How the cloud lifts ‘The Expanse’ out of this world

Dominique Tipper on 'The Expanse'
Engineer Naomi Nagata (played by Dominique Tipper) watches a projectile whiz past her in an episode of “The Expanse.” Mavericks VFX was responsible for the whiz. (Mavericks VFX Photo)

It used to take a cast of thousands to create cinematic extravaganzas, but now the job can be done with a cast of dozens of artists and developers, plus thousands of cloud-connected computer servers.

The proof of that can be seen today in science-fiction epics ranging from “Star Wars” to “The Expanse.” And those shows merely hint at the beginning of a computer-generated revolution in visual effects, or VFX. Just wait until artificial intelligence hits its prime.

“That’s changing the game for all of us,” Brendan Taylor, president and visual effects supervisor for Mavericks VFX, told me. “That’s going to turn the VFX industry on its head in the next couple of years.”

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Blue Origin links space fiction and space facts

If “The Expanse” ever decides to shoot episodes of the science-fiction series on a Blue Origin spaceship, Wes Chatham is ready to go.

“I do think it’d be an excellent marketing opportunity to be the first show that shoots a scene in space,” said Chatham, who plays the role of a space jockey with a gruff exterior but a soft heart on the Amazon Prime Video series.

His comments came to light in a video documenting the “Expanse” cast’s visit to Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash. That visit took place in March, but back then, all we had to go on were tweets from Chatham’s fellow actors. Today, Prime Video posted highlights from the visit to publicize next week’s Season 4 premiere. This’ll be the first season to have its first-run airing on Amazon, thanks in part to CEO Jeff Bezos’ intervention.

Bezos also owns the Blue Origin space venture, so it was an obvious move to have the “Expanse” cast and crew stop by during March’s tour of Amazon’s home territory. In addition to the show’s stars, the entourage included showrunner Naren Shankar as well as Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who are co-authors of the “Expanse” book series under the pen name James S.A. Corey.

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Jeff Bezos’ worlds collide over ‘The Expanse’

Cara Gee in Blue Origin crew capsule mockup
Cara Gee, who plays a tough-as-nails spaceship captain on “The Expanse,” takes a seat in a mockup of Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew capsule. “No one asked me to wear this helmet on our tour of the facility,” she tweeted. “But here I am in a real life space chair.” (Cara Gee via Twitter)

Science fiction met space fact this week in the Seattle area when the cast of “The Expanse,” the science-fiction jewel in Amazon’s streaming-video crown, got a look at Blue Origin’s spaceship.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the common denominator in the meetup: He personally engineered the sci-fi series’ shift from SyFy to Prime Video, and announced it onstage at a space conference last May while I was sitting beside him. Bezos is also the founder of Blue Origin, the space venture that is testing its New Shepard suborbital spaceship and gearing up to build its orbital-class New Glenn rocket.

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‘Expanse’ co-author discusses sci-fi … and politics

Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham, co-author of “The Expanse” book series, gives a reading at Seattle’s University Book Store. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

There’s more to Daniel Abraham than “The Expanse.”

To be sure, the science-fiction saga about our future fractious solar system has been very, very good to Abraham and his co-author for the book series, Ty Franck.

Writing under the pen name of James S.A. Corey, Abraham and Franck are just finishing up the eighth book in the series, “Tiamat’s Wrath,” and getting ready to start the ninth and final volume. (Abraham says he already knows the title, but is bound by Orbit Books to keep it secret for now.)

Then there’s the TV show: The third season of “The Expanse” is wrapping up on the Syfy cable channel, and a month ago, Amazon picked up the show in dramatic fashion for a fourth season.

That announcement was made at a space conference by none other than Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, with the cast of “The Expanse” sitting out in the audience.

Abraham has compared the writing business to a casino, and says that “writers are, among other things, professional gamblers.” If that’s so, he’s hit the jackpot with “The Expanse” alone.

But that’s not his only play: He uses a different pen name, M.L.N. Hanover, for a long-running wizards-and-demons book series known as “The Black Sun’s Daughter.” Under his own name, Abraham writes fantasy novels (and has contributed to the “Wild Cards” graphic novel series).

Abraham, who lives in New Mexico with his wife and daughter, wore yet another hat this week: He served as an instructor for the Clarion West Summer Workshop, which brings a select few writers to Seattle’s University District to sharpen their skills in speculative fiction.

It was in that capacity that he gave a reading at University Book Store, and sat down in the store’s coffee shop before the reading for a Q&A with yours truly. Here’s an edited transcript of the talk, which started out with the revival of “The Expanse” TV series and ended up with a wide-angle look at politics in the Donald Trump era.

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How a dinnertime email saved ‘The Expanse’

Bezos and 'Expanse' cast
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos strikes a celebratory pose with two of the stars of “The Expanse,” Cas Anvar and Wes Chatham. (Keith Zacharski / National Space Society / In the Barrel Photo)

The head of Amazon Studios confirms that the plan to announce the rescue of “The Expanse” was cooked up while Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, was sitting at a dinner table just a few feet away from the cast of the fan-favorite science-fiction TV show.

I was right beside Bezos when he made the announcement on May 25, during an awards banquet at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference. I had tipped off his team while dinner was being served that I planned to ask about the fate of “The Expanse,” but once we got up on stage, Bezos artfully beat me to the punch.

“Ten minutes ago, I just got word that ‘The Expanse’ is saved,” he said, setting off cheers in the banquet hall.

The decision meant that the outer-space opera, which had been canceled by the Syfy channel only days before, would go on to a fourth season as an Amazon Prime Original.

Fans had been pleading with Amazon to pick up the show, and in an interview published today on Deadline Hollywood, Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke confirmed that a deal was “pretty much done” by the time Bezos sat down to dinner.

But she also confirmed that she pulled the trigger only after getting Bezos’ dinnertime email.

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‘The Expanse’ sticks to space realities … mostly

Scene from 'The Expanse'
Spaceship pilot Alex Kamal (played by Cas Anvar) turns a zero-gravity somersault in a scene from “The Expanse.” (Alcon / Syfy via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES — The sci-fi saga known as “The Expanse” has attracted a huge fan following in part because it gets the details of life in space so right, from how to handle zero gravity to what happens when you open up your helmet visor in a hard vacuum.

But there’s one space reality that the producers have thrown out the air lock.

In space, no one can hear your spaceship scream, because there’s no medium to transmit the sound waves. But in “The Expanse,” as in “Star Wars” and other space operas, spaceships whoosh, crash and roar with regularity.

“We actually tried with Season 1 to do it realistically, to not have the ships make a sound,” showrunner Naren Shankar said last week in Los Angeles at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference.

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Amazon and Jeff Bezos save ‘Expanse’ sci-fi TV saga

Jeff Bezos and Alan Boyle
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, gestures to the crowd at a National Space Society awards banquet during a fireside chat with GeekWire’s Alan Boyle. (Keith Zacharski / In The Barrel Photo)

LOS ANGELES — I wanted to start out talking with Jeff Bezos tonight about his vision for settling outer space, but the billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin had other plans.

When I asked my first question at a fireside chat, set up during an awards banquet here at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference, Bezos stopped me short.

“Before I answer that question, I want to do one small thing,” he told me. “Does anybody here in this audience watch a TV show called ‘The Expanse’?”

Wild applause followed — in part because the science-fiction TV series is tailor-made for the space crowd, and in part because cast members and the show runner for “The Expanse” were sitting out in the audience. They came to the dinner after doing their own panel presentation about the science behind the show.

When NBC Universal’s Syfy network announced this month that the show would be canceled after the current third season, that set off a worldwide fan campaign to #SaveTheExpanse. It also set off speculation that Amazon Studios might pick up the show.

Bezos ended that speculation tonight, on the stage that I shared with him.

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Report: Amazon talks about reviving ‘The Expanse’

Frankie Adams on "The Expanse"
Frankie Adams plays a Martian Marine in “The Expanse.” (Syfy / Alcon TV Group Photo)

Just days after the Syfy channel announced it was canceling “The Expanse,” sparking a fan campaign to save the space opera, The Hollywood Reporter says Amazon Studios is in talks to keep the show going into a fourth season.

Variety and Deadline said they confirmed the report with their sources. But all three news outlets quoted sources as saying a deal had not yet been closed, and Amazon Studios said the reports were still speculative.

“We are have not confirmed anything about ‘The Expanse’ yet,” Tammy Golihew, director of publicity for Amazon Studios, told GeekWire in an email.

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