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January 05
2021

Don’t Mess With Mother In Ridley Scott’s Futuristic RAISED BY WOLVES

By TREVOR HOGG

Television was where Ridley Scott (Gladiator) began his career as a production designer and subsequently as a director, and the HBO production of Raised by Wolves marks the return of the legendary filmmaker to serialized and episodic storytelling after a half century absence. Along with being an executive producer, Scott was behind the camera for the first two episodes of the futuristic post-apocalyptic project created by Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners), which takes place on mysterious planet christened Kepler-22b where a male and female android are raising human children. The newly established settlement is threatened by the natural inhabitants and the arrival of human colonists.

 

Some initial behind-the-scenes unrest was resolved by the hiring of Visual Effects Supervisor Ray McIntyre Jr. (Green Book), who combined digital and practical elements to transform South Africa into a desolate and harsh alien world. “I started in July 2019 and production had started in January,” states McIntyre. “I was the third visual effects team on the show. At that point all of the 10 scripts existed; however, not one of 3,000 shots had been turned over. I used MR. X and Pixomondo, which had been set up before but had not actually started, and added BUF, Pixel Magic, Spin VFX, UPP and CVD VFX [now part of Crafty Apes].” 

 

The pandemic impacted the post-production schedule that was originally to end in May 2019. “Once COVID-19 hit, the biggest slowdown occurred while the visual effects vendors figured out how to have their pipelines work safely with data with an artist at home rather than office. The bigger the visual effects house, the bigger the delay,” McIntyre adds.

Ray McIntyre Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor

Amanda Collin portrays an android called Mother that is assigned to raised human children on the mysterious and desolate planet of Kepler-22b.

Advanced technology still exists in the post-apocalyptic world, such as holographic imagery and virtual reality simulations.

Collin is placed in wires and digitally transformed into Necromancer mode.

“Every time she either lands or takes off there is a transition that goes from practical Mother to the digital Necromancer version. … When Mother had to take off or land, she was elevated on a harness, we lowered her down to the ground and she walked into her shot and did whatever action she needed to do or vice versa. Mother would be wearing a harness when talking to Father [Abubakar Salim], walk off and take off. That actually was Amanda. There were no digital doubles for that.”  

—Ray McIntyre Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor

Tracking 3,000 shots required the utilization of a custom-made software program.  “For the past 25 years I have used our in-house Final Cut Pro database that was written by my colleague, Victor DiMichina, who was an additional supervisor on the show,” McIntyre remarks. “It’s automated in the sense that you can click a button and make a QuickTime or open a folder. It’s different from Shotgun but similar in many ways. I had my coordinators track every version that went to the vendor, when the revision came back, any note that the vendor sent with it, and every note that I gave them. It was all tracked by version and inputted into the database so when I got the next version I could read what my notes were, what the vendors said, what my notes are again, and send it out. Also, we tracked every creative input or feedback from the creatives, whether it be Ridley, Aaron or any of the other directors. Tracking all of the data in order to expedite as much as possible getting the shots done was a big thing.” 

Because of the serialized nature of Raised by Wolves, visuals are designed to set up future plot reveals. “It is one of those shows where you will learn in later episodes things that will help you understand the earlier ones,” explains McIntyre. “Episode 10 is a good example. You see all of the holes in the ground and assume that they go to the core of the planet. Aaron told me things that are going to occur in later seasons which I subtly incorporated into the look of the core. Ridley mentioned things like solar flares. Hopefully, when learning more later on and looking back, you’ll say, ‘I should have caught that.’”

A 1,000-foot-high mountain is added to a South African plate featuring Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) to create a more alien environment.

Holes that lead to the core of the planet were mostly a CG creation, with a practical one partially dug to get a reverse camera perspective.

Environmental clean-up was needed to remove any sign of present-day civilization. “We added a 1,000-foot tall mountain in one direction to give the skyline something different,” says McIntyre, as well as digging a practical hole in South Africa that was two to three feet deep and digitally extended. “The camera could be below looking up. Then we also had a stage built where there was a hole and an environment around it.”

 

Inside of the Ark of Heaven are the religious human colonists known as the Mithraic. They are asleep in hibernation pods and interact daily with each other through virtual reality. The female android called Mother (Amanda Collin) causes the spaceship to crash. “Later in the woods, Mother plugs into the Ark and goes back into simulations that you see,” remarks McIntyre. “She is learning about her past and since the simulation is designed for an android, it was somewhat flaky.  Some of those simulation flashbacks weren’t as glitchy simply because it’s important to understand what is being said and shown. If you’re too focused on all of the glitches you aren’t going to pay as much attention to the narrative as you should.”

[“The bloodbath with Mother in the Arc of Heaven] is a big visual effect by Mr. X. The direction from Ridley on that was you don’t want to come out of that sequence thinking that she is anything but an absolute killing machine. There are only so many ways you can show a sonic boom. We developed and showed three to five looks to Ridley and Aaron, and narrowed it quickly what that look was. It’s a displacement effect as well as some color, compositing, color timing and a bit of warping to the background.”

—Ray McIntyre Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor

The creatures that are the natural inhabitants of Kepler-22b were fully CG.

Mother is a Necromancer, a military android created by the Mithraic to defeat atheists that is weaponized and has superhuman strength. “Every time she either lands or takes off there is a transition that goes from practical Mother to the digital Necromancer version,” states McIntyre. “There aren’t as many stunts as you would think. When Mother had to take off or land, she was elevated on a harness, we lowered her down to the ground and she walked into her shot and did whatever action she needed to do or vice versa. Mother would be wearing a harness when talking to Father [Abubakar Salim], walk off and take off. That actually was Amanda. There were no digital doubles for that.” 

“The most difficult part was coming up with a unique and creative look for the blood tendrils [which is all that remains of Mother’s victims]. The actors did their thing and got out of the shot. For the second pass we had a practical blood bag hanging on a wire with a detonation cord and it would explode. We had to eviscerate people which meant we had to turn them into small. fine bits of blood hanging in the air.”

—Ray McIntyre Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor

 

A bloodbath happens when Mother unleashes a deadly scream while walking through the hallways of the Arc of Heaven to reclaim an abducted child. “That’s a big visual effect by Mr. X,” notes McIntyre. “The direction from Ridley on that was you don’t want to come out of that sequence thinking that she is anything but an absolute killing machine. There are only so many ways you can show a sonic boom. We developed and showed three to five looks to Ridley and Aaron, and narrowed it quickly what that look was. It’s a displacement effect as well as some color, compositing, color timing and a bit of warping to the background. The most difficult part was coming up with a unique and creative look for the blood tendrils [which is all that remains of Mother’s victims]. The actors did their thing and got out of the shot. For the second pass we had a practical blood bag hanging on a wire with a detonation cord and it would explode. We had to eviscerate people which meant we had to turn them into small. fine bits of blood hanging in the air.”

 

Viewers will get to explore the multiple-season plan devised by Guzikowski and Scott as Raised by Wolves has been renewed by HBO. “I didn’t do this by myself,” notes McIntyre. “I had great vendors working on the show that were creative and put a lot of effort in. I had a great team of people who supported me. When I started in late July, for the next three days in a row I met with Ridley and creatively we went through all of the 10 episodes. Ridley’s expectation was feature quality visual effects. We achieved that.     

 

“Episode 10 is huge for visual effects. We see the core of the planet, which is important creatively, and you’ll learn more about it in subsequent seasons.  Hopefully, everyone will love the look.” 

The flashback simulations that Mother accesses when connected to the Ark of Heaven were designed to be glitchy as they are meant for androids. 

The surface of the sun was a source of inspiration for the core of the planet, which was designed to subtly incorporate future plot reveals.

While Mother was having virtual sex with her creator,  information got downloaded onto the internal android drive on how to build a new being. 

A complex design challenge was creating the blood tendrils, which are the remnants of the Mithraics that have been eviscerated by the scream of Mother. 

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