Emmys: 14 Creative Arts Overachievers Talk Editing, Effects and Animation

"House of Cards"
"House of Cards"
 Netflix

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.

Digital cinematography and 35 mm film. Stop-motion and computer animation. The contenders for 2013 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in crafts categories use a range of tools and techniques — but most important, creativity.

Some found freedom creating Netflix series for binge viewers. Others said goodbye to long-lived series. Says David Rogers, nominated editor for The Office finale: "The entire process of shooting and editing our finale was really a roller coaster from start to finish, from an emotional table read, to Steve Carell showing up on set surprising everyone, all the way to 3 a.m. the morning we were going to air, when we finished our sound mix and dropped in visual effects."

We'll find out the voters' favorites Sept. 15, when the Creative Arts winners are announced.

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CINEMATOGRAPHY

House of Cards
Outstanding cinematography for a single-camera series

Eigil Bryld, director of photography

"The way we approach the visuals was incredibly calculated, which reflects the story, which is about manipulation and power," says Bryld. "[The cinematography was about] being calculated and being extremely specific with the frame, not moving the camera without it having a meaning. It was using darkness for the drama and creating a sense of the danger."

A favorite scene from the first episode takes place on a subway platform where Sen. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has a secret meeting with Zoe (Kate Mara), a journalist. "It's very economic and precise; they are both silhouetted and sitting back to back," explains Bryld. "It is more about what you don't see than what you see.

"[Overall], we wanted to avoid being indulgent with the camera and used simple blocking and little movement — so that every little gesture from the actors becomes significant and obvious. If Kevin taps his finger, it becomes dramatic."

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American Horror Story: Asylum
Outstanding cinematography for a miniseries or movie

Michael Goi, director of photography

"One scene in 'I Am Anne Frank, Part 2' that typifies the approach we took was the very first scene," explains Goi. "Jessica Lange's character visits a prominent Nazi hunter. In conversations with episode director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, we designed the scene to be one continuous 3:40 shot that followed her from the hallway, into the hotel room and through their entire conversation while stealing details of all his Nazi research along the way."

Goi, who says he was inspired by the work of director Vincente Minnelli for this scene, shot the episode using Panavision cameras and lenses and Kodak 35 mm film. "Lighting our scene to encompass a 360-degree view of the room and a 180-degree view of the hallway required all of three lights: one in the hallway and two in the room. Those were all I needed to evoke the mood and detail of the moment. The fact that this show embraces artistic approaches like this is what makes it so much fun to work on."

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VISUAL EFFECTS

Falling Skies
Outstanding special visual effects

Andrew Orloff and Curt Miller, VFX supervisors

The main challenge to the VFX in the sci-fi series was integrating CG characters with the real actors in a believable way. "If they don't fit in with the actors, then there's no show," says Orloff, the in-house VFX supervisor at Zoic Studios, which handled effects for the TNT series. "[The work involved] the realism of the rendering, the acting that our animators put into these creatures, and also the design of the world."

The extraterrestrials are created in a variety of ways: The "mechs" are hand animated, the "skitters" are mostly hand animated but based on actors who perform on set in suits, and the "overlords" are based on performance capture, overseen by the director. The VFX team also helped design the main chamber of a spacecraft that was an entirely virtual environment, with live action shot against a bluescreen. Says Orloff, "The scope and scale was not produceable as a built set, but it had to have the same gritty reality that the other sets do."

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Hemlock Grove
Outstanding special visual effects

Chris Jones and Jon Massey, VFX supervisors

A key aspect of the VFX in Eli Roth's Netflix horror series is the werewolves: live-action wolves, CG wolves and live-action wolves augmented with CG (i.e., teeth, angry eyes). "The wolf needs to ‘act,' that's where the CG comes in," says Massey. "Integrating CG into live action was even more difficult than the all-CG route. For instance, we had to make sure the CG fur matched the live-action fur that you see two shots later."

Fur is always a challenge in CG, particularly during the transformation from human to wolf — it needed to look real, but a tricky part in the case pictured here was that it had to be wet fur. The team found that wet fur loses its soft quality and isn't as easy to identify. The transition included live action of the actress, and in CG the skin tears so that the wolf could emerge through the skin. Once the actress had transformed, Massey explains that the VFX team augmented the live-action creature to "make her meaner, scarier, a little more grotesque."

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ANIMATION

Kung Fu Panda
Outstanding animated program

Peter Hastings, executive producer

The nominated episode of Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness ("Enter the Dragon") was large in scale for the team at Nickelodeon (for DreamWorks Animation and Nickelodeon Productions), with a lot of destruction of sets that were built in the computer. But despite the explosions and the comedy, says Hastings, "it is the emotional core that makes the story go. In this episode, Po's ego gets the better of him, and he fails to protect the Valley of Peace, opening the door to an ancient villain with greater combined powers — and who is out for revenge."

Robot Chicken
Outstanding short-format animated program

Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, executive producers

Says Senreich of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios' stop-motion comedy: "Because they are toys, you can do so much more than if you had an actor. You can make it really cartoony — and because it's on late-night, you can make it violent and graphic and silly. We're just trying to push it as hard as we can." The nominated holiday special's segments include one during which Santa tries to deliver a present to Jason Bourne — who immediately attacks. "This was one of the more fun sequences to animate," says Senreich. In the end, Santa is stabbed with a sharp-ended candy cane.

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EDITING

Arrested Development
Outstanding single-camera picture editing for a comedy series

Kabir Akhtar and A.J. Dickerson, editors

For the fourth season (after a seven-year absence) of the resurrected comedy, now on Netflix, the filmmakers took a unique approach: They told a single story, but each episode showed the same events from the point of view of a different character in the dysfunctional Bluth family. Akhtar likens cutting the season to solving a puzzle, as scenes appear out of chronological order and in some cases, the punch line to a joke doesn't appear in the episode with the setup. "We had to set up so many storylines and jokes — and part of the jokes were scenes that played again in a different way," he says, citing a key scene that takes place in the Bluth's penthouse, where the whole family is assembled and their storylines converge. This is a 15-minute scene from which parts appear in nine episodes across the season. "Eventually you find out the whole family is there. In the first episode, we only showed four of them. As it kept going, it was fun revealing more and more."

The Office
Outstanding single-camera picture editing for a comedy series

David Rogers and Claire Scanlon, editors

"Claire and I tackled the editing of our series finale the way we would cut any hourlong episode we would share; she'll cut one half, I'll cut the other," says Rogers, recalling that then-executive producer Greg Daniels asked them to switch the halves "to have a fresh eye on every scene."

In cutting the ending, Rogers originally had put together what he thought were the "best, most honest performances." "Although it tied things up nicely, we felt that it lost some focus," says Rogers. "Claire came up with the idea of using old footage of Michael Scott hanging up Pam's watercolor painting of the building, to parallel Pam taking it down. The message was one of celebrating what had come before, as well as what new adventures the future would bring. I loved what she did. The camera zoomed in on the painting and stopped, so we digitally continued the zoom and I went out and filmed our building so we could have a shot that we could dissolve from the painting into — a perfect match."

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House of Cards
Outstanding single-camera picture editing for a drama series

Kirk Baxter, editor

"Any scene with Kevin Spacey is the most joyous to edit because he is just so irresistible in that role," offers Baxter. "I think the scene that shows him off the best is when his character, Frank Underwood, visits the chief of staff and learns that he has been passed over for secretary of state. You see all his color; you see him arrive in full charm, then the wind comes out of him, then he boils up to rage, then you see this coat of lacquer come back over him and begins to light the fuse for the revenge train, which is essentially the whole series. His best moments in that scene are actually being on him when he is not speaking and watching how he is processing the information and how he was going to respond."

Later in the episode, Baxter takes his time showing Frank staying up all night, plotting. "And when he and [his wife, played by Robin Wright] join together at the end, it was almost like a dance. You see how well they know each other. It's like a ballet."

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