Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dragon Age: Redemption Episode 6

So this is it, the final episode, the exciting conclusion of Dragon Age:Redemption! It's been a long time coming. We started this over a year ago, but at the same time, I can't believe it's over already. I'm very proud to share this behind the scenes look at last chapter of the saga, yet it's a bitter sweet moment. I've enjoyed reliving the process by blogging with each new episode, and I'm sad that we've reached the end so quickly. I hope you enjoyed my posts, as well as the realization of Felicia's amazing vision.

Photo 1: One of the biggest challenges of the final episode, and actually, of the entire series, was bringing Sundermount to life. Sundermount is known in Dragon Age II as a sacred place to the Dalish elves. A place of magic and power, essentially the Stonehenge of Bioware's virtual world.

One thing that I have learned about Felicia Day is that we share a very similar approach to writing. Before a story is completely fleshed out there will be certain visual elements that she will lock onto and the script will grow from there. It can be anything really, a character, an action, a prop, in the case of DA:R, a place. From our earliest conversations, before there was even a solid plot, Felicia knew that she wanted the characters to eventually visit Sundermount.

Photo 2: What made this set so challenging is that it was the one environment we were pulling directly out of the game. Much like all of the weapons and props that I had blogged about from previous episodes, I wanted this set to be as accurate to the game as possible. We literally constructed the set stone by stone to construct the graphics.

Photo 3: Despite out best efforts, we did have to take some liberties. We searched the entire radius of Los Angeles for rolling European hills, but couldn't quite find anything accessible to match the grounds in the game. It was ultimately decided to shoot in the alien landscape of the Topanga hills. The setting was very cool, but it forced us to change our color scheme from European gray field stone to California desert sandstone.

Photo 4: Another challenge was trying to make the small shootable area that we found look like the vast landscapes that Bioware provided us. Several of the views revealed houses and freeways in the distance, and the Sundermount walls wouldn't block them all.
Photo 5: My solution was to move the in game gates and crumbled walls closer to the sacred ruins
Photo 6: Due to time budget and space constraints, I had to pick and choose which game assets we brought to reality. In some cases, such as this gateway, I chose what I felt were the coolest elements, out of a larger structure, pairing it down to a more achievable set piece.

Photo 7: All of the Sundermount elements were made of polystyrene sheet foam, the kind used to insulate houses, mounted onto wooden frames. The foam was carved, coated in joint compound, and painted.

Photo 8: Several days before shooting the set pieces as far up the mountain as possible, then carried by hand the rest of the way. There were over 20 pieces total, some being more than 12 feet in length and several hundred pounds. Lets just say, it was not easy to get up that mountain.

Photo 9: It took my crew two days to erect Sundermount. Once all of the places were staked in place and connected, all of the seams needed to be puttied and painted. The really tall structures needed to be roped off against the elements.

Photo 10: Several rock samples were taken to the shop to help guide the painting of the sets, but once it actually stood at the location, it was obvious that we needed to do some more painting to blend it into the landscape.

Photo 11: It is funny that I would blog about this alter in one of the finals DA.R posts, being that it was actually the first set piece to be constructed for the entire series. It consists of a 2x4 and plywood frame layered with the styrofoam which was then carved to look like individual stone blocks.

Photo 12: We knew that the alter was going to be involved in the fight scene and possibly end up needing to hold a lot of weight. The wooden structure was completely up to the task, but the foam stone skin would not be able to take any weight or impact. I decided to put several layers of fiber glass on the altar's surface to protect it.

The polyester resin we use for fiber glassing actually eats the styrofoam, so a trick I use is to spray mount a protective layer of aluminum foil onto the sculpted foam. This allows all of the detail to remain and keeps the resin away from the foam. Here, Josie Kavadoy and Jason Swearingen apply the final layer of fiberglass mat.

Photo 13: The final alter as it appeared on set awaiting it's sacrifice.

Photo 14: Of course, that sacrifice happens to be my dearest friend Marissa Cuevas. I knew all along that this prop played a big part in Marissa's climactic scene, so it was kind of special to be able to build it for her.

She was very excited about the role that Felicia wrote for her. And who wouldn't be? After all, its not everyday you get to dress like a princess. Especially one who gets to wear a dress designed by Shawna Trpcic, who also designed many of Marissa's favorite shows, including Firefly! Here she is during the final fitting for her ceremonial dress. I couldn't wait to see her in action.

Photo 15: Of course, actually seeing it was horrifying. That is one of the cruel twists of Hollywood, working with friends and loved one on movie sets, despite the fact that none of this is real, there are certain images you never really want to see.

It's okay though, Marissa was unharmed in the filming of this scene. The dress, however, did not survive.

Photo 16: Marissa was not the only things pretending to be dead at Sundermount. The evil mage Saarebas attempts to hold his ground by raising an army of the dead to battle our heroes. Luckily for him the Dalish elves buried their fallen comrades in a cemetery not far from the Sundermount ruins. We made a wide variety of tombstones based on Bioware game assets from foam and wood.
Photo 17: Tombstones being set in place in the Topanga hills, creepy but peaceful. For the moment...
Photo 18: This next series of photos are truly a behind the scenes exclusive. Due to circumstances beyond our control, production had delays during the Sundermount shooting schedule, and almost all of the zombies, which I am about to show you, did not make it on the film. We created a variety of foam latex appliances, such as this one piece pull-over zombie. All of the appliances were sculpted by Digger Mesh and myself.

Photo 19: One of the first pitfalls was that the stuntman hired to play the large zombie was allergic to latex, so I couldn't apply his make up. We considered switching actors but there was no one available to fit the mask. In an experiment to see what the latex would look like on a smaller person, I donned the dead elf head. You can tell its me because of the hat.

Photo 20: Here we have a female zombie elf warrior. This was a full head single piece appliance.

Photo 21: The best part of the zombies was that it gave members of my art department an opportunity to do some make up effects. Here Rikki Techner applies the zombie girl. Rikki's true passion is make up, so she really enjoyed being able to create a character that would be filmed on a set that she had helped to build.

Photo 22:This pruney zombie was sculpted on a life cast of Ben Afflek's face.

Photo 23: Art Department Coordinator Pooja Sharma tries her hand at applying zombie make up for the first time.

Photo 24: This elf obviously died from severe wounds to the face. It was done as a one piece face appliance.

Photo 25: Yeah, yeah, yeah... you get it.

Photo 26: About at this point we were informed that the zombies would not be filmed. As you can see, they were not happy about it.

Photo 27: No really, they were not happy! They kind of haunted us for the rest of the night.

Photo 28: The ghastly ghouls had their revenge though, summoning the dark forces of nature to reek even more havoc on poor Sundermount. When we returned in the morning, we discovered that the winds that blew through the mountains in the late hours of the night took down our set, despite out best efforts to secure it. Needless to say, I had a situation on my hands...

Photo 29: It was a mad scramble to get everything back online, but I will save that story for the final post of my DA:R blog.

I am excited to hear all of your reactions to the epic finale of our series. Please leave comments below and feel free to ask me about anything I might have left out within these blogs. Don't forget to like and share this page below!


  1. Loved the last esp. I so hope there are more in the future! Great job everyone!!

  2. Loved this world. Thanks for posting so much BTS and allowing us fans to extend our geekery. It's made me appreciate even more how much work and love and fun everyone brought to the table to make this world come alive-- and that made rewatching the series even more of a treat. Kudos on a job splendidly well done!

  3. Good work !!! Only a great artist can do this...I want to say great job done by everyone and expecting this type of great work in future...