You can’t judge someone else until you’ve spent time in their shoes. There’s a Native American saying that this premise is often attributed to and it’s just as relevant in modern day as it was two-hundred years or more ago. Just ask VFX Compositor Dianshuo Zhang. As a talented and valued member of the team at The Molecule, she’s contributed to the last two seasons of the multiple award-nominated NBC series Shades of Blue. Starring Golden Globe Nominees Ray Liotta and Jennifer Lopez as members of the FBI’s corruption task force, the series displays a single mother’s challenges intersected with a riveting police drama. There’s a great deal more work on a production like this for a professional like Dianshuo than one might expect; much of it more subtle than you might expect.
It’s no surprise that much of the VFX work on Shades of Blue is focused on the scenes involving guns. For police/crime dramas such as this, the believability of firearms is almost indiscernible from reality. This is the result of the talent of professionals in the VFX department like Zhang. Muzzle flashes, blood splatter, and dust might be the most eye-catching part of firearms in a TV drama but the bullet holes are often where much of the work exists. It’s a painstaking process. Dianshuo describes, “The difficulty in making bullet holes real is the color correction; matching bullet hole types with the actual shot and keeping the consistency. For instance, when there is a sequence happening in the same environment, I need to add bullet holes to the wood kitchen table and concrete wall with wall paint. I’ll list all the bullet holes that hit the wood texture in one group and the bullet holes that hit the concrete texture in another group in Nuke [software program]. Then I’ll place them to the position where they need to be and color correct them to match the plate. Sometimes the elements come from different types of wood and different lighting situations, requiring color correcting them differently to match the shot.”
Jennifer Lopez is an international film, television, and music star. You don’t hire a marquee name like Lopez for your production and then cover her face; yet, this is what happened during the filming of an important scene in season three of Shades of Blue. While Harlee Santos (played by Jeniffer Lopez) is sitting in the car talking to her colleague Carlos Espada (played by Dayo Okeniyi), the boom microphone shadow was prominently visible in the car window. Enter Dianshuo Zhang to save time, money, and the scene with her skill and knowledge. She relates, “Driving and car scenes are often challenging and necessitate using VFX compositors to fix certain things after the fact. For this particular scene (involving the boom mic), I created the clean plate for the car window with reflection and Harlee’s face and hair. I did a perfect tracking for Harlee’s face by using SmartVector and STMap in Nuke and put back on the clean plate that I had created. It worked seamlessly on her face so that people could not tell there was a shadow passing by.”
Thankful producers, directors, actors, and others are well aware that the work of professionals like Dianshuo Zhang makes their work less cumbersome and less complicated. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the public goes about unaware that someone sitting in front of a computer for hours on end is one of the greatest factors in their ability to lose themselves in a drama like Shades of Blue.