Even knowing they’re robots, watching Westworld’s hosts go under the knife for repairs was even more gruesome than the bloody battles that sent them to the ER. But in addition to using lots of CG, visual effects studio Pixomondo employed some old-school special effects tricks to make those surgeries look as disturbingly realistic as possible.
Instead of trying to completely simulate the appearance of flesh being cauterized by a laser using computer-generated particle effects for the smoke and sparks, the visual effects artists seared a real piece of flesh (animal, not human) and then composited the results onto footage of actress Thandie Newton’s Maeve character on an operating table.
The results are incredibly realistic, but this approach undoubtedly also saved visual effects artists from having to spend hours and hours trying to create the perfect digital simulation of burning flesh for a shot that would be over in a few seconds. By just grabbing a hunk of meat and hitting it with a torch, the artists created the illusion in a manner of minutes. For a visual-effects-heavy production like Westworld, any shortcut that can make post-production cheaper and faster is always welcome.
Pixomondo’s work on Westworld season two recently earned it an Emmy nomination.