoney is supervising VFX on the upcoming Epix DC Comics drama Pennyworth from the creators of Gotham. Here’s what he had to say about CoSA’s work on Swamp Thing.
 
Q: How did CoSA VFX come to be involved with Swamp Thing?
 
A: CoSA has worked on several WBTV shows including DC shows like Gotham, Lucifer, and the upcoming Pennyworth so when Warner Brothers mentioned that we might be a good fit for Swamp Thing, we jumped at the chance. We went over to meet with the production team and the creatives behind the show and they felt that we could be a solid addition to the vision of Swamp Thing they had.
 
Q: Was there particular work that CoSA had done in the past that made them the ideal candidate for creating VFX for this show?
 
A: Our work on Gotham and Stranger Things showed our ability to deal with VFX that needed to look natural and organic. We had several effects in Gotham that required gore and ooze as well as vines growing at an accelerated rate, thanks to Poison Ivy. On Stranger Things we had do a great deal of work on the Upside Down in season one. We created the particle spores that are constantly in the air as well as enhancing the roots in certain shots. My favorite shot from Stranger Things had a CG slug (a baby demogorgon) crawling out of poor dead Barb's mouth.
 
Q: What was the most challenging scene to put together for the first episode?
 
A: There is a scene in the morgue when a corpse is animated by living vines and branches that attack our heroes as they are researching the stage goings on around the swamp. The practical effects team at Fractured FX gave us such a great base to work with, we further developed the look under the guidance of director Len Wiseman and Executive Producer Mark Verheiden. The scene involves a great deal of detailed match-moving and choreographing the interplay of roots and vines with live action.
 
Q: What is something that is a visual effect that some might not realize was done by your team?
 
A: There are several shots of swamp extension where we added additional swamp, either to a location or to one of the swamp sets. Additionally, the production was limited in the boats available for certain aerial drone shots, so we replaced the swamp boats in a number of scenes with 3D versions of the appropriate boat and digital doubles of the actors on board.
 
Q: How did CoSA work with the production in North Carolina to make room for the visual effects?
 
A: We know that TV shows have to work fast so we always do our best to find the most expedient cost effective way to get things done on set. We never want to sacrifice the creative vision of a show, so we are always looking for ways to get the desire effect with the least amount of impact on the show's schedule. David Beedon was on set every day making sure we got what we needed without slowing things down.
 
Q: While shot in North Carolina, the show actually takes place in Marais, Louisiana. Did you have to do anything on the visual end to achieve the look of it being a different place?
 
A: The production design of the Swamp Thing set is brilliant, but we do occasionally have to extend the swamp when shoot off the set. Some of the exteriors do need to be altered to look more swamp-like. There’s a bridge that plays a significant role in the story that we have altered the surroundings of to feel like it is in more of a Louisiana type swamp.
 
Q: Are there members of your team that you feel deserve special recognition?
A: Oh yes! Several.
 
Our CG team has done an amazing job on a pretty tight schedule. Our two CG supervisors Sebastiano D’Aprile and Michael Capton have done just outstanding work. We have a team of animators who have been working almost no-stop. Our 2D Supervisors Ryan Bauer and Brian Fisher have followed very shot thru to completion. We honestly have a team of over 50 artists working on Swamp Thing and it’s a labor of love.
 
Q: How many visual artists work on a typical episode of Swamp Thing?
 
A: On any given episode we have anywhere from 20 to 35 artists working on the show depending on how complex that episode happens to be.
 
Q: How many artists are often working simultaneously on the show on a given day?
 
A: In total we have approximately 45 to 60 artists working on Swamp Thing on any given day across all active episodes.
 
Q: What was your own response upon seeing the trailer?
 
A: Very excited! We’re all pretty excited to be in the Swamp.
 
Q: Are there fans of the Swamp Thing comics on your team?
 
A: Oh, absolutely. There are comic books of Swamp Thing around (particularly Alan Moore's run) and Swamp Thing action figures on desks.
 
Q: Was there anything about Swamp Thing that took CoSA to new places that the company hadn't gone to before?
 
A: We certainly have come up with some new workflows and ways of working with vines, trees, branches and bugs that we didn’t have in place before Swamp Thing. It’s really pushed our CG department to new heights.
 
Q: Is there anything you'd like to tease for the folks who have not yet seen it?
 
A: It’s a scary fun ride.