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“Lab Rats: Elite Force” Brought To Life By Devoted Crew And Cool VFX

By: Marjorie Galas

Four years ago, a fourteen year old boy named Leo (Tyrel Jackson Williams) moved into his stepfather’s house after his mother remarried. Investigating his new digs, he discovered some bionic teens hidden in a secret laboratory. Thus began “Lab Rats”, the popular Disney XD series created by Bryan Moore and Chris Peterson.  Over four seasons the family and bionics united on a variety of secret missions.  While the series concluded February 3, 2016, Peterson and Moore launched a reboot that melds the bionics of “Lab Rats” with the superheroes of Disney XD’s 2013-2015 hit “Mighty Meds”, resulting in the recent debut of “Lab Rats: Elite Force.”

The new series does maintain the action, comedy and mythology of “Lab Rats” that was beloved by the show’s fan base. It also brings the story telling to a new level.  Leaving the small town behind, “Lab Rats: Elite Force” is set in an urban landscape with thrilling storylines more on par with those found in a Marvel feature film like “The Avengers.”  The characters are all a little older and the situations they find themselves in are a little darker, and the visual effects are far more complex.

“We’re working with the best of the best to give the audience a new look. The visual effects have been taken into a new direction,” said Peterson. “The effects remain organic to the story telling, and what they have done is some big epic work.”

The effects seen in “Lab Rats: Elite Force” are a mixture of practical, led by Justin Crause, and special effects that are supplied by production and effects house Stargate Studios. Overseeing the pipeline of material is Associate Producer, Post Production John Postlewait.  The process of laying on effects beings after the first editing pass.  The episode’s director and VFX supervisor meet to discuss the needs. A first effects pass is done and returned to the editor.  Once the final editing pass is done, VFX and sound are completed and the episode is presented to Moore and Peterson for their review.  Once any necessary changes are made the episode moves on to the network for approval.  With anywhere from 50 to 100 shots needing effects, the entire process can take between three to four weeks to complete.

“There is lots of tracking throughout the (post production stage),” said Postlewait. “The assistant editor helps to keep everything organized and make sure everything is done just right.”

Depending on the scope of the show, VFX work is sometimes done to an unfinished picture in order to present Moore and Peterson options. This enables their tight schedule to keep flowing forward.  For very intense effects, story boards and pre-vis will be utilized to ensure everyone, including producers, director and the effects team remain on the same page.

Moore and Peterson credit a solid crew to keeping every aspect of the show on schedule and in budget. With many of the crew members coming over from “Lab Rats”, a strong shorthand was already in place.  Postlewait notes the crew members work so diligently because they see the effort Moore and Peterson put into the project; both actively involved with every part of the process.   Noting the budget is tight and resources limited, Moore maintains teamwork is what leads to the show’s overall high quality.

“There’s such a tight schedule and always a lot of work to be done. It’s intense,” said Moore. “There’s a shorthand and trust; everyone is working in conjunction.  I’m always amazed by what this team is able to produce.”

Peterson notes the cast is just as important to every successful shoot day as the crew. The returning actors immediately melded with the “Mighty Meds” recruits.  Peterson noticed each actor immediately began to build a chemistry that would shine on screen.

“They are all so talented. They organically blended on and off the set,” said Peterson.  “They all meshed.”

The unity that has been cultivated over time during “Lab Rats” that has been transferred to “Lab Rats: Elite Force” is something Moore, Peterson and Postlewait are all extremely proud of. Despite a full schedule of 14 hour days spent together, the cast and crew regularly gather Thursday evenings to celebrate their achievements with a large community dinner.  Peterson strongly encourages promoting from within, having transitioned from an assistant to a director himself using his editorial skills to define patterns used on a multi-camera shoot.  In fact, the first episode of “Lab Rats: Elite Force” was directed by “Lab Rats” alum Guy Distad, who was a first AD that expressed an interest in directing.  While Peterson averts attention to Postlewait who took time out of the first day of his honeymoon to check on some effects, Postlewait insists that extra effort is due only to the love both creators have for the show.

“It’s more than just a series for them. They devote all their time to the show, and to this family,” said Postlewait.  “You do whatever it takes to do for these guys who really care.”