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Watch: How 'The Orville' seamlessly used VFX for a classic, Kirk-style alien hook-up in 'New Horizons'

The digital tinkering is so subtle, we bet you didn't even notice it was there.

By Josh Weiss
The Orville Season 3 Episode 3

Computer-generated effects have come so far in the last three decades, that we've reached a point where it has become common practice for nearly every Hollywood production to hire a VFX vendor, even if the film or television show doesn't require a great deal of digital enhancement. It's not just for dinosaurs, dragons, and space battles, anymore — CGI now covers a wide breadth of production goals (from subtle touch-ups to set extensions) meant to further immerse the viewer without them being any the wiser.

You can see how inconspicuous the field has become with an exclusive VFX breakdown of a scene featured in the season premiere of The Orville: New Horizons. There are no explosions or warping spaceships here, only a quiet exchange between John LaMarr (J. Lee) and Irillia (Alexis Knapp) as the titular vessel cruises amongst the stars. The digital tinkering for this sequence was handled by the Emmy and Oscar-winning Pixomondo, which has also worked on major genre projects like The Boys (Prime Video), Star Trek: Discovery (Paramount+), The Umbrella Academy (Netflix), See (Apple TV+), Game of Thrones (HBO), and the upcoming Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

"This sequence showcases PXO’s abilities to handle invisible effects," the company told SYFY WIRE over email. "If you can't see the effect, it's well done. We think a human and alien conversing together in bed looks pretty seamless here ... Working on a sequence [like this] is not exactly the most common thing you see. At the time, we did not have any context of the sequence or what the two characters were talking about. It was when the episode aired that we finally got to know what they were discussing."

Check out the clip below:

The Orville: New Horizons VFX Exclusive

"PXO had to replace Irillia's entire body," the company explains. "To maximize the quality of the work, we first removed the entire body and recreated the background behind it. But there was a lot of contact with the sheets and her body. We rotoscoped every interacting element and those above the actors that we had to keep. We worked by assigning a color to each element to facilitate our work organization. For example: the hands in green, the sheets in blue, the lollipop in pink, etc. When our paint and roto base was perfect, we moved on to the CG integration. A team of body Matchmove and CG took care of the modeling, animation and lighting of Irrilia's body, which gave us an excellent base ... The most complex part was the blending between Irrilia's face and the 3D. We had a lot of paint tracking and warping adjustments to match the positions and integration exactly, so that there was no overlap or visible blending. We think the final result is pretty amazing."

Created by Seth MacFarlane and set in the 25th century, The Orville follows the day-to-day operations of a starship crew tasked with exploring the cosmos as emissaries of the Planetary Union. Drawing from cultural touchstones like Star Trek: The Original Series, the show provides a more light-hearted riff on classic science fiction. 

MacFarlane leads the cast as Captain Ed Mercer and serves as an executive producer with Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jon Cassar, Jason Clark, and Howard Griffith. Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, J Lee, Mark Jackson, Chad L. Coleman, Jessica Szohr, and Anne Winters co-star.

Seasons 1-3 are now available to stream on Hulu.

Looking for more sci-fi? Check out Battlestar Galactica, Brave New World, and more streaming on Peacock.