VFX Voice

The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.

Subscribe to the VFX Voice Print Edition

Subscriptions & Single Issues


October 17
2023

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

BLUEBOLT BREAKS THROUGH AN ICY LAKE FOR THE GREAT

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Hulu and BlueBolt.

Questions answered during the look development of the icy lake were about how atmospheric the environment should be and what type of clouds should be in the sky.

Questions answered during the look development of the icy lake were about how atmospheric the environment should be and what type of clouds should be in the sky.

Questions answered during the look development of the icy lake were about how atmospheric the environment should be and what type of clouds should be in the sky.

Naughty behavior has never been so much fun to watch than in the Hulu historical satire The Great, which plays fast and loose with facts surrounding the marriage of Catherine the Great (Elle Fanning) and her attempts to kill her husband Emperor Peter III of Russia (Nicholas Hoult). The series created by Tony McNamara has completed its third season of 10 episodes with BlueBolt completing visual effects tasks ranging from CG butterflies to a frozen lake. There was an opportunity to be creative beyond being historically accurate given the irreverent attitude of the subject matter. “We had a freedom to push things more in terms of the amount of blood, which Tony McNamara reacts to quite well,” states David Scott, VFX Supervisor at BlueBolt. “However, it was important to Francesca Di Mottola, the Production Designer, that the architecture be of the period.”

“We took that photo scan without intending that Peter [Emperor Peter III of Russia] would be a CG character. The original idea for the shot was altered as the edit changed. How quickly he goes under was changing, so that forced us to go down a route of doing a CG horse. When Peter is underwater, we added a CG horse behind him. That went through a few rounds because it never felt right, and we didn’t want the horse to compete with Peter.”

—David Scott, VFX Supervisor, BlueBolt

The major new environment that BlueBolt was responsible for on Season 3 of The Great was the icy lake.

The major new environment that BlueBolt was responsible for on Season 3 of The Great was the icy lake.

The major new environment that BlueBolt was responsible for on Season 3 of The Great was the icy lake.

BlueBolt has been involved with The Great since the beginning. “There was definitely a carry-over effect from the previous seasons, like all of the backgrounds of Caserta Palace are a CG asset from Season 1, and the CG butterflies as well,” Scott notes. “They’re not allowed to fire the guns on set anymore, so there are no muzzle flashes. We have to add that in after the fact. The muzzle flashes are from Season 2. Then there is the new stuff like the icy lake environment.” Fewer CG butterflies had to be created compared to previous seasons. “I was trying to work out how to make the animation of the butterflies feel realistic because of the fluttering. This season the butterflies were all contained within the cages so they weren’t flying around.”

A hard effect to do was the comet. “All of the reference of comets are at night, so you have this nice contrast of a dark sky and a bright comet,” remarks Scott remarks. “This one was challenging because it was at daytime with a blue sky. It would be impossible to see a comet. That took a lot of look development in terms of how subtle or over the top the comet should be. Because of the look of The Great, I knew that we could go bigger than what would be photographically real, so we pushed it a bit more. We went down a DMP route for it and had an initial drawing of what we wanted the comet to be. You saw fragments breaking off of the back of it. Then we took it into Nuke and compositing where it was a case of dragging it out and warping it. That gave us time to turn around versions quickly and the flexibility to be able to change the timing, positions and size of the comet.”

The underwater scene was shot at the water tank situated at Pinewood Studios.

The underwater scene was shot at the water tank situated at Pinewood Studios.

The underwater scene was shot at the water tank situated at Pinewood Studios.

The bulk of the 369 visual effects shots by BlueBolt centered around creating an icy lake. “Because the time period was so compressed, we had to get versions out quickly to Tony to try to gauge his feeling on the overall mood of the icy lake,” Scott explains. “How atmospheric it was and what type of clouds? That slowly developed as we went through the process and into the DI where they were grading it darker and darker. We don’t have time for a long process of offering up little updates, so we have to show distinct and extreme versions to get to where we want to quickly and then bring it back.”

“We thought that the ice would be two or three feet thick and built cracks within it. When we started looking at reference, there was always these fissure lines going through the ice. We want to build that into the ice as well, so when we’re tracking over the ice you get this nice parallax that enables you feel the depth. We modeled that and put an ice shader on it, which gave us nice traction that goes through the ice.”

—David Scott, VFX Supervisor, BlueBolt

CG trees were created for the lake environment.

CG trees were created for the lake environment.

CG trees were created for the lake environment.

A photo scan was taken of the horse ridden by Peter as protection reference. Scott notes, “We took that photo scan without intending that Peter would be a CG character. The original idea for the shot was altered as the edit changed. How quickly he goes under was changing, so that forced us to go down a route of doing a CG horse. When Peter is underwater, we added a CG horse behind him. That went through a few rounds because it never felt right, and we didn’t want the horse to compete with Peter.”

A photo scan was taken of the horse that was utilized to produce a digital double for when it falls underneath the water.

A photo scan was taken of the horse that was utilized to produce a digital double for when it falls underneath the water.

A photo scan was taken of the horse that was utilized to produce a digital double for when it falls underneath the water.

“The [water] tank [at Pinewood Studios] wasn’t deep enough for Peter to go straight down. What we did was to go a few meters down and then drag him across the tank which was wider than it was deep. We then flipped him vertically with the effects. Nicholas Hoult (Peter) always kept his eyes open, which fit the moment much better.”

—David Scott, VFX Supervisor, BlueBolt

A patina was given to the ice to increase the believability that a horse could cross an icy lake without slipping.

A patina was given to the ice to increase the believability that a horse could cross an icy lake without slipping.

Part of the look development was deciding upon the appearance of the ice. “We went for a more patina ice that has bits of frost on it, and is opaquer and milkier, so it feels like there is more grip to it for the horse to ride across without questioning whether it should be slipping,” Scott states. “We thought that the ice would be two or three feet thick and built cracks within it. When we started looking at reference, there was always these fissure lines going through the ice. We want to build that into the ice as well, so when we’re tracking over the ice you get this nice parallax that enables you feel the depth. We modeled that and put an ice shader on it, which gave us nice traction that goes through the ice.”

When looking at reference material, BlueBolt discovered that a distinguishing trait were fissure lines going through the ice.

When looking at reference material, BlueBolt discovered that a distinguishing trait were fissure lines going through the ice.

When looking at reference material, BlueBolt discovered that a distinguishing trait were fissure lines going through the ice.

“Just before he falls through is all real. It cuts to a close-up of Catherine [the Great]. Then it cuts back to Peter who turns around and falls through the ice, That whole moment was fully CG, so we didn’t have to do a split between live-action and CG. Because of the hard work of the artists involved, we managed to build high-quality digital doubles for Peter and the horse.”

—David Scott, VFX Supervisor, BlueBolt

For the underwater portion, footage was shot at the water tank situated at Pinewood Studios. “The tank wasn’t deep enough for Peter to go straight down,” Scott reveals. “What we did was to go a few meters down and then drag him across the tank which was wider than it was deep. We then flipped him vertically with the effects. Nicholas Hoult always kept his eyes open, which fit the moment much better.” The digital double of Peter was utilized for the scene where the ice breaks and he falls into the water. “Just before he falls through is all real. It cuts to a close-up of Catherine. Then it cuts back to Peter who turns around and falls through the ice, That whole moment was fully CG, so we didn’t have to do a split between live-action and CG. Because of the hard work of the artists involved, we managed to build high-quality digital doubles for Peter and the horse.”


Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

THE CONSEQUENCES OF FALLOUT
15 April 2024
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
THE CONSEQUENCES OF FALLOUT
Westworld team brings Megaton Power to game adaption.
SINGING PRAISES FOR UNSUNG HEROES
15 April 2024
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
SINGING PRAISES FOR UNSUNG HEROES
Recognizing ‘hidden’ talent pivotal to making final shots a reality.
AGING PHILADELPHIA FOR THE WALKING DEAD: THE ONES WHO LIVE
03 April 2024
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
AGING PHILADELPHIA FOR THE WALKING DEAD: THE ONES WHO LIVE
The final season of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live follows Rick Grimes and Michonne Hawthorne.
LAS VEGAS’ SPHERE: WORLD’S LARGEST HIGH-RES LED SCREEN FOR LIVE ACTION AND VFX
15 April 2024
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
LAS VEGAS’ SPHERE: WORLD’S LARGEST HIGH-RES LED SCREEN FOR LIVE ACTION AND VFX
World’s largest high-resolution LED screen immerses audiences.
NAVIGATING LONDON UNDERWATER FOR THE END WE START FROM
05 March 2024
Exclusives, Television/ Streaming
NAVIGATING LONDON UNDERWATER FOR THE END WE START FROM
Mahalia Belo’s remarkable feature directorial debut The End We Start From follows a woman (Jodie Comer) and her newborn child as she embarks on a treacherous journey to find safe refuge after a devastating flood.