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November 07
2023

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

DIGGING INTO FRAMESTORE’S VFX FOR FOUNDATION SEASON 2

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Framestore and AppleTV+.

Two suns and fog were key elements to get the proper lighting and make the shots readable for the space battle that takes place over Terminus.

Two suns and fog were key elements to get the proper lighting and make the shots readable for the space battle that takes place over Terminus.

For the second season of the AppleTV+ series Foundation, Framestore was responsible for 320 shots shared between facilities in Montreal and Mumbai as well as contributions from Pre-Production Services (FPS) based in London. The work ranged from creating the planet of Oona, creatures such as Stone Eaters, Moonshrikes and a Bishop’s Claw and a space battle over Terminus.

Bishop’s Claws like Beki were inspired by cheetahs that are always posed to strike or chase.

Bishop’s Claws like Beki were inspired by cheetahs that are always posed to strike or chase.

“Having Framestore Pre-Production Services helped a lot to start the project because they already had discussions with the client, had all of the art department references and had already done a build of scenes and assets,” states Laureline Silan, VFX Supervisor at Framestore. “There was something to start with but not anything we could reuse right out of the box as they had to be improved a lot. Camera movements were reused, especially for the space battle and the Stone Eaters chasing Beggar’s Lament. Alternations had to be made because the assets and environment were changed. However, most of it is quite close to what was developed before.”

The Bishop’s Claw from Season 1 had to be enhanced into a hero asset for Season 2.

The Bishop’s Claw from Season 1 had to be enhanced into a hero asset for Season 2.

Numerous references were provided by Chris MacLean, Production VFX Supervisor. “First, there were some concepts that Chris had already done with the art department in London, and he showed us some references for how he wanted to go,” Silan remarks. “Then we asked our visualization department in Montreal to help with that so Chris did not have to wait too long to see the asset. It was a quick and easy back and forth. For the environment of the Monuments of Industry, we received the plates, which needed to be extended and have a huge monument that  is about two kilometers high. We had some 2D painting done on top of the plate so the environment team could take that as a base.” Conveying the proper size and scale was hard. “When you only have deserts and dunes and no vegetation, it’s complicated to feel the size in the distance. For the dunes, we watched a lot of desert references. The desert in California had a unique landscape where you could put the camera. We came to realize it was because of the change of color, shadows and the way that the light alters slightly that you could tell the size in the distance,” Silan observes.

Depicting different colors in the sand was critical to being able to create a sense of distance in shots.

Depicting different colors in the sand was critical to being able to create a sense of distance in shots.

“If you look closely at the animation, the Stone Eater is slowly moving its legs and then bam! it’s hitting the ground in a more accelerated way, but they never cover a long distance. That makes them scary. It has a rolling mechanism with teeth in the center of the body. … Chris MacLean [Production VFX Supervisor] and Mike Enriquez [Production VFX Supervisor] were keen to have a mechanism that made sense. You actually have pistons, and when the Stone Eaters move the mechanism moves as well and everything has a purpose. The four red dots are lasers to destroy the stones.”

—Laureline Silan, VFX Supervisor, Framestore

The design of the Stone Easters was influenced by crabs.

The design of the Stone Easters was influenced by crabs.

There were close-up shots of the monuments. “It was all about the number of small details that we were piling up on the textures,” Silan explains. “There was also a little bit of DMP to have some randomness.” Some parts of the monuments have eroded. “We played a lot with displacement for the rocks, which is not the same everywhere,” she adds. “It is based on the type of rock formation that you can find in the Mojave Desert. Sometimes those rocks are more reddish while other times paler and decolorated. When you have them in the sun, there is another type of rock, erosion and color than the ones that are always in the shadows. We tried to mimic that within our huge environment. For the monument we added some extra passes of texture to some specific areas like the hands, eyes or the bottom of it.”An effect pass of sand accumulation was helpful in making the environment believable. “Sometimes it was done by environments or effects because we placed some floating sand in there. Because of the wind, the sand would be blowing around,” Silan adds. The shots of the monuments with Stone Eaters were full CG. “Whenever the characters were in it, we used the drone plates that were provided. Usually. the junction was done in DMP. Sometimes you have elements of sand floating in between the plates and the CG extension. Every time you are close up it’s mostly a full CG shot.”

Every mechanism in the Stone Eaters has a purpose.

Every mechanism in the Stone Eaters has a purpose.

“For the Moonshrike stampede, we had animation do a lot of different cycles, like them avoiding each other or the head going up above the herd. …We found this compromise where the center of the stampede would follow their one and only purpose, which is to go to the moon, but the ones on the sides would go out of the stampede to add discrepancy in the shot. Chris and Mike didn’t want the wings to be too visible until it flies because they wanted that surprise effect. The wings had to be folded as the Moonshrikes were running. We did two different models and built a rig that allowed us to transition from one to the other when they’re flying away.”

—Laureline Silan, VFX Supervisor, Framestore

An effect pass of sand accumulation was helpful in making the Monuments of Industry believable.

An effect pass of sand accumulation was helpful in making the Monuments of Industry believable.

Motion studies were done for the Stone Eaters, which are crab-like machines. “If you look closely at the animation, the Stone Eater is slowly moving its legs and then bam! it’s hitting the ground in a more accelerated way, but they never cover a long distance,” Silan explains. “That makes them scary. It has a rolling mechanism with teeth in the center of the body. You can actually understand that when they’re pulling the sand away. There’s a net that is never deployed, which was supposed to catch all of the pebbles that are being thrown up. Chris MacLean and Mike Enriquez [Production VFX Supervisor] were keen to have a mechanism that made sense. You actually have pistons, and when the Stone Eaters move the mechanism moves as well, and everything has a purpose. The four red dots are lasers to destroy the stones.” The Stone Eaters are made from a hard iridescent metal. “There were a couple of extra texture passes for scratches, damage and decolorization,” Silan notes. Moonshrikes, which inhabit the planet of Helicon, are a cross between a rhinoceros and bird. “For the Moonshrike stampede, we had animation do a lot of different cycles, like them avoiding each other or the head going up above the herd,” Silan describes, adding that a buffalo stampede was referenced. “That was boring because the buffalo were all running in the same direction. We found this compromise where the center of the stampede would follow their one and only purpose, which is to go to the moon, but the ones on the sides would go out of the stampede to add discrepancy in the shot. Chris and Mike didn’t want the wings to be too visible until it flies because they wanted that surprise effect. The wings had to be folded as the Moonshrikes were running. We did two different models and built a rig that allowed us to transition from one to the other when they’re flying away.”

Erosion was not treated uniformly for the Monuments of Industry.

Erosion was not treated uniformly for the Monuments of Industry.

“Beki was one of my favorite characters that we had to do on Season 2. … The request from the client was to enhance the asset so it could become a hero asset. That’s how the whole Beki personality started. We needed the audience to bond with her, which is complicated by the fact she has 10 eyes and you don’t want to meet her in a dark alley! We had to think about all of the aspects we needed to have and change to make sure that we can feel empathy for her. Luckily, she never looks at the camera. Beki is a well-behaved actor!”

—Laureline Silan, VFX Supervisor, Framestore

A buffalo stampede was referenced for the charging pack of Moonshrikes.

A buffalo stampede was referenced for the charging pack of Moonshrikes.

Getting the audience to empathize with the Bishop’s Claw known as Beki was a fascinating task. “Beki was one of my favorite characters that we had to do on Season 2,” Silan reveals. “We received the assets from Season 1. You see a wide shot of a Bishop’s Claw in the dark. The request from the client was to enhance the asset so it could become a hero asset. That’s how the whole Beki personality started. We needed the audience to bond with her, which is complicated by the fact she has 10 eyes and you don’t want to meet her in a dark alley! We had to think about all of the aspects we needed to have and change to make sure that we can feel empathy for her. Luckily, she never looks at the camera. Beki is a well-behaved actor! Our animation supervisor suggested we do some changes in the eyes because the ones we received were all of the same size, so it was complicated to create some kind of eye behavior. We also created an eyelid for the top and bottom. Once you have that and some motion in there and flexibility in the shape of eyes, it actually worked. The character has a heart, brain and exists.” Beki is based on a cheetah. “She is a big cat and often has this pose where you feel that she is going to jump at or chase someone.” On set was a proxy head which was moved around. When Brother Constant is riding Beki and you can see the whole body, they had a rig. “We had to do a body track. The feet had to touch the ground, and it had to look like a cheetah. That was a big challenge for animation but they managed.”

The wings of Moonshrikes were hidden to surprise the audience that they could actually fly.

The wings of Moonshrikes were hidden to surprise the audience that they could actually fly.

“The distances in space are huge, but the good thing is that we added some fog, which is not possible [in space], but it’s science fiction, so why not! We had the camera from FPS that we used, and the client asked us to add the dogfight in the back; that was something that animation had to choreograph. … The Empire fighters fired orange bursts of energy while the Whisper-ships shoot blue lasers. That’s how in the motion blur you could differentiate the two sides of the battle.”

—Laureline Silan, VFX Supervisor, Framestore

The Empire ships fire bursts of orange energy while the Whisper-ships shoot blue lasers.

The Empire ships fire bursts of orange energy while the Whisper-ships shoot blue lasers.

Another massive environment was outer space. “The distances in space are huge, but the good thing is that we added some fog, which is not possible [in space], but it’s science fiction, so why not!” Silan laughs. “We had the camera from FPS that we used, and the client asked us to add the dogfight in the back; that was something that animation had to choreograph.” The opposing forces were distinguished by giving them distinctly colored lasers. “The Empire fighters fired orange bursts of energy while the Whisper-ships shoot blue lasers. That’s how in the motion blur you could differentiate the two sides of the battle,” Silan notes.  Lighting was provided by two suns. “The problem is that you have Terminus in the background that still needed to be readable as well as the Aegis ship, a huge blockade and the spaceship battle in front. We always had a sun covering most of Terminus, but still keeping some parts in the shadows. In the space battle, nothing is really contrasted. Everything had light. There was a second sun that was never completely far away in terms of rotation. We were not doing a complete 180. It’s a slightly different angle and position, but it was taking care of lighting the space battle. Then there is a fill light because we wanted to keep some parts of the planet and ships in the back and still have some details there. The cinematography was not going for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was bright versus black. It’s more non-contrast. That’s why we have fog, as it helps us to read all of the elements.”

Watch Outpost VFX’s “VFX Breakdown” of their character enhancements, face modeling and virtual production work for Foundation Season 2. Click here: https://outpost-vfx.com/en/work/foundation-s2

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