How Ted Lasso used visual effects to create an authentic matchday atmosphere
A CG stadium and green screens are just some of the tricks used to bring Nelson Road to life
Ted Lasso might not seem like the kind of show that would rely on visual effects. There are no dragons or aliens that had to be digitally added to the Apple TV+ series.
But once the production curtain is pulled back, it becomes obvious that the multi-Emmy Award-winning show couldn't have been done without visual effects.
"Anytime you're doing scenes with big stadiums and crowds of thousands of people, it's simply necessary to have the visual effects," Lawson Deming told Day 6.
Deming is the co-founder and senior visual effects supervisor at Barnstorm VFX, the studio tasked with finding unique ways to create an authentic matchday atmosphere for the show's fictional team, AFC Richmond.
Barnstorm VFX has been involved with the series since before the first season aired in August 2020.
"[COVID-19] made it so that we couldn't do a lot of the things we normally do with crowd work," said Deming.
Building a CG stadium
One of those challenges was the stadium itself. The Ted Lasso crew wasn't allowed to film most of their scenes at the real Selhurst Park Stadium, which is what the fictional Nelson Road Stadium is based on.
So the team at Barnstorm VFX decided to construct an entirely computer-generated stadium, from the seats to the hoarding screens surrounding the pitch.
"Instead of having actual hoarding around the field, it was just some green screens that were of the proper height. They weren't digital LED screens at all," Deming said.
Though these hoardings may be an afterthought for the viewer, Deming and his crew put a lot of effort into making them appear as real as possible.
"We created a little grid of LED lights, and then we made it so that some of them burned out … [or] flickered a little bit," he said.
There were times when the team had to compromise on stadium realism and consistency though, such as when it came to stadium lighting.
Because the film crew wasn't shooting in an actual stadium, they used large movie lights in order to give them the necessary lightning needed for certain shots, such as scenes in the rain.
"The only problem with that is that the stadium that we have … doesn't necessarily have lights in the same spot as the movie lights," Deming said. "So if you have a character that has a big lens flare behind their head, but there's no actual light there in the stadium, the lighting is inconsistent."
As a result, Deming and his crew made edits to their stadium build on a nearly shot-to-shot basis. That included moving virtual lights to match where the real lights were located.
Designing an authentic atmosphere
So if the stadium isn't real, what about the fans? According to Deming, it depends on the scene.
For wide shots of the stadium, Deming and his crew inserted computer-generated fans — called digital doubles — into the stands.
These fans, though vast in number, were all created using a handful of base models generated from people wearing motion-capture suits. Each CGI character was then virtually dressed in an array of clothing and animated.
"The more details you add, the more body types you add, the more modifications to that base model you make, the more you can make it feel like a real crowd rather than a bunch of clones of the same person," Deming said.
On top of that, digital doubles could be shot from any angle and re-lit in a realistic way. This makes it easy to move them around the stadium or make small changes to individual characters.
But what they offer in ease, they lack in realism.
"In some shots, [fans] are close and they're in focus," Deming said. "In those instances, you really don't want to have digital doubles because they're just not going to stand up to scrutiny."
That's when real people were subbed in through a trick called plate extras. Groups of actors are filmed from several different angles in front of a green screen. "They could wave their arms around, they could cheer, they could jump up and down," said Deming.
These actors were then cut and placed onto individual cards, which were projected onto different parts of the stadium, depending on the angle they were filmed from.
"Depending on where the camera is, we switch between the forward-facing people, the 45-degree-facing people and the profile-facing people," he said. "And by doing so, we can create a [large] crowd that is performing actions."
This technique, combined with the digital doubles, helped the show create an accurate matchday atmosphere.
"We were really trying to have the best of both worlds — practical people for when you saw them and digital people for when we just needed a large quantity," he said.
Written and produced by Mouhamad Rachini.
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