Alien warships exchanging gunfire in the deepest regions of outer space, vast otherworldly landscapes, and wormhole "kawooshes" - these are just some of the countless VFX (visual effects) that Mark Savela helped create as VFX supervisor for the successful Stargate TV franchise.
With Stargate Universe having recently ended its run after two seasons, he has been hard at work with writer/producer Ken Kabatoff, Andrew Karr of Atmosphere VFX, and Craig VanDenBiggelaar of Darkroom Digital Effects developing a brand-new sci-fi series called Echoes. It follows humanity's struggle for survival after two warring extraterrestrial species choose Earth as their new battlefield.
"The process for the Echoes pilot presentation began back in the New Year," says Savela. "Everyone came together and we started hammering out ideas. Ken and I finished writing the pilot script at the end of January and we then wanted to shoot a few scenes from it. The two of us actually kind of wrote it with a specific location in mind, which is the set that was built here in Vancouver for [the 2009 feature film] Watchmen. It's used quite a bit on the TV series Supernatural and Stargate Universe shot there as well last year. We'd kept in touch with the locations manager on Universe, Heather Vedan, and one day she called us and said, 'If you want the Watchmen set I can get it for you in about two-and-a-half weeks.'
"So we had two-and-a-half weeks to prep for a two-day shoot, and it was really quite an experience. Everyone volunteered to do it, which was outstanding. When we began writing the pilot, we realized that one of the characters reminded us of Mike Dopud [Varro in Universe and Nolan in Echoes], so we started writing specifically with him in mind. Then we called Mike and asked him, 'Are you free two-and-a-half weeks from now to do this?' He said, 'Sure.'"
"So that's how we got him, and Mike is just a rock star. He was actually the one who suggested getting Lochlyn Munro [Richard] and Victoria Pratt [Karen] for the project, and they're amazing, too. The three of them flew up from Los Angeles on the weekend to do our little shoot, which was incredible of them and I cannot thank them enough."Appearing with Dopud, Munro, and Pratt in a 13-minute pilot presentation for Echoes are Jarrod Joseph (Tracy) and Jennifer Spence (Dr. Lisa Park in Universe), who plays Sonya, leader of the show's human protagonists. "I'm trying to bring back the days of a really cool female lead, like Ripley [from the Alien movies] and Sarah Connor [from the Terminator feature film/TV series franchise]," explains Savela. "The thing is, some of today's female lead characters in action/adventure type stories can go a little too far and become kind of cartoon-like and unreal. They come across more like superheroes as opposed to real people who rise to the challenge and kick ass, do you know what I mean?"
"I'm interested in seeing the journey that someone goes on to become a Sarah Connor or Ripley. You want a character that an audience can identify with and root for; a little bit like an underdog and someone who the viewers can throw their support behind. I think we have that in our lead female character on Echoes, Sonya, who is played by Jen Spence. She's such a pro and, like the rest of the cast, was a total rock during our shoot."
As for where Echoes is currently at in the creative process, this is the latest from Savela. "[Composer] Joel Goldsmith is working away on the score; his ideas and suggestions are just amazing and we're really looking forward to seeing the finished product. Redlab in Toronto is doing the color correct on the show, while Atmosphere VFX and Darkroom Digital are working away on the VFX."
"We are looking to have the 13-minute pilot presentation and the two-minute trailer finished by the end of June. We've also been working hard behind the scenes, pitching and trying to sell the show. The concept and its players have been very well received out in the market, and we hope to have more announcements very soon."