The big battle later in the film involved 200 different spacecraft and posed a different sort of challenge. "Reaver ships are cobbled together and no two look alike," explains Peristere. "We had to be creative. We took parts off ships and reapplied them in different ways and shapes, with digital tool kits. We made ten ships look like 50."
Having the camera take a single point of view for that sequence also saved some cash. "In traditional coverage in CG, you might have 10-12 different angles of the battle, but we had what we called our virtual dogfight camera," Peristere says. "We had our animators pretend they were a chase plane following Serenity and their goal was to keep Serenity in frame as best as they could while missiles, vehicles and obstacles get in the way. As a result, we have a frenetic, high-energy chase that's quite unique in terms of visual effects style."
Peristere says the roughly 432 effects shots in "Serenity" doubled their original calculation, but did not break the allocated $7 million budget. "We constantly shifted money around and changed the complexity with Joss so that we could accommodate the best movie for the money that we had. We moved a lot of money around to make things work. Joss wasn't devastated when he had to lose a shot as long as it told the story."
Whedon's TV background helped him "know what you can have and what you can't, and never being indulgent. You choose your battles, and you shoot just what you need. I don't build a wall if I'm not going to see it. I know exactly what my perspective is before I shoot. Plus," he continues, "I had actors who had been workshopping the characters for a year and a half. So we were really able to save an enormous amount of time and just put every dollar on the screen. And none of us were working for a lot of money so there was zero overhead."
But "Serenity" isn't limited to Reavers and space battles. Next, we'll look at the training and costuming that went into making the movie's characters real.