VFX Supervisor Mark Savela at work/imagineering!
VFX Supervisor Mark Savela at work/imagineering!
Mark thinking about the next big shot
Mark thinking about the next big shot
Carter at the Midway Station - BEFORE
Carter at the Midway Station - BEFORE
Carter at the Midway Station - AFTER
Carter at the Midway Station - AFTER
The Last Man
The Last Man

Well, as promised, Stargate Atlantis Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela is joining us – and he’s come bearing gifts. In addition to fielding your questions, he has included some pics and videos of various VFX shots, from temp to finished versions. I’m sure you’ll agree that both his write-up and accompanying visuals offer a very interesting peek at the VFX-making process.
Even though I’ve been working on the show going on nine years now, I’m continuing learning from the ultra-talented people I work with. There are still times when, after giving notes on a specific VFX shot, I may be bothered by something about the shot that I won’t quite be able to express. I may look at it and say “I like it, but there’s something not quite right and I don‘t know what it is…” At which point Mark will offer his take: “The shading on the ship’s hull needs to be darker” or “The movement of the drones should be smoother on the descent” or “The shockwave from the explosion has to come at camera just a little faster”. And I’ll realize: “That’s it!”. At times, I think that Mark humors us when he takes our notes as I imagine he’s probably already made the note himself and is just awaiting our confirmation. I’ve often said that producing a television show is a collaborative effort, and nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship we have with our Mark and his team. The producers may envision a visual effect, but it is Mark who will take that germ of an idea and run with it, transforming a good initial notion into a great plan of action. If the scripts says “the ships exchange fire“, Mark will design the dynamic battle sequence that will see them swooping, banking, evading and, yes, exchanging fire. If a producer asks for a wraith lab to blow up, Mark will pitch out the chain-reaction explosions that wrack the facility, building up to a fiery crescendo and camera shake as our POV is caught by the blast wave. If I ask him to stop by to answer a few questions from the fans, he’ll take the time to offer detailed responses to each (despite being sick) AND include some visual aids.

So check out the videos after Mark’s Q&A. And check out the mailbag after the videos.

Over to Mark…


Hello all. First, I would like to thank Joseph Mallozzi for allowing me to highjack his blog. It is a real honor and pleasure to be the first non-writer crew member to do this. But don’t worry. I’ve seen the roster. It will get waayyy more interesting than this one.
I started out like gangbusters on your questions. Unfortunately, I’ve had a very bad summer cold. I hate the notion of summer colds. The very word “cold” makes you think of winter. Anyway, I’m trying to free-form my answers. Please enjoy them and keep in mind I’ve felt like I’ve been walking through quick mud for the last 5 days and everyone keeps talking to me in that “Charlie Brown teacher” voice. But here goes.

I’d like to thank everyone out there for all of your well-wishes, your interest and compliments. It’s great to hear your thoughts. As for the recent nomination, thank you for the congrats and keep on thinking positive thoughts. I do believe it’s a testament to the show itself and a franchise that has been on the air for 12 years now. We’re always up against the latest/greatest/hip shows that are on any given year. Now, I’m a big fan of Heroes and the like. I think they do great work. But it really does show the strength of the franchise, and the life our writers and actors give to our series year after year, that the show gets nominated for awards (People’s choice, Emmys) throughout the run of the series.

But, on to the questions:

NZ Jackie writes: “Was it deliberate, in the Episode ‘Sunday’, to make it so the last thing that went through the gate was Zalenka/David N’s butt??lol”

– Hmmm……David’s butt? Can’t say I noticed that one, or saw that it was intentional. Have to check on the artist who did the shot. Maybe they were a fan. Pretty sure it’s the order they pass through and how they cross the event horizon though.

K8T writes: 1) How much of the final product is actually what you set out to accomplish in the planning stages?

– That’s a great question K8T. Every shot is different and every VFX shot we do is pretty unique in its’ planning and execution. Shots are often very organic and they will change from the planning stages. Sometimes a director will come to set and want to shoot a different way than what was planned. Sometimes I’ll propose different ideas than what was planned. And some shots stay very true to what we set out to do. A good example of this is the shot of McKay firing the drones in Adrift. We knew we wanted to do a shot that would start out as a complete 3-D (or CGI) created shot and then transform into a shot that incorporated the live action plate with McKay. I try and incorporate live action plates whenever I can. I think it just sells a shot that much more to see one of your actors in it. We went through a couple of different animatics here in the in-house department with 3-D animator Michael Lowes, finally nailed the shot that we wanted, and brought it to set when we were shooting McKay in the PJ. We always went in thinking that if the live action plate didn’t work out we could adapt and live with a complete CGI shot, but the crew on this show is amazing. Our dolly grip Simon Smith matched the speed and feel of the shot exactly. We composited the live action plates into the 3-D scene and the shot you see onscreen is pretty much exactly what we had planned.

Sometimes an artist will run with a sequence and bring back something completely different than what you had in your head but is still very cool. Check out the first 8 min of “Ghost In The Machine”. Except for some minor tweeks here and there, that was all Alec McClymont from Atmosphere VFX.

2) Can you describe the life cycle (planning, drafting, executing etc.) of an effect? Like the huge and long pull back from Rodney in the rubble, past all the planets and onto Todd’s ship in S&R.”

– Well, the life cycle of an effect is pretty much as described above. The Power of Ten shot in Adrift (the McKay pull-back) was one we really tried to plan out as best as we could. Martin Gero knew exactly what he wanted to see. We had a timing version out and shot a couple of different versions of the McKay live action plate. We did various low-rez animatics of the shot using the McKay footage. You have to really nail down the animation and timing because it is so long. (If you make changes later when you’re working with the shot at HD, it will cause a great deal of lost time due to how long it takes to process/render a shot like that.) When the timing was nailed down it was a matter of rendering and compositing until we got what you saw in S&R.

Pol writes: “My question for Mark is…what software does your team mainly use? I’m assuming Photoshop, Maya and RenderMan for a start. What else do you use (if not the above, then what)?”

– You’re right on the above assumption, Pol. The show does farm out work to five main vendors (Atmosphere VFX, Image Engine, CIS Vancouver, Darkroom Digital and Spin West), as well as our in-house department. So, in addition to the aforementioned, we would use Lightwave, Combustion, Fusion, Inferno and After Effects.

Muddpiddypop writes: “My question for Mark is: Are effects or the techniques you use or come up with trademarked or copyrighted in any way, or are they standard techniques that are only different based on a crews skill and creativity?”

– Trademarked or Copyrighted????? Mark Savela ™ visual effect. I like it.

Sadly no, I don’t think there would be any way to control that. I’m reminded of something that took place years ago. I was up for a job on a pretty big film. They had seen a sequence I did for small documentary and had a similar scene in their movie. They asked if they could use my finished effects as “animatics” or “placeholders”. I agreed. And then they ended up going with a larger company to do the effects. When I saw the finished film in the theaters, they matched the camera moves and timing of my shots almost exactly, with only slight changes in the look. People must have had a giggle when I yelled “those f@*kers” when the scene came up.

It’s a fine line because when interviewing for a job you want to present your best ideas/approaches/shooting techniques based on the script and the job you’re applying for. But it’s the nature of the business that sometimes people will take your ideas, run with them and not hire you after all.

I’ve read a few comments that say the effects in our show look like a certain other sci-fi show. Just wanted to state that I’ve never seen an episode of said other show. I’m sure it’s great. I saw a bit of what they won the Emmy for last year and it was pretty cool. But the thing is we are all flying around ships in space, and it’s a pretty hard thing to try to keep fresh and new. I consciously made an effort to gradually get away from the early “Parking Lot” in space feel and make shots more dynamic, faster paced and more “in the action” look. I think I’ve accomplished that over four years, but I don’t think there are any direct influences that led us to where we are now.

Patricia writes: “How long does it take to put together a seamless effect such as a space battle scene? Is your work more art oriented, or because you use computers, is it more math oriented? In other words, what ability do you find you rely on a great deal to do your job? And lastly, congratulations for the nomination. I have my fingers crossed for you.”

– Thanks Patricia, I hope your fingers are very lucky.

A space battle scene (hopefully seamless) takes about two to three months for a large one. We usually get the heads up from the writers that a show with a great volume of visual effects is coming down the pipe. We’ll get the script, prep the show in about a week, shoot for about a week and a half, and spot the show with the producers. The show will lock shortly afterwards. We usually have a month before temps and a month after that to complete the final shots.

In my work, I rely on my sense of esthetics. I hope/feel/pray that if something looks good to me, it will look good to the fans. A lot of the artists who work on the show are the math wizards. They’re incredible. With around 13-14 shows going on at different stages at any particular time, with an average of about 50 shots an episode, I tend to rely on my memory. If my memory fails, my amazing co-ordinators Shannon Gurney, James Rorick and Sonia Gilmore will be there to pick up the pieces.

Enzo Aquarius writes: “First of all, congratulations on the Emmy nomination. When creating a new ship for the series, what is the process in which it is created? IE – How is the design figured out, is a consensus to the design required, do interior sets come into play?”

– Thank you very much Enzo. A new ship usually starts off with a concept drawing done by the mega-talented James Robbins, our Production Designer. We take the concept art and build the ship in 3-D, then apply textures for weathering, etc. The ship usually goes through some slight modifications to help with scaling or overall continuity after which it is approved or critiqued by the producers. Interior sets totally come into play. We really try to match the look and feel of the sets with the exterior of our ships. The Travelers’ ships is one example.

MaggieMayDay writes: “Mr. Savela, are the ideas for effects sketched out? Would that be like a storyboard? How detailed would a drawing be before it transmuted into CGI? (Am I asking the right question even?)”

– Yes, it is a very good question MaggieMayDay. Every sequence is treated differently. Sometimes storyboards are used. James Robbins storyboarded my first sequence for Atlantis – “Intruder”. For BAMSR, I went down to Image Engine and we threw a bunch of toy space ships on their boardroom table. I was moving the little toys around saying “I want the camera here, I want the camera there”. When we work with Atmosphere or Darkroom Digital, usually Alec McClymont (for ATM) or Craig VandenBiggelar (for DD) will do initial animatics. So even sequences within the same show could have a very different approach.

Carol Z writes: “ What specific training, education, experience in your background prepared you to be the Visual Effects guru for SGA? Graphic design/arts, etc? Good job Mark!!”

– Prepared me most? Juggling class at clown college in ’91.

Chevron7 writes: “1. In the past few years we’ve seen films (Sky Captain) and shows (Sanctuary) with completely CGI backgrounds and live actors. What direction do you see the Visual Effects industry taking in the future? What is left to do?

– Hmmm…..the future of Visual Effects? You’re tempting me to soapbox here. I think Visual Effects is a huge, growing industry that is still very young. I really do like the style of films like Sky Captain, Sin City, and Sanctuary. The motion capture stuff people are doing like Polar Express show a lot of promise. I’m of the opinion though that story comes first. Visual Effects should be used to tell a story or move a plot forward, not become them. The future of the VFX industry should be directly tied in to how people want to tell stories. Hopefully it will not become all style and no substance. Take Pixar for example. They make great movies, movies that can exist in any medium. I really think that’s what should come first. The technology, style, flash should all come later. But having said that, I think anything is possible. The only limit is the imagination of the writers and the artists.

2. Can you please give us some insight into how you did the Shep/Zelenka space jump in Adrift? Congratulations btw.

– The space jump in Adrift was another example of a shot that was very well laid out at the script stage by Martin Gero. He really wanted to do a shot that showed the scale of the gap they were jumping tied into the scale of the city. We started out with a few versions – different speeds, different camera moves, etc. It was a little bit of a hard sell once we came up with a move that we liked because it was a little difficult to picture in the animatic stage since it’s such a subjective shot/move. But we stuck with it and really reassured people “No, this will turn out great”. Image Engine created this great 3-D matte painting of the gap with debris and rebar. We see it on the first reveal and I think it’s great. The camera move, city and destruction matte painting are all combined with the animation of our 3-D Sheppard and Zelenka. I have to say that it was when I saw some of the initial animation of the characters that I knew the shot would work. It was amazing and looked like really, really good mo-cap. The shot is composited blending all the elements together and color correcting the final product.

3. What Stargate visual effect exceeded all expectations and what didn’t work out so well?”

– Space walk in Adrift, described above. I think it’s just one of those shots that is so cool accompanied by Joel’s score. Pull back shot from our team in Progeny to reveal the city. This is one shot we were a little afraid of because we had never seen that city before. I remember working on the shot with our in-house artist Michael Lowes. I gave him the direction to “go over the top” of what he felt comfortable with, to push further than what he thought of as a normal shot. He came back with this amazing camera move that we made only small adjustments to. Erica Henderson then did a wonderful job of compositing that shot and I think the final product really is something.

I also really liked the reveal of Weir’s ship at the end of BASR.

I think all effects look so much better with the sound mix from Sharpe Sound and Joel’s score.

What didn’t work out so well……… Well, again with Progeny, there were some scenes in that episode that were a little sketchy. It was a tough show that was done almost entirely in-house on a very tight timeline. I think the team did a great job under the circumstances and the show is “huge”. We got into some problems shooting the “virtual tour” portion of the show as well. There is also a scene in “The Last Man” which has been a topic of discussion. The whole show was just amazing and I wish we could have had more time on that one. It‘s a very subjective industry. Some people really liked that shot; some people really didn’t. As a general rule I can’t really watch anything I’ve worked on after it’s been delivered. There is always something you want to change, always something you would do differently. The thing is, as soon as you deliver a show it becomes dated. It is one of the curses of working in this industry.

The Skypig writes: “When I listen to the episode commentaries, mention is often made of the expense involved in what on screen look to be a short, relatively simple special effects–the gate coming to life, for instance, or some whispy alien cloud drifting about. Tell me, please, what is it exactly that makes special effects so expensive? Give an example, if you have time. Thanks!”

– I think the best example of this is a puddle pass-through the event horizon. The franchise had been around for 12 years yet the puddle a pass-through hasn’t gotten any cheaper to do. Why? Because the manpower to do a shot like that remains relatively the same. The very same amount of work takes place to have a person step through the event horizon as it did 12 years ago. The processing power and speed is probably faster, wage increases and such evens that out. That’s why a lot of our pass-throughs may not show up on screen. Do we put money towards it? Or do we put money somewhere else to create something new and different? I think the producers do a great job of balancing – keeping the gate, the gate travel and using the money saved to create new shots.

Jon writes: “I know that to stay a “head of the game” for visual effects you have to have the latest stuff,
1) How many visual effect programs will you go through one season of atlantis?
2)what was the hardest visual effects sequence you have ever done?”

– You don’t really go through different programs or platforms over the course of a season of Atlantis. You do go through different versions of the same platform. We’re actually having a tough time right now on an episode with effects created on a previous version.

Mackenzie’s Momma writes: “Mark- What is the most challenging episode outside of Season 5 that you have worked on thus far in the Atlantis Realm?”

– I’m going to answer Mackenzie’s Momma’s question along with #2 from Jon. I think one of the hardest sequences/episodes I’ve worked on was the end sequence in BAMSR/opening sequence in Spoils of War. I think the most difficult part was planning those two episodes. They pretty much shot back-to-back last year. When we spotted the episodes (to spot means go through the cut with the producers and editor, going over and timing out VFX shots before the cut is locked), we spotted BAMSR and SOW about 10 minutes apart. After a heavy spotting session like BAMSR, your mind is a little fuzzy. There is so much to process. Shannon Gurney and I spotted the episode with Martin Gero and editor Mike Banas. We then spotted SOW 10 minutes later with James Rorick, Paul Mullie and Alan M, along with editor Rick Martin. As everyone knows, we use the back half of BAMSR for the opening of SOW (but from the wraith’s POV). The only constant in the two spotting sessions was me. We were using beats and timings from shots that were just discussed 15 min before. It was pretty confusing and pretty hard to keep straight, but I think both shows turned out all right in the end.

Michelle writes: “Questions for Mark Savela, regarding the nuts and bolts IT side of the VFX work:  How do you keep records of what you’ve done in the past so you can re-use it when appropriate? Is it corporate knowledge or do you have a database or a wiki or…

– We do it very simply. We make a compilation reel each year of all the VFX shots in the show. Mostly, the four of us just use our memories (Shannon, James, Sonia and I). We can remember every effect, what episode, what season, etc.

2) Did you work on McKay and Mrs Miller, the one with 2 McKays? How hard was that to do, and can you outline what the process was? The result was amazing and seamless!”

– Thank you very much for the compliment. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Michelle. McKay and Mrs. Miller was a really fun episode to work on. There was a deliberate goal to make the show not look and feel like a traditional “twinning” episode. Martin Wood and I sat down and really tried to design shots where the camera was moving and inside the action, where the actors were moving around the camera. There is the “standard” way of doing twinning shots where the camera is usually outside the action looking in, even if the camera is moving. This works a lot of the time and a scene like the one in “This Mortal Coil”, where the two teams meet, calls for that. However, we tried to make McKay and Mrs Miller very non-traditional in that respect. Huge props have to go to Martin Wood. He has such a big brain when it comes to designing shots that feel very unique and fresh. I love the shot where McKay passes the laptop to McKay. I thought the moving camera interaction was great. David Hewlett deserves the other MVP star for that episode. We really put him through the ringer. If you can imagine the camera moving, both McKays converging to one spot, moving around the camera, around set pieces and delivering dialogue at the same time. At the end of the shot the two McKays have to end up facing each other, so David had marks on the floor for both passes that he had to hit so it would look like he ends up face to face with himself. And he had to hit those marks exactly, without looking down at them. He did such a great job. It’s always so much fun to see McKay play off of himself.

Another challenge to that episode presented itself when our normal “cheats” for a twinning episode didn’t work out. Usually in a twinning episode the close ups are “cheated” with a photo double. You see the actor delivering his lines and the head closest to camera is a photo double so that you don’t have to do as many shots in an episode. Our photo double did not look a lot like David Hewlett so we had to shoot David on both sides. We ended up with about 40 or so additional VFX shots. We didn’t have additional budget for the episode so my co-ordinators (Shannon Gurney and Geoff Anderson) and I ended up doing a lot of the extra shots in addition to our real jobs. Some turned out to be quite difficult. It was tough but pretty rewarding in the end so thank you.

Airelle writes: “Do you start out ideas on paper/head, and then to computer? Did you build your own software to do the VFX ? ? A lot of special training/school or just good at it?
Is that your bulletin board in one of Joes picture, if so,who thought up- Dept of Waffle Headed Monkey Trumpets(tv division) ?
CONGRATULATIONS on the Emmy award nomination.
Awesome visual effects, thanks for stopping by.”

– Thank you very much Airelle. Thanks for stopping by? I thank everyone out here. I really do consider this a true honor to do and a lot of fun too. The bulletin board belongs to our set supervisor (Jon MacPherson). Department of Waffle Headed Monkey Trumpets (TV Division) was started by VFX co-ordinator James Rorick (there may have been booze involved) and we just ran with it. I think it’s a weirdly twisted Simpson’s reference mixed with something else. I would delve further into James’ twisted brain for further explanation but, to be honest, I don’t want to go there and am actually afraid.

Sari writes: “had some questions for Mark Savela, if it’s not too late. First of all, the special effects in this show are absolutely incredible and well-deserving of the Emmy nomination. Good luck with that!

– How long does it take from the time (the writer?) says “Can we do this?” to the final, delivered product?

Thank you very much for your opinion of the effects Sari. I think Patrica’s question above covered that. I do like the fact that, on this show, I will get calls exactly like that, where one of the writers is starting to write a show and will call and say “I’m thinking of writing this. Can we do it?” Hopefully we’ve never let them down.

2) Have you ever been asked about doing a special effects that just about made your heart stop, given the complexity of what was being asked?

The first thing that comes to mind is picking up the first draft script of “BAMSR” and seeing the line “The giant replicator blob has now grown to the size of a small city”. I think Fran the replicator blob was certainly challenging, just trying to imagine what the final product would look like from the one line. Martin Gero always has a great vision of what he wants something to look like. That line was just really hard to get your head around though.

Also, for very different reasons, the Ronon shot in “Doppleganger” from Season 4. This is a steadi-cam shot where Ronon is running through the hallways of Atlantis and comes to a door that leads to a forest – no cuts, no way to do any greenscreen. That shot had me wracking my brain on how to approach it. But Robert Cooper has such a clear vision in his head about what he wanted. Robert is such a great director and really amazing to work with. I remember we were shooting the fight scene with Sheppard and we were discussing how to shoot it. Robert was willing to make some compromises because he knew how hard the shot was. I was arguing against it and at one point he said “You do realize I’m arguing to make your life easier, right?” But I really didn’t want to compromise his vision or his episode. I assured him it would work out. I really like that shot because no one really knows how complex it was to pull off.

I do love challenges and sometimes they work, sometimes they work to a lesser degree than what you’d hoped. There is a saying among the VFX industry that “you never actually finish a VFX shot. You abandon it”. It’s the point at which you feel most comfortable abandoning it that is your job. But without challenging yourself and challenging others it would all get pretty bland and stale. It’s really a risk/reward job and hopefully the reward pays off a lot of the time.

I get scared just thinking about episode 100. Nah, it’ll be amazing.

3) How many people work on any one visual effects sequence?

If I started to go through all the people who would work on a visual sequence I could end up clogging up Joseph’s blog. I’ll try anyway. How do you start? Well, first off, there’s Brad and Robert who created such a wonderful world for us to play in. I’m not sure I know too many people in our industry in Vancouver who haven’t worked for the franchise in one form or another. Our city would not be the same without Stargate. All of our writers and producers who challenge us each episode and give us such great material to work with. Our directors are amazing. I think our DPs (Jim Menard and Michael Blundell) can never get enough praise. They set the look and tone of the entire show. All of my team – Shannon, James, Sonia and Jon. They are not just my right hand, they are both left and right arms and legs. Krista McLean who is our wonderful Matte Painter. Our wonderful in-house department. Christopher Stewart who was the CG supervisor and head of the department for the last three seasons and Shawn Tilling who is doing it this season. All the artists at Atmosphere, Image Engine, CIS, Darkroom Digital, Spin West. Our great cast (acting on a sci-fi isn’t easy). James Robbins for his amazing concept art and great plans all around. Jen and Kerry in post for everything they do for us. The editors and assistant editors. Everyone in the playback department (they never get enough credit for what they do). Terry and Amanda the script supervisors. Camera Department, Evil Kenny, Val. Grips Johnny Z and Ken Young who help us out so much. Wray Douglas and his gang for their special effects magic. Joel Goldsmith and the folk at Sharpe Sound for putting such a polish on our sequences. Lawren, Scott, Matt. Who could forget Pappas, Mizel and their crew? Hmmm…..I smell acceptance speech…..Nah……never happen.

Or did you just want a number?

4) Do you ever reuse elements from previous visual effects to create one that looks totally new?

We do at times use elements from previous shots to varying degrees of success. We do use a few “stock shots” that you will see in different episodes. The shot of the Deadalus flying through hyperspace springs to mind. I seem to recall people writing a lot about the sequence in season 4’s “The Seer”. We used a sequence from “The Hive” where two hive ships were fighting each other. We removed the darts from the shot at minimal cost. A lot of people took offence to that, thought it was a pretty big cheat. I think Alan mentions it in the DVD commentary. The episode did not have a big budget and our only other option was to do the hive battle off screen. How big a cheat would that have been?

5) Do you enjoy working on a sci-fi show? How does doing sci-fi effects compare to doing effects on non-sci-fi shows?

I really love working on a sci-fi series. It gives you the opportunity to play in a giant sandbox that the writers create. There are no rules or limitations of any kind. I’m always thankful of the world that Brad and Robert created. Doing VFX shots for sci-fi is very different from doing VFX shots for a non-sci-fi show. More often than not you are adding something to an environment that has to seamlessly blend with what is shot on set. In the sci-fi world, more often than not you call identify a VFX shot (a space battle for example). We know it and our main focus is to make it as esthetically pleasing as possible. A lot of the time, in the non-sci-fi world, the effects have to be what we would call “invisible effects”, meaning that if you’ve done a good job no one will notice that you worked on the show. There is a great deal of satisfaction that goes along with that as well. When “Trio” and “Midway” aired last year I recall people on the boards talking about what small VFX episodes they were. Trio was one of our biggest episodes last year in terms of volume and Midway was right up there as well. So, it was a great compliment to hear that people thought they were small.

So, long answer short: I love working on a sci-fi show, especially Atlantis. We get a really big sandbox and the writers give us all sorts of toys to play with. It’s an amazing job. When I did series work before, I usually wanted to look for another job after the first season. I’ve always wanted to push myself to do something new. On Atlantis I get new exciting challenges every season, great scripts, and amazing people to work with. It’s my fourth season and I’m still here. I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Wow, that’s a lot of questions. I’d be happy with whatever Mr. Savela is willing to answer. And tell him and his team thanks for all of their hard work. It makes watching Stargate that much more enjoyable.”

Linda Gagne writes: “What is the most challenging of request when it comes to visual effects?”

– Faster, cheaper, better………do all three.

Thornyrose writes: “1) How did you first get into the business? 2) What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?

– I really, really do enjoy the people I work with everyday. That’s the best aspect of the job. We work minimum 12 hours a day with a group of people. We see more of each other than we do of our own families. If you didn’t like the people you work with in this job you would be one miserable SOB. And I don’t think I am. I love the material, and the producers and directors on the show are all amazing.

3) In the future, do you see yourself moving on to working on movie Fx, or do you prefer television? Or is it a bit like acting, where you have to seriously consider any offers, due to the inherent instability of the profession? thank you for your time and participation.”

– At this point in my life I’m pretty happy doing VFX for television. Maybe not even VFX for television, but VFX for Stargate: Atlantis. I find it very creative, very challenging. It’s like doing a mini-movie once a week. The industry is at times very unstable and you do take jobs where you can get them. But, as I said, I’m still here and very happy.

Strivaria writes: “1 – What drew you to this line of work anyway?

– The story of how I got into my line of work is a very long and sordid tale. It involves a car accident, a documentary, a guitar. Too long to explain here. Next time everyone is in Vancouver, let me know and I’ll tell you over a couple of drinks.

2 – How does one get into visual effects work?

– Like any profession, it takes hard work, luck, a strong work ethic, dedication and training. The right combination of those things will get you there. Look at me. I’m a kid from a very small town in Ontario, Canada (Kirkland Lake) and I’m working on the best science fiction show on television.

I’m really curious about #2. After seeing a behind the scenes special on Star Wars and their model shop, I wanted to work at ILM or the like and build all these neat things, but South Mississippi back then wasn’t exactly a hot bed for movie magic and I never did figure out how to make that dream come true. These days I take my electrical engineering schooling and a little Googled knowledge and content myself with seeing how well I can replicate things like the turtle brooch from “Hide and Seek”.”

Thanks to Joe for letting me do this. Again, thanks to all for your great questions. And keep watching Season 5. I think the front ten of what I’ve seen so far is the series at its best.

In terms of visual effects, I hope/believe we hit our stride last year at the end of season 4 and haven’t looked back. I hope you all enjoy season 5. Thank you for watching.
Peace Out


Note: I’m working my way backwards, so if you posted a question over the past few days, I’ll get around to it. Well, I’ll get around to re-reading it anyway.

Muddypiddypop writes: “If an actor wants to go a certain way with a line or how he or she presents themselves in a scene, and it is not how the director sees it, how is that worked out.”

Answer: We try to be as accommodating as possible and will discuss any concerns anyone may have with the script. Just recently, Bob Picardo phoned me up and asked if he could make three slight alterations to some Woolsey scenes. He pitched them out and I thought they were great. It’s very rare that we arrive at a situation where there is strong disagreement. If someone wants something changed for a good reason, there’s no reason why he/she couldn’t make the change. If, on the other hand, there is a good reason why the change shouldn’t be made, the producer or director will explain why. Hopefully, at the end of the day, reason prevails.

Narelle from Aus writes: “Do you feel like you have reverted back to your childhood when you have a milk shake?”

Answer: No, but I do whenever I eat Nutella.

Sue writes: “So when does Prodigal start shooting?”

Answer: Prodigal started shooting last week.

Trish writes: “Allie really wants to know a) when will Whispers air? and b) Will it be up there with Stephen King type suspence?”

Answer: Sorry, I don’t have a schedule handy, but I believe it will be airing sometime in mid-August. As for whether it will be up there with Stephen King – Hey, I don’t think anyone gets close to the master of suspense. That’s why he’s the King.

Ganymede writes: “After that “meal”, two words, Big J : arterial plaque!”

Answer: And I’ve got two words for you, Medium G: tase tee!

Andy writes: “If I may, why hasn’t #20 been named yet? Is the story so complex you’re still considering the name, or is it you just don’t want to release it yet for drama?”

Answer: Nothing quite so intriguing. We just haven’t come up with one yet.

Davidd writes: “I want to know what is the one thing you like the LEAST about the Stargate franchise?”

Answer: The wait to find out about next year.

Anais33 a ecrit: “1)Quel est votre moment préféré de la journée?Pourquoi?
2)Le casting est difinitivement terminer ou il réste des rôles à pourvoir?”

Reponses: 1) Entre 22:00 heures et minuit quand je lis. 2) Ils en restent des roles.

Sort of translation: My favorite time of day is between 10:00 p.m. and midnight when I read. And we still have some roles to cast between now and the end of the season.

Chevron7 writes: “What’s your fave part of the shooting week? First day, last day, on location, when things go boom?”

Answer: How about when things go exactly as scripted?

Jess writes: “Just wondering, who’s idea was it to put a photo of Daniel in Sam and Jack’s “imaginary” wedding in Sam’s office in Atlantis? Because I’m just thinking, how can you have a picture from a wedding that never took place?”

Answer: Presumably Daniel wore that tux to at least one other event in his life. That photo was snapped at that event.

TBA writes: “Why is Sheppard always the one to save the day? It has annoyed me over the past seasons. Can’t he, just for one time, NOT save the day and be saved by someone else?”

Answer: Just last season, fans were complaining that it was McKay who was always saving the day.

MrsB108 writes: “Will Teyla’s new situation force the other team members to look at their own lives and ponder what else life can hold for them?”

Answer: Not really.

Dalene writes: “I usually don’t comment, but I read this article (linked above) & wanted to share it with you. I think this research, at the University where I work, sounded like it could make for an interesting medical drama, should Atlantis go to a season 6 (which I hope & pray it does, of course!).”

Answer: Very interesting article about nanotechnology and its medical applications. Yes, it would make for very interesting SF story fodder.



66 thoughts on “July 24, 2008: Stargate Atlantis Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela answers your questions. And he brought treats!

  1. Thank you, Mark S., for visiting and being so informative and eloquent. And for being so very patient with so many questions, we’re an inquisitive lot. I hope you get over your cold soon. >>toy space ships<<< … heeheee, love it.

    Nutella? yum yum yum, on big flaky croissants. Real ones, not those stupid Pillsbury in a can imitations.

  2. Wow…that’s a lot of stuff! I’ll read it right now, but first, just in case I posted too late in yesterday’s entry:


    @ majorsal: But that’s what makes me so likable.

    @ das: Oh, I’ve posted longer before. And about Steve; I do believe that was the first time we got to really talk to a Wraith, so I can see how it would be impacting, though of course Steve was just cool in and of himself. My favorite’s still Todd though.

    @ wolfenm: Thank you again!

    @ TrueRomantic: Well, thank you for not throwing anything. Haha. I agree, Pete brought out a side of Sam that we rarely saw in the past, and that’s good. I did like Pete to an extent though, since he tried so hard and he reminds me of me and my dorkish ways. XD

    @ Shirt’n’Tie: Thank you! Yes, that was a great line too, and at that point you can still see Shep disbelieving everything around him. Joe F. was great playing that “double reality” stuff, trying to immerse himself in the reality while questioning it at the same time.

    Man, those pics are already making me salivate. I can’t wait for this. *Goes to read*

  3. Oooooh. That was fun. Love visual effects, but have avoided learning more on purpose. Don’t want to turn my favourite scenes into a critiquing session, rather than just enjoying what I’m seeing.

    It must be a difficult process because you are interpreting the thoughts of writers and directors. You would require a certain element of mind reading. So, what are they really thinking?

    Thanks Mark. Get well! Once again I learnt more about the people in the credits who have job titles that you wonder “what on earth do they do?”. I’m convinced it came from growing up watching the movie Top Secret.

    Joe, enjoy a day of thinking “Aaaaaah, I don’t have to blog when I get home”.

  4. WOOOOOOOW!! Thank you Mr. Mark Savela for that truly insightful Q&A! I’m almost always blown away by the VFX on this show and I’ve gained a new appreciation for them now that I know it takes so much work and effort to get them done! And thank you for the treats. I always love to see how these technical things are done; they are the true behind-the-scenes work.

    And that did sound like an acceptance speech. Hopefully it’ll be read out loud when the time comes. Congrats on the nomination! You all deserve it, and more.

    And of course, sorry for the cold. I hope you get well soon!

  5. Thanks so much, Mark. That was great.

    I had to chuckle when you said, “the most challenging of requests when it comes to visual effects is when requested to do it “Faster, cheaper, better………do all three” My husband is an artist blacksmith and a favored sign posted in most all the blacksmith shops around here is, “speed, quality, price…choose any TWO.” But there’s always that guy who wants 100+ hours of top quality hand made for the same price as the low quality, mass produced found at the local home store.

    But, for sure, for sure S.G. wouldn’t be the top quality product it is without the great quality special effects!

  6. Joe,

    I have to confess that, other than the episodes that McKay was in, I’ve probably seen only a half dozen episodes of SG-1. So I’m going on info I’ve gotten from friends who have seen the entire series (second hand information — a danger, I know). But according to them, there was hardly a hint of romance between the team members throughout all ten seasons or rather, that’s all it was — hints, winks of the eye, etc. Romance from other quarters, perhaps, but not among the four main characters.

    I’m just curious why you decided to go in a different direction for Atlantis. I’m not saying that a McKay/Keller romance is necessarily a bad thing but it seems like a pretty risky venture. It’s a very different thing than McKay’s romance with Katie, which was acceptable to just about everyone since it was played mostly off stage.

    I confess that I find the interaction between Rodney and Jennifer to be very sweet but I really enjoy the interaction between the members of Sheppard’s team first and foremost and I would hate to see anything take away from that and an introduction of a “fifth” person would almost certainly do that.

    That said, I am very much looking forward to Broken Ties tomorrow night. The preview looks amazing.



  7. Hi Joe,

    Coolness, behind the scences pic’s are excellent! Oh my goodness! An aussie on Atlantis! I am stoked!

    Take care & happiness always!


  8. Wow! Thank you, Mark, for your fantastic and detailed answers to our questions. Short of writing for SG, my dream job would be working on the VFX team. I’m loving RenderMan at the moment.

    Thanks, too, for the nifty transition vids with Carter at Midway. I got Carter and nifty VFX before/after. Sweet!

    Please come again, you were a great guest-blogger.


  9. that was almost a blog overdose! Many many thanks for Mr. Savela for taking so much time to participate here while feeling so under the weather. I will definitely be coming back for a re-read or two on today’s blog, due to the sheer amount of information loaded into it. And thanks too to Mr. M. for the mailbag. I’m looking forward to seeing how you do with the backlog of questions. I have one request. Could you re-list the scheduled guest bloggers, and when questions for them will be taken, and/or about when they are going to appear on the site? Thanks again for a 7 course blog entry; I’m very pleasantly stuffed.

  10. thanks, joe and mark, for the fab sam stuff! 😀

    the q and a and vids were very interesting and entertaining. 😉

    sally =)

  11. Woohoo! Just downloaded the latest firmware for my Reader which now supports Adobe Digital Editions.

    Now I can finish off the Etched City on my Reader instead of struggling through on my PC.

    This upgrade is great for more access to BOTM books.

    I love my Reader **smooch**. My husband hates it.

  12. Although I didn’t post a question, thanks to Mark Savela for answering questions. I love behind-the-scenes stuff, why I buy the dvd’s. Actually at my 20th reunion someone asked me why I wasn’t in LA working in movies or tv, cuz I’ve always had that interest. Life just did not go that way….

    The videos were great!!!!

    Thanks Joe for recommending “Old Man’s War” I loved it and when finished went right out and bought “Ghost Brigades.” They didn’t have “The Last Colony.” Did you read all three? Do you normally read an entire series, or maybe just the first couple? I’ve had “Android’s Dream” for awhile, but couldn’t get into it. I’ll give it another shot. Do you ever have that problem? I remember trying to read Jonathan Kellerman’s “Butcher’s Theater” and hating it, cuz I really liked his other books. Sat on my shelf, picked it up about 3 years later and zoomed through it….Does that happen to you? Right now I’m also reading through all of Jane Austen’s books…

  13. Hi Joe!

    Thanks Mark for stopping by and for the tasty pics and vids. Although I didn’t ask a question, I was very interested in your visit.

    I have really enjoyed the VFX for SGA. All the best and congrats on the nomination!!


  14. Whoa…

    Amazing! The interview, the photos, the videos, absolutely amazing blog entry day! Heck, I put that image of the Wraith Hive exploding as my background image (needed a new one anyways). Thank you so much for allowing this opportunity Joe!

    Thanks again, and it’s so neat to learn as much as you can about a show as we can do here. 🙂

    – Enzo Aquarius

  15. Thank you Mark!! I found that very, very intriguing. I loved reading it, great guest blogger. 🙂

  16. I’ve heard you’re a fan of Evangelion. Any chance of an episode somewhere down the line wherein one or more of the characters exist entirely within the distorted landscape of their own minds, conducting unfathomably profound psychoanalysis?

  17. Hey Joe,

    This is my first time posting, and I just finished reading yesterdays blog. I feel so deprived right now. I have never had a milkshake at a burger joint ever. I think I’m missing out on an American (whoops, I suppose Canadian too) tradition.

    On the subject of Continuum:


    In Continuum, when Mitchell went back in time to hang out with his grandfather on the boat that was transporting the Stargate to the USA, how is he not 80 years old when we look at the next scene where the Ba’al symbiote is killed and everything is back to normal?

    Thanks for all the cool stuff you talk about here on your blog!


  18. Thanks, Mr. Savela, for a great Q&A. A fascinating and informative look on stuff I think is neat, but would never have the patience to do. 🙂

  19. Thanks Mark for your answers and the before and after videos, they are great! Hmmm only two drinks to go over your long story?

    Is it me or is the print wierd tonight (could be the few drinks I had with my sisters)?

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s show. My daughter, the one I make watch the show with me at least once a month, says she won’t lie, she likes the show. She actually can’t wait to see Broken Ties cause she thinks Ronan is “HOT”. Whatever works for her. I may have to wait for the midnight showing once again, people don’t know how to leave me alone on a Friday night.

    It seems like there are a lot of people here that comment from Australia, that is Cool. Me, just plain old New Hampshire of the US (so boring lol).

  20. I have a question, I noticed in some season 5 pictures on gateworld that Sheppard has gone from using a Beretta as a sidearm to a Colt (Possibly 1911) is there a reason for this?

  21. Hi, Joe! I’m at the San Diego Comic-Con. I didn’t win a ticket to see Contiuum on the USS Midway, darn it. I’m looking forward to hearing what can be told tomorrow at the panel. Apparently it’s been getting a lot of buzz because I was talking to some random folks and they said they were hearing a lot of people looking forward to attending the panel. Gee, I wonder why?

    Did you know Nicole de Boer is here? She’ll be here tomorrow (Friday), too, signing at the Lightspeed Fine Arts booth 3745. Bob Picardo will be signing at that booth too.

    (You can edit this if you don’t like me mentioning the company.)

  22. Savela and his crew are gods! They do THE best planetary scenes around – NASA should be 2% as good, then everyone would believe that they got to the Moon! It’s always the little details… like stars above the atmospheres that can just barely be seen… the whole super volcano thing from space…

    Also loved the colliding planetary debris of Asuras…

    And that steadi-cam shot of Ronon during his dream *was* seriously *SWEET*!!!

  23. Okay…. I learned the hard way, DO NOT read Joe’s Blog when hungry. Easy fix I figure, I now make sure to leave a little snack just for the reading of your blog. (Although, tonight’s blog wasn’t food devoted, I learned with you it is better safe then sorry.) So, here I am thoroughly enjoying Mark Savela’s guest appearance, he took so much time and care with each question that I found the answers enjoyable and an easy read. I was pleasantly surprised since I was slightly concerned that it would have been a little dry and on the technical side.

    I found myself reading all the way through the whole thing when nearing the end he said something that almost made me CHOKE on my popcorn. (So much for saving a snack for your blog!) After dislodging the kernel, regaining air flow and grabbing a glass of water, (yes, I know… you are not suppose to drink water if your choking, but the bloody popcorn made me thirsty!) I had to go back to the blog and re-read that passage.
    Yup! I read it right…

    [quote] Look at me. I’m a kid from a very small town in Ontario, Canada (Kirkland Lake) and I’m working on the best science fiction show on television.[/quote]

    NO WAY! A fellow KL kid! You have to understand just how SMALL this town is! I will have to go through my old KLCVI high-school book now and see if I can find him. I honestly enjoyed today’s blog, and discovering it was written by an old KL boy just made it that much more of a treat. Even if it was almost at the cost of a self preformed Heimlich maneuver. I may have to reconsider these snacks.

    Thanks for another great blog Joe, your the best!

  24. Hey Joe!

    Great guest blog, by the way! My brother used to do CG projects when he was going for his graphics design degree. I always loved looking at his work during the stages. Sadly he ended up having to change majors last minute because his school wasn’t holding the one class he still needed for the degree. Kinda lame if you ask me…

    Oh and as a last note, since right now its 12:07 am here where I am, today’s my birthday! For the rest of you further west, tomorrow (the 25th) is going to be my 20th birthday! If I could get a dedication, that would be awesome! And ironically, me and my friends are going to be having a Stargate SG-1 marathon, only interrupted by the new episode of SGA airing. I have inducted two crazed people to the Stargate universe, they spent all of this evening shouting at the television that they wished they could shoot Maybourne. So yeah, crazed…

    Anyway, time to head off to sleep, I’m getting breakfast made for me in the morning!


  25. Ack! So much to reeeeeaaaaaaadddd!

    I skimmed. 😀

    Thanks Mr. Savela for your time, even if I didn’t read it all. I don’t like knowing too much about the VFX, simply because it takes some of the magic away knowing how it’s all done. I don’t want anything to interfere with my suspension of disbelief…unless it’s a blooper. 😀

    @ pg15 – Thing is, Steve wasn’t my first Wraith. Todd was…no, I take that back. First was Michael – I kinda-sorta watched Michael because of the Star Trek connection. Then Sateda. Then Common Ground. Sateda and Common Ground were the first two episodes I really watched start to finish. Didn’t see Steve for the first time until this past January. Before that I had caught Travelers, The Seer, Miller’s Crossing, BAMSR, and SoW…so, by the time I finally saw Steve, I was pretty familiar with the Wraith.

    Todd was the one who sucked me in, though. Perhaps, if I had seen Steve years ago, I would have been a fan from the get-go. OR…I would have dumped the show after the first season…after Bob’s murder. Knowing about Todd made watching the earlier seasons much easier for me.

    It’s hard to say which Wraith is my favorite – I like so many of them for different reasons, but my two top favorites are Todd, and Steve. Todd, because he’s so well-rounded and developed, with a great personality and this air of masculine sexuality that makes him come across a little different from his more androgynous fellows. And Steve, for his sheer beauty and conceit, and the perfection of his performance… and his pout, can’t forget that pout. Spoiled little thing, wasn’t he? 😉 IF other Wraith lasted more than 5 minutes in an episode, I’d probably have a dozen or so green life-suckers fighting for first place on my list of favorites…but, alas…none live long enough to really make an impact. I keep hoping for more individual Wraith development, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll just be lucky if they manage to keep Todd alive…


  26. Thanks Mark!
    And an extra big thank you for the clips. Its interesting to see the before and after.

  27. Hey Joe,

    I did notice that in some episodes of Atlantis there are some references to the 60s Batman TV show and various references to other shows and movies, who usually thinks of them and includes them in the episodes?

  28. Thank you so much, Joe, for having Mark as a guest blogger, and thank you to Mark for his great answers. I didn’t come up with any questions for him before this post, but I’ve got a bunch now that were prompted by his answers here. Hopefully he’ll be back for another guest appearance again sometime.

    I have a question for you about the last of today’s mailbag questions. If you did want to use something from that nanotech article for a future story on SGA, would you be prevented from doing it because of any legal concerns since you found out about the article from someone on your blog? I know you are all restricted (whether you had any interest of not) from reading fanfic and the like because of legal issues, but I’m wondering if the same rules apply for this sort of thing.

  29. Hey Joe.

    First off, WOW…a great Q&A plus an awesome mailbag! Thanks both Mark and Joe! Also great pictures and videos to accompany such a good post!

    Joe, before you actually begin writing an episode script are all of the other writers involved in the development of the basic idea, then you just write it? Or do you come up with the storyline and write it all on your own?

    Thanks Joe!

  30. @ Rose: Your friends have led you astray. There were obvious, OBVIOUS hints of romance between Jack and Sam. More than obvious, it was stated outright in 1 episode, in fact.

    @ das: Wow, I never knew you started the series so randomly…and yet…Wraithily. Haha. It’s no wonder you’re a fan of them; you watched all the Wraith-heavy episodes first!

    More marathon reviews, fresh off of the presses!

    The Storm: Yet another awesome episode! Although, I’d place it right below the premier as it’s mostly setup. Still, it’s still full of great character stuff and it introduces one of Atlantis’s best villains. The concept itself, for the episode, that a storm is coming, was a great one, and a natural one to tackle for an exposed base like Atlantis. The first half of the episode had me roaring with laughter with quite a few hilarious moments, mostly from McKay and Zelenka. Their banter is just some of the best stuff the series has offered (which is why I’m looking forward to their scene in Remnants). Stuff like “Now that, for reasons too boring to get into, means that hurricanes are much more likely to occur.” “Well, like El Nino, the ocean…” “Like I said, too boring to go into.” And “You know, you’re not pleasant when you’re like this, McKay.” “I’m always like this.” “My point exactly.” And “That’s interesting.” “Not really.” “No, not really.” And finally “Mmm, it might give us a better than 90%…” “70” “80% chance.” Just…brilliant stuff. I miss it. Bring it back, Joe. On the Genii side, things are looking…alright. The “let the enemy fight and beat his opponents badly to show how incredible he is” scene was a cool scene, but a bit clichéd. But, it’s a good way to introduce Kolya and reestablish Sora. The true dangerousness of Kolya, though, is only revealed later as he shows us his calm, calculating side as he talks pragmatism with Cowen, and heartlessly gain the IDC code of Atlantis from a poor Athosian (who was a great drunk, very funny and convincing). It’s from these scenes that we see how deadly Kolya really is.

    The rest of the episode was entertaining enough, with great lines like “Yes — theoretically. “Like dinosaurs turned into birds theoretically, or theory of relativity theoretically?” “What?! Uh, sort of between.” And “Uh, it’s a brisk walk away.” “And by ‘brisk’, you mean…’far’.” “By ‘walk’, I mean ‘run’.” “Ok.” Just hilarious banter between Shep and McKay. Oh, and there were some pretty funny stuff between Beckett, Teyla, and Ford as well, but I liked the main 3 much better in this case. The rest of the episode basically offers us a taste of Kolya’s genius and Shep’s true abilities, which we only saw a few hints off before this. The scene where he collects his gear was great, as he, in true professional form, inform the others of the situation quickly and commandingly. I loved that. This whets our appetite for the things to come. Now, that last scene was just plain awesome. I didn’t mind the apparently-bad CGI that I remember hearing about on the episode’s commentary, as I was concentrating much more on the dire situation we were in. But what really sold that scene was Sheppard. Damn, Joe F. can scream. Just the pure intensity and desperation in his voice as he shouted out Kolya’s name; it was chilling, and it’s really the first time, I think, we saw Sheppard that angry and emotional, which I just loved seeing. It added to his character a whole other layer, and I think it’s truly the first time we saw how important his team, his “family” was to him on Atlantis. It was also an excellent place to leave us off for a few weeks while the fans squirm over what might happen.

    Great episode, but this one doesn’t compare to the awesomenisity of…

    The Eye: My new #1! This episode was just brilliant in so many ways. Besides the incredible CGI, the never-ending twist and turns in the plot, the most incredible thing was how far it pushed our characters out of their comfort zones; and I mean every one of them. But really, the star of the episode was Sheppard.

    For the first time we saw how dark Sheppard can be. We always knew he had had this streak in him, but this was the first time he was pushed to the edge in such a manner. The initial scene of Kolya informing him that Weir was dead, and he just deadpans, “I am going to kill you.”; like so many of Joe Flanigan’s performances, it was understated in such a way as to be truly chilling. He says it like a fact. Not a warning, not a threat, but a fact. He WILL kill him. That was incredible. From there, you can just feel the rage he felt just beneath the surface, but he must keep cool for now. You writers just brilliantly spun out the ensuing cat-and-mouse game. Every “trick” was smart and, dare I say it, “cool”. Sheppard was totally focused on the kill, all sympathy lost for the enemy. The way he took care of those soldiers by hiding in the rafters directly above them and shooting them in the head…WOW. That’s cold. But that’s what makes Sheppard awesome. But what really impressed me is his other trick. It was genius. The way he just snuck up on the Control Room like that and turned on the gateshields. Instantly, Sheppard killed almost 60 people. That was just disturbing, and I’m left with two ways to think about this. Either Sheppard, due to what the enemy has done to him by ways of killing Weir, has detached himself from feeling any sort of emotions towards the enemy and thus capable of killing so many without feeling remorse afterwards…or he was driven by emotions so much so that he wanted the enemy to pay for what Kolya had done. He wanted them dead, not just to secure Atlantis, but as revenge. I’m leaning towards the former, but the latter would be a very interesting and disturbing way of thinking, which is good. Well anyway, Sheppard, more-than-anyone, earned major brownie points with me with this episode. He showed me his professionalism, and how far he is willing to go. And so far, he hasn’t reached his limit yet. That’s what makes him so interesting, and that’s why he’s an awesome character.

    Ok, moving on. Though Sheppard shone in this episode, the other characters did as well. Weir and Rodney both faced certain death like never before and revealed to us new ways of looking at their characters. Weir seemed to be genuinely terrified, and though some may not like the “the girl gets to be the scardy-cat” thing, I thought it was wonderful. It didn’t make her look weak at all; no, it made her vulnerable whereas she had been very strong-spirited in the previous episodes. We saw a new side of her, and for that I loved it. Torri did a wonderful job portraying the shaken-to-the-core heroine that, for the first time, literally stared down the barrel of a gun. And yet, it wasn’t all like that. As she and Rodney worked together you can see how her courage came back as Kolya begin playing by her terms: negotiation. Sheppard has pushed Kolya to use not force, but his mind, which is something Weir can certainly match. But still, by the end, as Sheppard shoots Kolya through the Stargate, we saw how disturbed by this whole experience Weir really was, and I can’t blame her.

    Now, Rodney was a different story. The weak-willed man who gave up the secrets of their plans to save the city in the previous episode more-than-redeemed himself by standing in front of a gun for Elizabeth, and then later throwing the truth back in Kolya’s face that he needs both of them as he is literally pushed to the edge of the platform, the sea churning beneath him. Those were powerful moments. Again, it’s the character transformations that make for good drama; seeing Rodney, though stammering and ranting, put his life on the line for another was a wonderful thing to see, and really made me cheer for him; and by the end of the episode, he was similarly tricking the Genii as he stalls and stalls while they were none the wiser. Just great stuff.

    We had some wonderful performances from the Genii as well. This all seemed, for Sora, to be way over her head as they loose more men; and Ladon even got my sympathies as he looked down sadly after his men were lost. Kolya though, my goodness, he was brilliant. After an episode of cool, calm, and collected-ness, he loses it as Shep kills off 60 men in one shot. He certainly underestimated him. But then, he goes right back to his calculating ways, and until the end, he had the upper hand, with Rodney and Weir in his grasp…but he underestimated Sheppard again, and paid for it.

    We also had the smaller storyline with Ford, Beckett, and Teyla. They too went through some readjustment in their characters due to the extreme circumstances, even though it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the previous 3. Ford was forced into a command position (and forced to put up with Carson’s whining. Haha.), and he pulled it off pretty well. Carson was forced to confront his fears of playing soldier and flying a PJ, while Teyla was forced to battle against someone she once thought as a friend, and who was fighting with absolute conviction, and with nothing to lose. Teyla didn’t just had to defeat Sora, but she had to convince her to let go of her hatred of her. That fight was awesome.

    And it all culminates there. The excitement just built and built as the storm grew fiercer, and the situation becomes more desperate. The fight between Teyla and Sora didn’t seem to be winding down, and a massive wave is approaching. Those last few seconds before the big CGI shot was nail-baiting-ly tense. But then, that gets all released in a phenomenal CGI sequence that had me going “Wow” quite loudly. And then, the short, peaceful, and beautiful aftermath wraps up the 2-parter very nicely with yet another beautiful CGI shot of the city in clear weather. In fact, this episode had awesome CGI pretty much the whole way through; great music as well, especially during the climax.

    Brilliant, brilliant episode.

    The Defiant One: This is one of the darkest episodes of Atlantis. I enjoyed it pretty well, though I think, compared to the stellar episodes before this, it’s not as good. Sorry Whumpers and Wraith-lovers. Heh. As an episode it feels off-balanced. There are some wonderful character moments, but also some slightly slow parts while Sheppard is running around and/or eating. Still, when it’s brilliant, it’s downright shocking.

    The scenes before…uh…Greg the Wraith (?) pops up were genuinely creepy. The Wraith ship was wonderfully lit to convey a sense of mysteriousness, of something lurking in the shadows. The plethora of dead bodies and signs of recent activity helped in that too. The sudden quickening of the pace of the episode right as Greg appeared, with his hallucinations and the various cues in the score really added to the peril. From here on out, the story splits in 2. I must say, the scenes with Rodney were the most interesting ones (again, sorry Whumpers). As I said, this episode was dark, and this is as dark as it gets. For the first time, we examine how someone deals with their situation when they’ve been half-fed, basically. What really struck me was how “real” the reaction was. Richard Cox did a wonderful job making me feel for poor Dr. Gaul. The sheer terror he felt at being fed on and when he saw his drained face in the mirror, and later, the even more terrible acceptance of death just leapt off of the screen. Of course, none of that compares to when he took his own life. Everything seemed to be normal, and as soon as you saw him raise the gun, you just know. Then boom! The hand flops down. There was no blood, no shot of the wound, nothing. And yet, that was just disturbing on so many levels and remains for me one of the darkest moments of Stargate. Rodney’s reaction to that was that of absolute shock, and I think I had the same expression on my face at the time. Speaking Rodney, Gaul acted as a good foil for him, showing us how he’s changed from the snarktastic coward he used to be, to the snarktastic-coward-with-the-spirit-of-a-warrior-sort-of we know him as now. I loved that little exchange, especially with what Rodney did in The Eye previously.

    Meanwhile, the Shep scenes were entertaining enough, and once again I loved seeing the military side of Shep coming out and strategizing. I don’t have much to say here though, as it was basically that: Shep strategizing and trying to take back his ship. I enjoyed it though. The ending with McKay and Sheppard working together was just plain fun, and I was on the edge of my seat as Greg crept closer and closer to our heroes; it was also nice that they had a small moment for Gaul. So overall, a solid episode.

    Hot Zone: Like 38 Minutes, when I watched this episode for the first time, I was really pumped up on how the hell they were going to get out of this one. On a second viewing, however, I realized that knowing how the plot went took quite a bit away from the excitement I felt watching it for the first time. Still, there were some great character moments here that I enjoyed. First, I gotta give props to all the actors; their hysteria at the moment of death was truly disturbing and gave the disease a much more threatening feel than your typical disease-episode disease. This, in turn, made the episode a lot more urgent, and especially frightening as our main characters realize that they’re the next victims. David Hewlett did a masterful job portraying the dead-man-walking man, making me feel terribly afraid for his fate even though I knew he wouldn’t die. I especially loved that moment where he suddenly shrieked and tried to dive under the table as he faces those terrifying visions. It was so sudden and so human, that at that moment, Rodney let go of all composure and gave into his primal fears of death…it was damn powerful. I loved it. His reactions throughout the episode also contrasts with his behavior back in Hide and Seek, where he was a mess. This makes it clear to me one thing: if Rodney’s gonna die, give him something to do, something to take this mind off (it also explains why he “regressed” in Quarantine). Anyway, the scene where Rodney spills his guts as he faces death was another powerful one; like with Weir in The Eye, this was the closest Rodney has ever gotten to death at this point, and his sincerity comes out, still imbued with a little of his trademark attitude. When he doesn’t die, he becomes overjoyed. I loved that moment because, once again, we see the absolute human side of these characters. He just blurts out “I don’t care! I mean, I REALLY don’t care!” when the others question this miracle. On any other serious SciFi he’d probably think about this, but the sheer humanity of it; I mean, would any of us care at that moment? No, of course not! We’d just be happy we’re alive! I loved that human response; it’s what drives my continued appreciation for Stargate.

    Meanwhile, we have yet another storyline that SG1 cannot really explore: Sheppard vs. Weir. It was another first, in this episode: the first time we saw Weir that pissed. The silent rage bubbling beneath her blank visage as she hesitated before answering Sheppard about the whereabouts of Peterson (who was portrayed excellently by Damon Johnson, by the way; he played “absolutely terrified and determined” very well) was just plain scary. On the whole, I loved this direction you guys went; while Sheppard’s rebellious attitude was brought out in full, something foreshadowed in the pilot, Weir’s attitude at the end seems to have put a damper on that. While the episode ends somewhat ambiguously on this point (“you have to trust me.” “I do!” “Do you?”), I think Shep earned a whole new respect for her for this (not that he didn’t respect her before, of course), knowing that she’s not the same kind of superiors that he was used to disobeying orders from.

    The whole solution to the problem was a cool one. I mean, who doesn’t like a huge explosion? But of course, the more interesting point is in the foreshadowing. I can only chuckle as the episode ends on a mystery with an answer that I am all too familiar with. Solid episode.

  31. Many thanks to Mr Savela for coming by — that was fascinating stuff!

    I just took a look at the upcoming SGA schedule and found out that “The Shrine”, the ep that, as a ginormous McKay fan, I am *dying* to see, will air the day after my birthday!

    I couldn’t ask for a better belated b-day pressie! And now I shall go to bed a very happy Wolfie!


    Oyasumi nasai! (Or, by the time you get this, probably ohayo gozaimasu! Or even konnichiwa? Or konban wa? XD Eh, ja nata ne!)

  32. Happy Sysadmin Day everybody – and especially to those at the VFX facility of Stargate Atlantis.

    Today is Systems Administrator Appreciation Day. This means that you should take the time to appreciate the technical folk that make Stargate Atlantis tick from the production offices computers, through to the editorial and production systems kit. Because if you don’t, they’ll post all those naughty emails and website lists to MGM. Probably.

    And as a former systems administrator at one of London’s top visual effects facility, we were often ignored by VFX supervisors and producers (in which one of them asked me if I could retrieve a sent email because she had accidently sent out confidential studio information to her team – she didn’t stay around much longer). This is the kind of thing we put up with (as well as often underestimated requirements for disk storage and backups – having to contantly pull previous assets from tape/nearline because somebody somewhere deleted them from the live system trying to be helpful).

    So appreciate your system admin, or else!! We generally prefer chocolate cake, I should add 🙂

  33. And from my own experiences of system admining on broadcast shows in London, the long-form TV/commercials/TV shows did more with a limited budget and access to far less technical resources than their film counterparts. It even won them a few awards for their efforts.

    And this is why I love shows like Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica because everybody is working up against limited time, budgets and resources and yet produce such wonderful work.

  34. coucou =) sa va Joseph?

    Merci pour cette sympatique mise a jour =)!!

    Snif moi mon nouvelle ordinateur va me rendre folle!!!
    Vista me cause plein de probléme sur internet, j’ai du télécharger Firefox, et sa va meiux =)

    Merci d’avoir répondu a mes questions^^! Toujour aussi gentil♥

    Et bien moi, quand ,je suis en vacance, j’aime tout les heures de la journée^^! Sinon je préfér la nuit pour faire un gros dodo^^!

    Tient il réste des rôles! ..humm si vous voyer un français qui passe par là…on ne sais jamais! lol ( j’ai toujour de l’éspoir^^)


    1) Y’a t’il un livre que vous avez toujour rêvez de lire, mais que vous n’avez pas encore pu? Lequel?
    2) savez vous deja, si a la fin du dérnier épisode de la saison 5 vous allez mettre “To be continued” ou “The End” ?

    Aller, gros bisou, je vous adore fort fort!! Bonne journée =)

  35. Wow! Thanks Mark Savela for taking the time to answer all of our questions. You went all out! That was great.

  36. Answer: Just last season, fans were complaining that it was McKay who was always saving the day.

    Any chance we get to see Woolsey save the day? Because that would be fun.

  37. Hi, can you please tell us whether or not we’ll hear anything about the Tria this season?


  38. Thank you Mark Savela for answering the questions (and Joe for making this possible)!

    It’s an interesting insight into the VFX work.

    And SGA looks great.

  39. Mannn, I should not catch up on your blog before lunch! All that food from yesterday *salivates*

    I watched Adrift the other day and I thought the stuff at the Midway station looked real 0.0

  40. It’s me again today.

    Assuming the Wraith feeding process is always connected with the chest (since we haven’t seen something else?): Why is that so? Must there be some kind of connection to the heart? And if so, why is the heart more special than for example the carotid artery?

    Will we learn more about what exactly happens during the feeding process in future episodes?

  41. I am, as always, totally in awe of all the creativity and sheer hard work that goes into providing such top class entertainment for us fans/stalkers/obsessives* and never moreso than when the behind the scenes chaps give us a personal glimpse of their particular sphere of expertise whilst muppets like me just sit open-mouthed going “oooh! ahhh! in appreciative tones. Joe, you and your crew are truly unique in the way you interact with us fans and I for one am cheering you on for a sixth,seventh,eighth, ninth and tenth season!

    *delete as applicable

  42. Packed jammed full today! Thanks Mark & Joe for all the answered questions & other visual goodies!!! Look how long it took me to go thru it.

    Broken Ties is one of my most-anticipated eps, eagerly looking forward to watching it LIVE. All DVRs are also set.

  43. Mark,
    You’re very funny! And clearly extremely talented at your craft. Thanks for the awesome “goodies” you brought with you, and for such detailed answers to questions. Good luck at the Emmies!

  44. Joe, thanks for having Mark sit in and thank you Mark, for doing so! I’m a big fan of the behind the scenes workings. The pre and post clips were great!

  45. Hey Joe!

    Again we are very spoiled. THANK YOU MARK!!! VFX people RULE! 😀 That was so much fun! The pics, the vids, etc. were all a treat. Take care of that cold, Mark. I hate them, too.

    And Joe: You came thru on the mailbag! WOOO HOOO! 😀

    As for Whispers, I can’t wait to see what Allie thinks of it when it finally does air. I’ll tell her your answers when I pick her up today from camp.

    @Narelle: I have to tell ya, at coffee with my sister and mom yesterday, I told them about your embarrassing moments and the three of us laughed until we cried. 😆 My sister hadn’t heard Allie’s story either. Good times!

    @Das: I used to live in Melbourne. My husband went to FIT for grad school. The middle is Orlando! 😀 Plenty to do there. And Wolfie lives near Orlando. Seriously, we can make this happen. Mwahahahaaaa!

    Trish 😀

  46. Hey Joe & Mark –
    Great stuff. I love the before and after VFX shots. Really shows how much the effects add to the show!

  47. They’re screening Continuum on the Midway?! The MIDWAY? Pardon me while I go twitch in a corner. I hate the frickin’ Midway; she was homeported in Yoko while I was stationed there, and was a real pain in the tuckas overall.

    The frickin’ Midway. Trust me, “The Magical Midway” is NOT what the sailor’s call her.

  48. Holy crap, Mark Savela, that was the most interesting read I have had in a very long time!

    For someone who grew up wanting to do special effects in movies, everything you said had my complete attention and I was oblivious to everything else around me.

    Unfortunately, I must get back to my not-nearly-as-cool-or-interesting-or-fun day job… I’m feeling very much right now like I should have said no thanks to this web development schtick and followed my childhood dream!

    I envy you and give you a huge pat on the back for all teh great work you’ve done.

    Best of luck on the nomination, I most certainly am pulling for you!

  49. Thanks Joe for giving Mark Savela the chance to answer fan questions. The answers were fascinating. I particularly loved the behind-the-scene stories about the Rod/Rodney scenes in McKay & Mrs. Miller.

    @wolfenm: You and I share the same birthday! (I’m sure, however, that you are a lot younger than I am). And as a huge David H/Rodney fan, I also can’t wait to see The Shrine – the pics on GW have gotten me even more excited if that is possible. What a great belated birthday gift!

  50. About using recent, real technological advancements for an eppy – why not? I can’t imagine there’s a difference if Joe saw this article on his own or if I sent him the link to it. Now, if I had pitched an entire storyline with specific situations happening to characters, then that may be something else. But I would imagine this particular idea is fair game & think there are many ways to run with it. I just have a 14 mo. old & don’t have time to write fanfic 🙂

    Art imitates life…

  51. *I don’t understand the ratings system for TV programmes. What does the number – 1.35 (or whatever) actually mean?

    And what is a good score and what is a bad score?

    *I saw the second episode – does nobody put the lights out in Atlantis – it looks pretty glowing in the dark, but what a waste of ZPM power.

    *When Carson fell out of the freezer whould he not have just fallen forward instead of to the side?

    *In the 100th episode – is there any chance of Lulu (or Mars) doing a cameo as a sniffer dog of some kind. The dog could lead Colonel Sheppard to the suspect – or the mess hall.

  52. Thanks Mr. Savela, the Q and A was a great read! Also, congratulations on the nomination. Vancouver needs more Emmys.

    Will you be doing a live Q and A session at the next GateCon in Vancouver? You should! It would be amazing.

    Say “hi” to the Andromeda VFX alumni on your in-house team for me!


  53. @PG15 – I KNEW that was going to get me in trouble. *g* I guess I’m going to have to buckle down and get all of SG-1 on DVD so I can judge for myself!



  54. Joe,

    I just received BREAKING NEWS email from SyFy Portal: “Brad Wright announces that a third Stargate movie is in the works”

    So is this aforementioned breaking news Project Terzo or Project Twilight?

    Inquiring Stargate Geeks want to know! (have a great weekend!)

  55. Thank you Mr. Savela for that Q&A! It just makes me appreciate more all of the hard work that is put behind a finished episode.

  56. Thank you Joe for having Mark Savela. It nice to know about what happens behind the scenes to produce SGA.
    Looking forwards to the interviews you got lined up.

    Please tell Mark thank you for answering the question, the photos and the 3 videos they really give you a good idea of the hard work the whole team from in front and behind havaae done. Good luck on the nomination.


  57. Just one question I’m kinda curious about, which occured to me when watching Travellers on Sky One earlier today. You talked about a seemless version of an episode, which you put together for the DVD releases. Is this the version that gets sent out to other countries for their individual broadcasts, or do you send out the same version that gets delivered to Sci-Fi? The reason I’m wondering is because Sky always put advert breaks at different points then Sci-Fi do (i.e. not always at the end of an act), so do you send out a seamless version so other countries can choose where to put their advert breaks without the normal flow of the episode breaking?

  58. Hello from Comic Con! Just checking in to say all 3 panels were really fun, and it was awesome of the cast to visit the Stargate booth for autographs afterward, even if most fans had no idea this was going to happen and didn’t get tickets!

    Marty G. did a great job as MC of the Atlantis panel. I laughed out loud when he said the reason Mitchell doesn’t visit Atlantis is that he and Ben have a personal conflict that becomes physical and dangerous to both of them. Very clever. More later at Solutions but it was wonderful, the crowds were big and happy, and the tribute to Don S. Davis left not a dry eye in the house or on the stage. ((((the cast)))) Also, RDA is Jack, I’m convinced of it now.

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