NBC's 'The Blacklist' turned to animation to finish its seventh season during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's how

Key Points
  • "The Blacklist" producers turned to visual effects company Proof to complete its season seven finale during the pandemic.
  • Proof had around five weeks to complete the animation, a tight turnaround for a process that typically takes months.
  • Actors recorded dialogue from their homes and all animation and editing was done remotely.
Still from "The Blacklist" season seven finale which utilized animation in order to finishing production during the coronavirus outbreak.

When production on the seventh season of "The Blacklist" shutdown earlier this year, cast and crew were more preoccupied about escaping the coronavirus hot spot New York than how they were going to finishing filming.

"Things got very scary, very quickly," Jon Bokenkamp, creator and executive producer on the NBC show, said during a San Diego Comic Con at Home panel published Thursday.

The executive team "pulled the plug" on production with three episodes yet to film and only half of episode 19 in the can, most of which had been shot out of order. Bokenkamp said the previous episode, episode eighteen, was not a good end point to act as a finale for season seven of the show, but episode nineteen offered a good stopping place until production could resume.

With only four days worth of footage for the episode entitled "The Kazanjian Brothers," producers contemplated a number of different avenues to finish it and share it with fans.

Bokenkamp and fellow executive producer John Eisendrath considered having the cast do a virtual read through, using comic books and even producing a radio-show with the cast doing dialogue. Ultimately, they decided to try animation in the scenes they were not able to film and cut it into the live-action scenes.

"If we had known how much work it takes to do it, we never would have suggested it," Eisendrath said during the panel. "...It was not a great idea, but it was an idea born out of desperation and maybe that's where some of the good ideas come from."

The production team worked with Proof, a visualization company that uses 3D animation software and real-time computer graphics to make preliminary visual representations of scenes for film and TV production as well as visual effects. The company has worked on "Fast & Furious 6," "Riddick," "The Fate of the Furious," "Star Trek Beyond" and "Rampage."

Matt Perrin, a visualization supervisor at Proof, said the team had about five weeks to complete the animation for "The Blacklist." Typically, his team would have had months to animate "this much work." 

He also said that normally his team would have time to build models of the characters and do thorough research before diving into the project. In total, the team had to create and animate 14 main characters who were recognizable as the actors who played them.

Actors recorded dialogue from their homes and all animation and editing was done remotely. The hybrid episode aired on May 15 and acted as the season finale for "The Blacklist."

Season eight will kick off with bits of the story the producers were not able to complete, Eisendrath said, promising heightened drama for fans.

"Next season picks up immediately," Bokenkamp teased. "It's a rocket ship, it's urgent and I think it's unlike anything we've ever done."

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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