One of the best features of The Good Fight — besides, of course the return of Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart — is the opening titles of the CBS All Access drama. If you like watching things get blown to smithereens, you’ll love the inspired sequence that sets the stage for the new chapter in Diane’s life. We asked visual effects supervisor Lawson Deming, owner of Barnstorm VFX, to explain how he created this explosive work of art.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you explain how you came up with the idea?
LAWSON DEMING: We worked on The Good Wife for a number of years doing visual effects and had a good working relationship with executive producers Robert and Michelle King. When The Good Fight happened, there was no question that we would be involved in the visual effects, but we were pleasantly surprised when Robert also asked us to do a pitch for the titles. I took a risk and just focused on the one concept that I liked. The show begins by tearing down Diane Lockhart’s world and forcing her to rebuild it from scratch, so I hit on the idea of physical destruction of all the trappings of her life. We created some test images where I depicted white porcelain objects being smashed against a stylized black background. I’d imagined that we could create 3D CGI objects that represented Diane’s career as a lawyer and her luxury lifestyle and simulate them breaking in slow motion with visual effects. Robert was immediately attracted to the combination of elegance and violence in the images and felt that it was going in the right direction based on the narrative of the show. The new idea was exciting and terrifying at the same time. We realized immediately that doing CGI objects exploding in super slow motion would not be practical in the time frame we had to deliver the title sequence in, because simulating the destruction of complex objects made out of many pieces and multiple materials (such as a telephone or computer) was incredibly complicated compared to our original simpler idea of solid porcelain. That meant that we were going to have to do a physical shoot with specialized camera and lighting equipment necessary to capture motion at high speed. We used a high-speed cinema camera that could film at just over 5000 frames per second. When played back, the footage would appear 200 times slower than reality. Robert liked the test but he felt that the explosions were still too fast and were more violent than beautiful. He suggested that if we could make them maybe four times slower than they were, they would have the right aesthetic. We ended up needing to rent a camera that is normally used for scientific research in order to capture the nearly 25,000 frames per second that we ended up shooting at. Since this camera was not designed for motion picture use, we needed to do a lot of work in post to beautify the footage. We brainstormed with Robert and selected a number of items appropriate to the themes of the show, and he narrowed it down and ended up providing me a list in order of priority of the things he wanted to see destroyed. Among his suggestions were a full-sized desk and wooden chair. Our production designer, Lawson Brown, ended up building three copies each of the chair and desk in balsa wood to match actual items seen in Diane’s office in the pilot episode. The rest of the objects were completely real, and several duplicates were purchased of everything so that we could do multiple takes. Tom Ceglia, our special effects guy, rigged some items with explosives and shattered the glass objects with steel balls fired from an air gun.
Were you there when it was shot? What was it like?
In addition to being a visual effects supervisor, I am a cinematographer, and I both directed and photographed the shoot. I styled and lit each item as if we were making a glossy luxury ad for a fashion magazine, but even though the look is dark and seductive, the amount of lighting necessary to film at 25,000 frames per second was insane. My gaffer, Robert Lam, helped me determine the amount of power we’d need, and to light the four-foot square platform that we placed the small items on, his team ended up pointing nearly 200,000 watts of lighting right at it from just a few feet away. It was so intense that we could only put the explosives onto the objects right before we started filming or there was a risk that the heat would ignite the fuses prematurely. We even had the plastic casing of one of our computers start to melt after sitting for only a couple minutes while we were lighting it. We filmed for two entire days (in addition to our day-long test shoot), painstakingly positioning and lighting objects, blowing them up, and then playing back the footage to see if we needed to change anything for the next take. After the shoot was done, I personally did a rough cut of the material, and then Robert and I sat down together for several editorial sessions and experimented before coming up with the final order of the sequence. We took a lot of cues from David Buckley’s great theme music, which he wrote specifically for the titles, and we timed the explosions to the beat of the song. The baroque instrumental, which grows and develops over the course of the opening, creates this great additional layer to the piece. In particular, the combination of sound and picture at the beginning have a bit of a stuffy Masterpiece Theater vibe, which makes it all the more amusing and unexpected when the cymbals crash and things start blowing up. In addition to the shooting and editorial, I also put together the look of the title card itself, which is reminiscent of The Good Wife but replaces the more traditional serif font with slim, crisp lettering reflected on the same shiny black surface as the exploding objects.
The Good Fight airs Sundays on CBS All Access.