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In The Mix
June 19, 2019

Cover Story

Contestants in their birthday suits keep graphic artists busy.

Paula Hendrickson
  • Discovery Communications

"You see less cleavage on Naked and Afraid than on an awards show," Mathilde Bittner says.

She's a showrunner on the Discovery Channel series, alongside fellow Renegade83 executive producer Steve Rankin.

That's because a group of eagle-eyed graphic artists, nicknamed the Blur Man Group, diligently obscures nudity in every frame of the show, which follows two strangers spending three weeks in the wild without clothes, food or water.

When the series debuted nine seasons ago, the producers assumed contestants would make rudimentary clothing to protect themselves from the elements. "But often they seem quite content, once they get over the initial shock, to be completely naked," Rankin says. "That took us by surprise. We weren't expecting to have to blur every frame of every show because of nudity."

The show's head graphic artist, Shaun O'Steen, says a typical episode requires about 600 blur shots, and a two-hour episode could have 1,400. About 10 graphic artists work on the show each season, but during crunch periods, that number rises to 14.

"We developed a system over time to keep consistency throughout the show," O'Steen says. "Every time there's an edit, a new artist takes on the next shot. Most are a minute-and-a-half to two minutes before a cut, which is anywhere from 25 to 55 shots per episode."

Finding bits that need to be blurred — which can also include reflections, shadows, tattoos of logos or licensed images, even the private parts of wild animals — is only part of the challenge. Making those blurs as invisible as possible requires detailed work.

"Imagine the blur as an article of clothing," O'Steen says. "It lives against the skin, so everything that would be on top of the skin stays on top of the blur. That requires going in and cutting out every little thing that's either attached to the body or hanging from the body so the blur blends into the background.

"Anytime their clothes or hair swing around or they jump in water, all of that has to go on top of the blur. We spend many hours rotoscoping every little piece out to hide the blurs as best as possible."

Producers sometimes try to shoot with foliage in the foreground, which can make the job harder.

"One of my most-feared producer comments when they come back from the field is, 'Hey, we helped you out. We had them make clothes,'" O'Steen says. "It's fine the first half-hour they wore the palm-frond bikini, but within half a day those palm fronds have shriveled up and spread apart, and now we have all those holes that expose all of the interesting things we're trying to cover."

Working on multiple episodes at a time, allowing four to four-and-a-half days to edit each episode, is intense. "It takes a specific type of person to work here," O'Steen says. "Probably just barely on the side of sane."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2019

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