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'Battlestar Galactica' countdown: Visual effects with Gary Hutzel

January 15, 2009 | 10:34 pm

The review has already been written for "Battlestar Galactica," and we have only a day left until we find out the answers to many questions, and are probably presented with many more.  Over at Hero Complex, an exclusive photo of Katee Sackoff and some fans was posted today, and the site is gearing up for a major scoop tomorrow night.

It's been said that the show is a multi-layered drama -- like "The Sopranos" or "Mad Men" -- that just happens to be a science-fiction program.  Well, that "happens to be" is probably a huge draw to many who swear by the genre.  And usually, like music scores and sound, a major part of sci-fi shows is the tone that the visual effects help set.  That's where visual effects supervisor Gary Hutzel comes in.

We were able to have a chat with him about the show, and how it stacked up against his former employers in the "Star Trek" family.  Effects guys sometimes have some long answers!

JP: How similar or different are the visual effects for "Battlestar Galactica" versus those on "Star Trek?"

GH: Well, "Star Trek" was a completely different environment.  Completely different in the way it was structured.  When we started on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," we were shooting miniatures. There were no CGI ships or any capability of doing CGI like that at the time. The technology just wasn't available. So the requirements of shooting miniatures and compositing on a television schedule pretty much drove the whole process.... It was me and three other guys.

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Now moving it to "Battlestar," when I came on board it was very design-oriented and conceptually oriented. Working with Michael Rymer is ... well, you can call him a method director. He likes to start somewhere and let the physicality or design aspect drive the process. So it was literally a process of searching for the show that "Galactica" was going to be.... That process started out as a purely creative process. "Star Trek" was a mechanical process. So this ["Battlestar"] started out purely as what is it we want to do? What do we want to accomplish? What are the goals of the show? What does it really look like?

A situation that arose ...

The first day on the set with Eddie [Edward James] Olmos ... he had his speech where he talked about finding Earth. That was their destiny, that was their premise ... that they were going to go find Earth.  That was his first day on the set and he completely re-staged the scene ... the scene where he shouts to the crowd "So say we all! So say we all!" That was spontaneous. He just made that up and it wasn't in the script. He just started marching around. What this means to me is, well, I'm in charge of set extensions ... so when that kind of stuff happens and the cameramen are literally running to get out of each other's way, two things happen -- you get wonderful spontaneous reactions from the cast, and your plans for vuisual effects crumble before your eyes.  But that was part of the design of the show.

Now, about the spacecraft used in "Battlestar" ...

"Battlestar" was unique in that Richard Hudolin [production designer] wanted nothing to do with the ships....

Michael Rymer wanted to keep the original Galactica from the show for the fans.  The studio didn't want it to look anything like it, so we were at a bit of a loggerheads. 

We basically had an illustration that showed the side of Galactica....  We had put metal structures on it, and from the side view, it looked like a submarine....  So we used that.

No one was much concerned about the fleet ships and that design.  So, [we] decided, let's use all of the ships from the original fleet.

Moving from "Battlestar" to "Caprica," is the process easier for you?

Because we've been doing the robot centurions for years it's ... well, "Caprica's" more robot-heavy for us. There's a lot more development of the Cylon robots. We also have a lot of environmental stuff to do.

Some of the things are similar in that there's still the element of terrorism taking place.  "Caprica" is much more on the nose, much more literal when it comes to talking about those things....

The worlds in effect are allegories for the countries and they're very clear-cut....  "Caprica" is the jewel of the planets. "Caprica" is the United States.

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So, you're pretty seemlessly going from "Battlestar" to "Caprica." Was it just as easy to go from "Next Generation" to "Deep Space Nine?"

Leaving ["Star Trek: The Next Generation"] to go to ["Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"] was basically trading up! It was an opportunity to work with new elements. Honestly, by the end of "Deep Space Nine," I was finished with "Star Trek." I wasn't interested in "Voyager" or any of the other spinoffs because it was such a formulaic show. It was clear that it was not going to get better. They wanted it cheaper, they just didn't want a lot to change.

On "Galactica," I could go nuts!  I can work with the directors, editors, writers ... "Star Trek," that was not allowed.  You couldn't really do anything independent of what the producers ordered. But here, it's wide open.

Question from a commenter, Ryan:  Why was the storyline about Boxy cut out of the show?

That's an easy one. Boxy. He was written into some of the first-season shows. They were trying to develop his character into this kind of sly, saavy kid who gets around and is able to do things for people and is able to get things done, but is always on the edge of the law ... and it just didn't work. It didn't fit in anywhere and wasn't consistent with how any of the other characters developed.

Favorite episode?

A lot of people ask me that ... I have to say that, certainly on "Battlestar," and this is also in reference to your previous question as to if there's any separation anxiety. The answer is "No." I feel like the producers do, like Ron Moore said, "We're done."  ... I feel the same way about it.

I've done literally more space battles than anyone on TV going from "Star Trek" to "Battlestar," and you can continue to come up with new premises, but they also have to work with the script.... There's a natural limitation.

Back to the question.... It's more a matter of "Did everything we do work for the storytelling?" You never actually get everything you want in visual effects.... When you work on scenes, things turn out better or worse, and it's irrelevant to the entertainment value. Are they taken in by the proper storytelling? That's what I'm trying to get to.

(Gary did mention that "The Hand of God" was fun to work on because there was so much going on!)

-- Jevon Phillips

Cast_gaeta150_2 << Alessandro Juliani's Felix Gaeta
-- Jane Espenson and the 'Buffy' connection
-- Richard Hatch didn't throw popcorn!
-- Michael Hogan, surprised to be a Cylon
-- "Caprica's" coming in 2010
-- Facebook was possibly built by Cylons
-- "Battlestar Galactica" on Hero Complex

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