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Traveling Back to the 1950s with "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

VFX Supervisor Lesley Robson-Foster uses an URSA Mini Pro to help turn back time

The new hit show from Amy Sherman-Palladino ("Gilmore Girls") and Daniel Palladino ("Family Guy") takes viewers back to 1958 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when life abruptly changes for Miriam "Midge" Maisel after her husband leaves her. Breaking the mold and trying stand-up comedy quickly lands Midge in jail, while also landing her a lot of laughs. Starring Rachel Brosnahan ("House of Cards"), Alex Borstein ("Family Guy"), Tony Shalhoub ("Monk"), Marin Hinkle ("Two and a Half Men") and more, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" follows Midge as she adjusts to her new life and journeys further into the stand-up comedy world of the late 1950s.

Visual effects (VFX) veteran Lesley Robson-Foster ("Logan Lucky," "The Great Gatsby") joined the streaming series as VFX Supervisor. Having been at the helm for hit television series such as "The OA," "Boardwalk Empire," "The Wire," "Oz," "Sex and the City" and more, Robson-Foster is well versed in how to use supporting VFX to make a show successful. 

"The best supporting VFX are invisible," explains Robson-Foster. "There are 500 VFX shots in season one of 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' and I don't think anyone will be able to spot them - which is exactly what we want."

Robson-Foster continues, "Hopefully no one will think about the fact that we altered the street to be 1950s correct or that we changed the weather to suit the plot. The show's VFX are to keep things consistent with the story, not to draw attention away from it."

Robson-Foster and her team used a Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro digital film camera to shoot B roll, establishing shots and VFX plates for the series. Robson-Foster explains, "We had to shoot a lot of elements that would later be composited into shots. Extra snow, a painting that needed to be replaced, driving shots that will used through a rainy window - these are the small details that really add up when creating a consistent story through VFX. They are small touches but they go a long way in reinforcing the time period and the story line, allowing the audience to truly get lost in the show."

Let It Snow

Season one of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" takes place in the winter but production occurred during the summer. This meant that Robson-Foster and her team had to create some winter wonderland magic through practical and visual effects. 

"The weather elements are crucial for the flow of the story," explains Robson-Foster. "We needed it to be a snowy winter but we were actually shooting in summer's high heat. For the foreground, we used real shaved ice but in the deep background and for falling snow, we shot elements and composited them on during post."

Robson-Foster continues, "We used the URSA Mini Pro to shoot cascading shaved ice that the special effects team created for us. We then also collected plates of 'snow' on the ground to use in the final composite. These elements were then incorporated into the scenes during the VFX process, transforming summer to winter." 

Time Travel

With the show set in the past, it was important for Robson-Foster and her team to ensure that everything was accurate for the 1950s, which included sometimes creating shots from scratch. This included one that showed a subway train speeding away from the camera down a tunnel in New York City.

"We shot the interior of the train on a partial set and then created a CG train that we could composite into the shot," says Robson-Foster. "We then used the URSA Mini Pro to shoot a plate of a modern subway tunnel. Since the tunnel was shot in 2017 and we needed it to be 1958, we painted the plate to take away the modern lights, signals and graffiti. We then put them all together to make an animated sequence."

On the Move

"We first started looking at the URSA Mini Pro because of its dynamic range. Having 4K or higher resolution was crucial. I had used an URSA Mini 4.6K and other Blackmagic Design cameras in the past, so I knew it would deliver the look I wanted. 

"Moreover, we were drawn to its usability," Robson-Foster continues. "We loved the ease of use and how intuitive the user interface is, along with the large built-in monitor." 

Robson-Foster concludes, "Our goal was to be a self-contained unit that could run out at a moment's notice. We would react to the weather - if there was a good sky or a golden hour, we would run out with the camera and get wide establishing shots of the city. The camera's design really gave us that flexibility. The whole kit fits in one backpack that could easily be mobilized and shooting the establishing shots could easily be a one-person operation. It's so intuitive that anyone on our team could learn to use the camera within a half hour, which meant that we were never restricted."

About Lesley Robson-Foster
Lesley Robson-Foster is an award-winning VFX Supervisor. She is Emmy-nominated for her work on "Mildred Pierce" and "Boardwalk Empire," the latter of which she won a VES Award for. Robson-Foster has made her mark on a multitude of hit films and television shows, including "Logan Lucky," "Team America: World Police," "Vinyl," "Ugly Betty," and more. 

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