Few can deny that Isaac Asimov and his book Foundation are a major landmark in science fiction literature. It is a complex story that explores many important issues of society and culture all from the lens of a Galactic Empire far in the future. It is a work that has influenced movies, books and television, and while it is a complex story, it is one that deserves to be told.
First published as a series of short stories back in the 1940s, there is a lot of content to adapt and much of it potentially difficult to bring to the screen in an interesting and engaging way, but the team at Skydance Television took on the challenge and brought on a strong team, to make the vision a reality. CGMagazine was lucky enough to talk to two members of the VFX team that brought the world to life, Chris McLean and Mike Enriquez.
Discussing everything from how they got involved with Foundation to what they feel makes this series so enjoyable, the team details the process the project took to finally make its way from page to screen to amaze audiences everywhere.
CGMagazine: What drew you to Foundation, and what made you want to be part of this show?
Mike Enriquez: Honestly, the opportunity came up for me to join Foundation at a time when I didn’t really expect an opportunity like this to come up. So, as soon as I saw what the project was and especially a big Sci-Fi project, I was immediately on board. I’m a huge Sci-Fi fan and an opportunity to get to do the effect of a show at this level was something I couldn’t pass up.
Chris Mclean: I was invited to the show by a producer who I’ve worked with a couple of times. His name was Michael Malone, and he introduced me to David and Skydance. I read the book on my way to the interview, kind of had an idea of what it was supposed to be, and then got the script from Dave, and I was like, no, this is much better, it’s going to be much cooler and just kind of went for it. Also, being a first-time Foundation has been made, creating new Sci-Fi languages and getting to be a part of that? That’s too good to pass up.
CGMagazine: You mentioned reading the book on the way to the meeting. Did you know the author at all before jumping into the project?
Chris Mclean: I mean, I knew I, Robot, I knew who Isaac Asimov was, I haven’t been a lifelong fan or anything like that. It’s not like I grew up reading his books or anything like that. It was a virgin’s perspective on Asimov and what he was, but I had seen all the artwork, all of that kind of 70s Sci-Fi novel stuff was just always in my visual lexicon. So, it was just great to be able to work on something with such a deep history in sci-fi and the artwork and television shows and stories and other stories, and that it inspired. That was really what got me interested in it.
CGMagazine: Mike, were you a fan of this book before you jumped into Foundation?
Mike Enriquez: I mean, honestly, I was aware of the book and the influence it had on Star Wars and all the Sci-Fi I grew up with, but to be honest, it felt like my father’s Sci-Fi to be truthful. Once I heard about the show, that’s when I took a look and realized a lot of the ideas that were in there, but as Chris said, once I got all the scripts and read what David was doing with it, that’s when I really got excited because it felt something that a little more up my alley.
CGMagazine: How did you envision bringing the world of Foundation to life and did you feel anything could not be achieved with today’s technology?
Chris Mclean: I never felt like it was impossible. What I read in the book was a lot more simple than what came out in the script. The script was about a lot of world building, a lot of technology like the Starbridge in the space elevator, that was the first thing that I read, because that was the first script I was given as the pilot and reading that it’s like 40,000 Kilometre Space Elevator crashing into a planet and tearing a strip out of it, 40 layers deep, just thinking about the destruction simulation. Yeah, I think that’s going to take 10 years and cost $60 million, just for that sequence.
But we boiled it down, we got it into what became the style of visual effects shot that we did for the show. We really just focused on telling the story in three, four or five shots in a lot of these big sequences, and just making sure that they really drove home what was happening.
Obviously, I think it was like 50 shots in that sequence by the time we got to the elevator and all the pieces were put together. But that was always the outset: it was to be really minimalist with the visual effects shots and just focus on telling the story, instead of doing a bunch of extraneous shots or shots that we didn’t think needed to be made. So, that meant us working with the directors a lot, and just trying to rein in a lot of the extra stuff that they wanted.
CGMagazine: With Asimov being such a beloved author, was there any worry about bringing these things to life in a way that fans might just not accept?
Chris Mclean: Of course, that was a huge issue that we kind of dealt with. There is always the danger of alienating the core audience of fans of the genre in a book, especially with Asimov. But to bring in a broader audience, and to make the story relatable for a quadrant viewer, you kind of have to take some liberties and expand on it and take into consideration what’s actually happened with our own history as we move forward, because when Asimov wrote this, it was a lot of white men in power.
So, having Gail Dornoch be a black woman, and Savoir Arden be a black woman, it’s really diversifying the characters and then also diversifying the story in a way that makes the characters more relatable to a modern audience, I think was important for David.
CGMagazine: Is there anything in Foundation that viewers should look out for when watching the show?
Mike Enriquez: I feel like the tether collapse and the FTL jump are kind of, in my mind, what I feel the show’s vibe ended up being about, and I felt like we took pieces of that and made sure that the rest of the show kind of connected to the point level that will be hit there, Chris?
Chris Mclean: I would say it was Gail’s journey from Synnax all the way through to introducing the Starbridge and then continuing on with the Starbridge story into episode five, it really was the journeys. Like Gail’s journey from Synnax, it was one of those things where we were introducing a planet that nobody had ever seen before.
There are two men standing on the water, there’s this crazy wicker boat that she’s riding in with her parents and nobody really knows what’s going on, it is raising the sky. It’s just a very kind of abstract Sci-Fi image of this world that we tried to create, and then her all of a sudden getting sucked into the world of technology and seeing the Starbridge and seeing transfer for the first time and all of that.
That sequence to me, is probably the most powerful in the series. But even going back to her backstory in five, when we see more of Synnax and kind of find out what she was doing there. In the world of visual effects, anytime Gail leaves or goes back to the Synnax, that’s really my favourite part of the journey, or the favourite visual effects shots in the show.
CGMagazine: For people that might not know Foundation, or might not know Asimov at all, why should they tune in and watch the show?
Mike Enriquez: In my opinion, as a Sci-Fi nerd, the idea of new quality Sci-Fi is just how could you not, but also for the non-Sci-Fi nerds, there’s a lot more here in the show other than science fiction, I mean, there’s a lot of great drama, a lot of great character arcs, and a lot of great entry that, I’d be ashamed just to write it off as just another Sci-Fi show.
Chris Mclean: I think it’s more a show for people who are willing to play the long game and follow us over seasons, as opposed to just sticking with Season One, because Season One opens a lot of doors, and we’re going to be bringing a lot more to the table with Season Two and Season Three if it happens. A lot of the naysayers will be eating crow. So, let’s just put it that way.
If you love a good, complex character story across multiple planets and across multiple characters, it’s a real journey.