Jay Worth (‘Westworld’ VFX Supervisor) on depicting the future: ‘Every inch of this world is designed’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“Every inch of this world is designed,” says Emmy-winning visual effects supervisor Jay Worth for HBO’s “Westworld.” Season 3 of the sci-fi series pushed the story out of the titular theme park and into the real world of the future, which presented a whole new set of challenges. Watch the exclusive video interview above. 

Worth has been with the series since the first season and notes that in terms of effects, “anything we built inside Westworld, we always tried to make sure that there was going to be a way to build it in the real world.” That’s because series creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have always had plans to move the story beyond the limits of the parks. “They’re never content to tell the same story over and over again,” Worth reveals that the pair are “always pushing the style forward and seeing how far we can go with it.”

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The move into futuristic versions of Los Angeles and other real world locales required thorough brainstorms about how our world will progress in terms of technology and society. “Small details made it feel real,” describes Worth, who had conversations with Nolan about everything from how wide city streets should be, to traffic density, to whether or not stop signals would even exist (they don’t). The visual effects team makes subtle changes based on this vision of the world, including digitally eliminating parking meters and other items that don;t exist in the future. “When you’re watching [the show] you might not really pick up on it,” admits Worth, but the world “inherently feels real” because of these adjustments.

A common mantra of the production was to accomplish as much as possible with practical sets, and then have visual effects take over for the pieces that practical effects can’t cover. As a result, “Westworld” has a constant mix of real and CGI elements, so that the viewer accepts all aspects as real.

Worth points to the sleek rideshare vehicles as a great example of this concept. A physical car was built for the actors to ride around in, but there was also a stunt car used for chase scenes, in addition to digital work on certain shots. When it’s all combined together, the result is a believable, tangible futuristic vehicle. “From a visual effects standpoint, we could do everything,” says Worth, “but that’s not the point.”

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Also important in achieving a seamless blend of the real and digital worlds was the use of LED screens to render digital sets. Worth and Nolan had tested out the concept of projecting environments built in a video game engine about five years ago, but the technological capabilities weren’t quite ready. Now, they are able to deliver photorealistic results to expand sets in ways the audience would never notice. Charlotte’s (Tessa Thompson) Delos office, for instance, is conjured via an LED screen on set. Worth believes this technology is a perfect fit for the look he aims for on the show. “To be able to take this digital technology and then marry it with the film technology,” he describes, “it really created this image that really does feel like Westworld.”

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