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A dystopian NYC created by VFX Legion for HBO Max’s ‘DMZ’ limited series

A mix of digital effects were created by a pioneering remote visual effects company, VFX Legion, for HBO Max’s dystopian series, DMZ. Based on the DC comic book of the same name, the series is produced by Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay, along with Emmy nominee Roberto Patino. DMZ is set in the not-to-distant future during the Second Civil War, the drama unfolds in New York City, a demilitarized zone abandoned by the country and ravaged by violence. 

Zee’ (Rosario Dawson) and Parco (Benjamin Bratt) on streets augmented with CG Building and digital assets

To craft some complex that helps in shaping the show’s visual landscape in the final three episodes of the four-part miniseries, the LA and B.C. -based company was brought on board at the beginning of the second episode. With footage of the real world, the 59 final shorts delivered by Legion seamlessly blend the photorealist digital elements of a post-apocalyptic fictional New York.

The project was headed by the senior VFX supervisor James David Hattin and VFX producer Nate Smalley; they are also the co-founders. They assembled a team of VFX supervisors, producers, compositors, CG artists, animators, tracker artists, matte painters, VFX coordinators, and QC managers, drawn from a varied worldwide collective of home-based talent the company began creating about a decade ago. Hattin gave artists artistic guidance and oversaw the project throughout its creation, ensuring that the effects matched the vision of creator and showrunner Robert Patino. 

With the use of visual effects, the city of Atlanta serves as a war-torn Manhattan. The Legion team employed a combination of effects to create scenes that resembled famous New York City landmarks. The crew digitally defiled the facade of the actual edifice, adding graffiti, boarded up windows, and other CG objects for a critical scenario that takes place in front of the State Capitol Building. Parco (Benjamin Bratt) and Wilson (Hoon Lee), two power-hungry warlords, offer stirring speeches to shore up votes as they battle for the governorship. Alma ‘Zee,’ a doctor (Rosario Dawson), discusses her idea for the future of the city.

Before/After: Contenders for the DMZ’s first election, Parco (Benjamin Bratt) and Wilson (Hoon Lee), 
speaking to crowd from steps of a digitally defaced Capital Building

Legion replaced a blue screen taken through a hole in the wall with a panoramic image of the Hudson River and the cityscape beyond. To create the vista, artists mixed lengths of CG buildings and landscape with pieces of the shoreline, boats, and other features taken by the camera.

Before/After: Blue screen filling hole in the wall is replace with digitally altered footage creating a view of the Hudson River.

In the last shot of episode four, military tanks filmed inside a parking garage materialise at the DMZ’s perimeter and drive out of town. The cars were transported to the external environment by painting over interior features and replacing them with worn buildings and graffiti-covered walls. A painted road and CG buildings are among the digital effects that have been combined with footage filmed in an underground tunnel to give the scenario a vista of Manhattan.

After the outbreak of the pandemic, visual effect production began in 2021. VFX Legion, a totally remote company from its inception in 2013, brought to the project a well-established pipeline, protocols, and creative resources developed over time, as well as nearly a decade of expertise leading home-based employees. The company achieved the high-quality, inventive, and efficiently created effects that DMZ needed by fully utilising the possibilities of a collaborative approach to remote visual effects.

The Foundry’s Nuke for compositing, Houdini SideFX, Autodesk’s Maya for animation, and proprietary technologies incorporated into Legion’s pipeline were among the tools utilised to create the effects for DMZ.

All four episodes of DMZ are currently available for streaming on HBO Max.

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