From the spring 2012 Oregon Stater
By Theresa Hogue
As a train rumbles and coughs past the brick walls of a studio in northeast Portland, Guy Cappiccie, ’08, puts his fingers in his ears and laughs. It’s one of the few intrusions the outside world makes on the 20 or so animators, artists and designers lined up at desks around the room, intently focused on a myriad of magical creatures on their computer screens.
Cappiccie, visual effects supervisor and creative lead for Hive-FX in Portland, has gotten used to working weekends and spending the occasional night in his office. But the sacrifice is worth it because every Friday night on NBC he can view the results of his team’s work, when new episodes of the supernatural series “Grimm” air. Hive-FX is the lead visual effects team working on the show, and has been scrambling with tight weekly deadlines to create the fairy-tale beasts among Grimm’s cast of characters.
The show follows the life of Portland Police Detective Nick Burkhardt, who discovers he is descended from a long line of Grimms, whose job it was to hunt down and kill creatures that most humans believe only exist in fairy tales. The creatures are normally disguised as regular humans, but when Nick sees their true natures, they morph into monsters. That’s where Cappiccie’s team comes in. The artists digitally alter human actors into a virtual menagerie of creatures, from bees to witches to big bad wolves.
“It’s really rewarding to see your work on a national television show a week after you’ve finished,” Cappiccie said.
Hive-FX competed hard to land the “Grimm” pilot, and as a result of getting the job has been able to expand its workforce to nearly 30 people. Cappiccie originally joined Hive-FX about eight months after graduating from OSU with a degree in graphic design, working primarily on the company’s then-biggest account, Nike.
A Texas native, Cappiccie spent his last two years of high school in Salem, and originally came to OSU intent on pursuing a degree in engineering. But a basic art course changed his mind when he became fascinated with Photoshop, and he soon switched his major to graphic design. OSU teachers Brian Kerr, ’94, and Christine Gallagher inspired him and an internship with OSU Marketing helped him realize that his passion could translate into a career.
For the first few months after graduation Cappiccie struggled to get his foot in a door. He survived doing freelance work, then landed the Hive-FX position, starting as a content developer and then moving up the creative chain. Working on a variety of projects helped him develop new skills, so when the opportunity to work on “Grimm” came along, he was in a great position to take the lead.
“It’s been great working with Hive. It’s so small that I’ve had a lot of trust from the owner,” he said. “It’s been fun to venture out and see what I like to do.”
After fighting to become the primary creature house for “Grimm,” and bulking up its staff as much as possible, it’s been a non-stop rush for Hive to keep up with demand.
For Cappiccie, the first step of the production process is to go on set during filming to capture the actors as they work on scenes in which they will morph into creatures. He works with NBC concept artists and producers to get a 3-D model of the characters his team will be creating, and then has to modify the original concepts to the face and style of the actor.
Understanding the characters’ motivation is important to creating creatures that fit the story, so Cappiccie is usually three to four scripts ahead, getting to know each creature well before it gets any screen time. Although there are plenty of available sources for fairy-tale illustrations, the Hive artists base their work on the look and behavior of actual animals, like foxes and pigs and – of course – beavers, trying to keep the creatures true to their animal nature.
Modelers, texture artists, lighting artists and compositors all work on each creature, with Cappiccie overseeing the work as it speeds to completion.
“It’s great to have all these resources and have all of these folks be killer,” he said.
Key to Cappiccie’s work is maintaining a creative, back-and-forth with producers and the rest of the team.
“The original drawings never match with what the actor looks like,” Cappiccie said. During early episodes it took a lot of experimenting to navigate between what the producers and directors wanted, and what could actually be done.
“They trust us a lot more now,” he said. “They just want us to make it look awesome.”
Each character presents its own challenges, but their biggest adventure so far is for an upcoming episode where a fire dancer morphs into a dragon, which is the team’s first full-body morph.
A bit less challenging but quite fun was an episode in which beaver characters appeared in a scene dressed as OSU Beaver fans. Cappiccie and co-worker James Chick, ’08, are the only OSU alums in an office full of Ducks, so getting to work on the beaver creatures was quite fun.
Cappiccie decorates his desk in Beaver paraphernalia during football season, so seeing OSU represented on the show is pretty satisfying, even though he wishes the beaver characters were a bit less timid. He pointed out that the character Juliet, who is Nick’s girlfriend and a veterinarian, sometimes wears OSU gear because her character supposedly graduated from the OSU vet school.
“It’s really an Oregon-centric show,” Cappiccie said.
While news was just released that “Grimm” has been renewed for a second season, it’s unclear whether the production will remain in Portland. If it does, Cappiccie has high hopes that Hive-FX will continue its strong relationship with the show, but even if “Grimm” relocates, he believes the experience will leave Hive-FX well positioned for future television and film work.
“It would be fun to work on a feature film and really get down and do some killer work,” he said. “The last three Grimm episodes we just finished are really getting to feature (film) work quality. We’re doing really good work and it would be nice to step up that quality without that tight turnaround.”
Someday, Cappiccie would love to go to graduate school and teach graphic design to a host of new enthusiastic artists. But for right now he’s grateful he’s found himself among a strong team of creative creature makers, and thinks the future is bright for Hive-FX.
“The doors are gonna be wide open.”
Theresa Hogue is internal communications coordinator with OSU News & Communications.