“It changed, it shone and it did different things,” he says. The ruby seen on screen is a combination of a physical prop and CGI. According to Fitzgerald, at the beginning of a project, the visual effects team presents the props department with a list of items they’d like to see. Most items that actors physically interact with have a physical component, which the VFX team will manipulate in post-production. The ruby, however, had its own special effects. To create lighting from the fixture itself, Fitzgerald’s team worked with electricians. “[The electrical department] he helped us by making it shine in different ways,” he explains. “There was always a lot of magic behind the scenes just to make it do what it had to do.”
matthew the raven
Sometimes a character is also an accessory. One of those characters is Matthew the Raven, voiced by Patton Oswalt. Once a mortal human, Matthew transformed into a raven to be a servant to Dream. However, the highly realistic-looking, fully mobile bird shown on screen is not just a product of CGI: it is a combination of a physical object and an animation. “We have a physical prop that we offer,” explains Fitzgerald, “and then CGI and special effects are involved. Very often, it’s something the actor needs to interact with, and visual effects will take it from what we have and create their world.” The result in the episodes is a fluid version of the character, a convincingly believable talking bird who arrives with help just when Dream needs it most.
times of change
One of the biggest challenges of the series is that it spans such a long period, with subsequent episodes featuring a time span across seven centuries. While much of the series takes place in modern or fantasy settings, such as Dream’s realm and Hell, there are scenes that require investigation in different time periods. Fitzgerald, who worked on Game of Thrones, says single-stage shows are “easier because you’re only doing one period.”
In episode six of The Sandman, the “tavern sequence” begins in the 15th century, with Dream and Hob Gadling, whose death has been canceled by Dream’s sister Death, in an experiment on whether mortals would enjoy immortality, revisiting the same stage every hundred years. Each time, the sets had to be rearranged, and the costumes and props were adapted to the times. “You have to have the right data,” says Arthur. “I kept getting confused between 1589 and 1689 because they are similar, but they are not at all. So it was very important to investigate.”
However, it’s not all about precision. “You also always try to make it interesting,” says Fitzgerald. “So if you have a scene from the 1700s, then you have to give the actors in the background something to work with that makes the scene appealing, beyond addressing the period. There is a historical reference, but you end up inventing things that are not [hope will] to work.”
Arthur points out that, in some cases, the historical references are scarce. “When you go back hundreds of years, it’s not documented in images,” she says. Also, the background cast in the tavern sequence are commoners rather than nobles, and there are far fewer references to people who weren’t rich (they couldn’t afford things like portraits). “You have to read about it,” she says.