When Guy Cappiccie walks down the aisles of computers in his northeast Portland office, he often stops to check in with his co-workers to see how their projects are coming along. But instead of screens filled with Excel spreadsheets or Word documents, he’s looking at images of magical creatures slowly coming to life.
On one screen, a horned dragon stares balefully into the distance, while on another, a furry-headed beaver-like creature blinks timidly. Layer by layer, the digital creatures are being transformed into characters central to a popular Portland-based television show “Grimm.”
Cappiccie, (Oregon State, ’08) the visual effects supervisor and creative lead for Hive-FX in Portland, is 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” airs. Hive-FX is the lead visual effects team for the show and has been scrambling with tight weekly deadlines to create the fairytale beasts that make up Grimm’s unique 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 the 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, have been able to expand their work force to nearly 30 people. Cappiccie originally joined Hive-FX about eight months after graduating from Oregon State 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. He was inspired by his professors, including Brian Kerr and Christine Gallagher, and an internship with OSU Marketing helped him realize that his passion could translate into a career.
But for the first few months after graduation, Cappiccie struggled to get his foot in the door. He survived doing freelance work and finally 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 the Grimm series came along, Cappiccie 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 their staff as much as possible, it’s been a non-stop rush to keep up with demand. The first step for Cappiccie is to go on set during filming to capture the actors as they work on scenes that will be ‘morphed.’ 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.
Motivation is an important part of creating the characters, so Cappiccie is usually three to four scripts ahead and gets to know each creature well before it gets any screen time. And although there are plenty of sources of fairy tale illustrations out there, Cappiccie said his artists base their work on the look and behavior of actual animals, like foxes and pigs, trying to keep the creatures true to their animal, monster or nature.
A series of modelers, texture artists, lighting artists and compositors all work on each creature, and Cappiccie oversees the work the entire way.
One of the biggest challenges is the creative back and forth between producers and the team.
“The original drawings never match with what the actor looks like,” Cappiccie said, so during early episodes it took a lot of work to navigate between what the producers and directors wanted, and what could actually be created. But eventually, the work spoke for itself.
“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 the team’s biggest adventure so far is for an upcoming episode where a fire dancer morphs into a dragon. It is the team’s first full-body morph.
A bit less challenging but quite fun was a previous episode in which a number of beaver characters appeared in a scene dressed as Oregon State Beaver fans. Cappiccie and co-worker James Chic are the only OSU alumni 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 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.
‘Grimm’ is currently in its third season on NBC, and, although not official yet, is predicted to be renewed. Cappiccie has high hopes that his company will continue their strong relationship with the show, but even if they decide to relocate away from Portland, he believes the experience has positioned Hive-FX well 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 work quality. We’re doing really good work, and it would be nice to step up that quality without that tight turnaround.”
Some day, 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.”