American Cinematographer - April 2017 - 94
CBS Digital Supports The Last Man on Earth
By Michael Goldman
As The Last Man on Earth's third season winds down, humanity's last hope sits precariously in the hands of Phil Miller (Will Forte)
and his pals - who might make viewers of the Fox comedy wonder
whether humanity is worth preserving to begin with. At press time,
shooting of the third season had wrapped and the final two episodes
were entering the finishing stage at The Loft Post in Los Angeles. The
series' producers were still waiting to hear whether the show would
return for a fourth season, but whatever Phil's fate might be, the
production methodology employed these past three seasons
promises a hopeful future when it comes to visual effects - and
specifically virtual sets - for episodic television.
Visual-effects supervisor Craig Weiss refers to the series' needs
as "visual effects on steroids." Weiss is also founder and executive
creative director at CBS Digital in Los Angeles, which has provided the
show's visual effects in collaboration with post supervisor Annie Court
and three cinematographers over the three seasons: Christian
Sprenger (season one), Anthony Hardwick (season two) and Carl
Herse (season three). Throughout the series' run, editorial as well as
color grading and finishing work have been handled at The Loft.
Sprenger launched the show when the stories were based
primarily in and around a gated cul-de-sac in suburban Arizona;
the cinematographer worked with Arri Alexa XT cameras outfitted
with Leica Summilux-C primes and, occasionally, Angenieux
Optimo zooms. In season two, as the characters headed to Washington, D.C., Hardwick moved to a heavier emphasis on zooms.
This season, Herse - a former film-school classmate of Sprenger's
- largely returned to the first season's template.
"Working with CBS Digital, we [originally] built one main
show LUT, which we then tweaked for each of our main lighting
scenarios - day exterior, night exterior, day interior, night interior,
and candlelight," Sprenger explains. "Those LUTs were built off
the Alexa's Log C image during prep on the pilot by DIT Chris
Hoyle. Once the show began incorporating virtual sets [early in
season one], Chris Hoyle came back in and re-created our LUTs so
that we could properly apply the Rec 709 image that CBS Digital's
previs system would be sending to our LUT box. So, in the end, we
had two sets of LUTs, which were all carried to post and were used
by The Loft to build our dailies."
When Herse took over for season three, he brought Hoyle
back once again to help tweak the LUTs. "Because our characters
are constantly moving, and our set changes each season, it
Images courtesy of CBS Digital.
Visual effects by CBS Digital provided the postapocalyptic Northern California backdrop for this shot from the Fox comedy The Last Man on Earth.