"Heroes" used more than a thousand special effects in its first season. One of the most complicated episodes was "Five Years Gone," a jump into the postapocalyptic future.
The special effects department needed to produce two very different Manhattan landscapes and multiple superpower effects for "Five Years Gone." It also had to depict Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) in front of the White House and at Ground Zero before having him fly across the New York skyline.
Artists rendered postnuclear Manhattan in a matte painting of 3505 by 2785 pixels that included animation for moving vehicles, airplanes and construction cranes. To allow the character of Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) to interact with his future self, the four-and-a-half minute scene was filmed in four passes in 35mm using a motion-control dolly and a Hot-Head -- a remote-control camera head.
For the scene in which President Petrelli heads for his helicopter on the White House lawn, Pasdar walked in front of a blue screen, which was composited with a computer-generated model of the White House rendered at 2922 by 1644 resolution and enhanced with matte-painting additions of surrounding greenery.
Petrelli's appearance at a Ground Zero memorial service required green screen, matte paintings and numerous CG elements. His solo flight in the next scene involved more than 200 hours of work from 3-D artists, matte painters and the compositor. The compositor created a green-screen model of Pasdar and a CG model (made with Maya Cloth simulator software) and put them together with crowd elements, a matte painting of the memorial site and an animation of the jet's exhaust trail.
The episode's technical challenges also included Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) exercising the power of invisibility, which was achieved through split screens, rotoscope and glass distortion filters. A similar process (but with a CG ripple effect instead of a distortion filter) was used to show Sylar (Zachary Quinto) walking through walls. For the showdown between Peter and Sylar, special effects artists used Lightwave software to create animated CG fire and ice elements.
Split screens and rotoscoping illustrated frozen time, and when it was necessary to show actors in off-balance positions, rigs propped them up and were removed in postproduction. Finally, to create a wraparound view of present-day Manhattan, artists utilized a 270-degree matte painting, Boujou tracking software and green-screen and CG elements.
Hayden Panettiere, whose character, Claire Bennet, is constantly defying death, has spent considerable time with the special effects department, mostly for makeup and prosthetics. One episode, "The Homecoming," was particularly rough -- she spent six hours having burns simulated and getting a body scan for CG. In another episode, Claire is autopsied, which was achieved via a prosthetic placed on Panettiere's chest. She remembers walking around with blood dripping everywhere. "I'm like a piece of steak," she says. "I've been broiled and filleted."
On the next page, we'll find out what your favorite characters will be up to in season two -- and get a sneak peek at some new faces.