When you think of VFX you likely imagine spaceships maneuvering among the stars or huge explosions in an action sequence. The truth of the matter is that VFX is used in a myriad of ways that the audience never recognizes, which is exactly as the professionals who work in this field like it. They feel that when their work is at its best is not when the viewer says, “Wow, look at that cool visual!” but rather when the story and the visuals seem so natural that they are intuitive. VFX Coordinator Jacquelyn Racine has worked on many productions for TV and film. She finds her role just as satisfying when she is on a film such as DC’s Suicide Squad as it is for the Netflix series “Gracie and Frankie.” While a group of super powered anti-heroes might seem glitzy, the banding together of these two women at a difficult point in their lives requires a subtly that can be taken for granted. Most of the storyline of “Grace and Frankie” (starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) takes place in Frankie’s beach house but it was filmed on a soundstage. Portraying the California beach front lifestyle with open doors, a gentle breeze, and birds signing may sound trivial but this aspect is integral to communicating a believable setting and appears almost as an accouterment to the perspective of the characters. The Golden Globe and Emmy nominated series was an immediate hit with the community and the public, thanks in part to the “vibe” created by Master Key VFX and Jacquelyn.
The use of VFX in this Netflix production might be one of the most unassuming that you will ever witness but that doesn’t make the work any less demanding for Toronto based Master Key VFX. “Grace and Frankie” is a comedy about the joys and woes of getting older. The two central female characters (played by Oscar nominated Lily Tomlin and Oscar winner Jane Fonda) that find out that their husbands (long term business partners) are in love with each other and have left their wives to get married to each other. The women have to learn to move on with their lives at a time when they least expected. It’s a story about supporting someone through a difficult time when you are very different types of people. The tone and feel of this show is upbeat (for the most part) with some slightly satirical comedy. Some of the episodes have a dark humor component about the struggles of aging, but retain and overall light and fun tenor.
The point of VFX work is to make everything seem very real and congruent with the storyline. Most of the viewing public only considers the application of VFX to be attention grabbing while in reality it’s often the opposite goal of these artists. In a shows like “Grace and Frankie” it’s often very minor details that get altered by Jacquelyn and her team. Things that were not anticipated on set such as a crumb on an actor’s face as opposed to the commonly thought of visual effects ‘explosions’, etc. need fixed following filming. VFX can be used to make intentional or unintentional enhancements tailored to the needs of any production. Because Master Key VFX was involved in “Grace and Frankie” from the very beginning, they could establish the look of the show rather than follow the template established by a previous VFX company. This allowed for Racine and the team to interpret and flex their creative muscles a bit based on the discussions with the Post-Production Producer and Supervisor; sometimes VFX work is correcting and sometimes it is creating.
Netflix and other streaming services have not only affected the way the public views entertainment but have dramatically had a difference in the way that these productions are created. Working on a series for Netflix is completely different than a broadcast television experience. It is more similar to a film schedule…or a thirteen-hour movie! The fact that all episodes in a season have the same airdate/deadline can both help and hinder an artist’s work. They are seeing things from previous/upcoming episodes and therefore maintaining continuity between them but it also means that there are an immensely larger number of shots on the go, making it harder to keep a strict deadline for each individual episode. In this aspect Racine shined as the communicator and facilitator of assignments for each artist at Master Key VFX. Clayton D’Mello of Master Key VFX confirms, “Since the series had a single release date for all thirteen episodes, we were constantly working within tight deadlines. Jacquelyn had to prioritize the artists' time with client notes from both previous and new episodes. This was a difficult project to be a part of and Jacquelyn handled the demands with excellent organizational skills and good humor. Jacquelyn's enthusiastic personality created a great atmosphere in the studio and made her a joy to work with. Working at Master Key VFX was like being part of a family; we came to rely on each other as we worked towards the same common goal. Jacquelyn was a natural at fostering positive energy and creating realistic schedules for our team.”
The most complex part of VFX work for “Grace and Frankie” is shown in every episode and goes unnoticed for the most part. The beach house setting is a centerpiece throughout the first season and was created in Toronto by Master Key VFX. They took great care to make subtle changes that would be distinct to communicate the natural feel of the season and time of day. In essence, the beach was the cast of extras in the show and Jacquelyn and her crew were determined that they not come across to the viewer as the “same actor in a different hat.” 90% of “Grace and Frankie” takes place at the beach house, which meant focusing the work on the background to make it believable. Racine had her team layer effects overtop of all the shots that had translights in the background. All the VFX in Grace and Frankie was 2D (monitor or green screen replacements) and is indiscernible from an actual location shoot.
The evolution of entertainment via streaming services like Netflix, with binge watching and technological advancements allow Jacquelyn Racine, Master Key VFX, and entities of the same ilk to enable these productions as examples of how entertainment continues to develop. With professionals like Racine switching mediums from film to broadcast television to streaming services, the best in the industry are proving that they will go where their creative talents are fostered.