By IAN FAILES
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.
By IAN FAILES
One of the main functions of the production visual effects team on any television series is, of course, to work out how to translate the script into the final imagery.
The core VFX team on Season 2 of Netflix’s Lost in Space – Visual Effects Supervisor Jabbar Raisani, Visual Effects Producer Terron Pratt and additional Visual Effects Supervisor Marion Spates – had to do exactly that, but they also found themselves much more embedded inside the creative effort on the show this season.
VFX Voice asked Raisani and Pratt to break down a number of key sequences from this second season and how creative decisions were made to help tell the story of the Robinson family as they continue their adventures aboard the spaceship Jupiter 2 and on alien worlds.
Getting involved earlier in production was a key desire for both Raisani and Pratt on Season 2. “We really strived to be more part of the process early on, where concepts were being generated and the visuals were being designed,” notes Raisani. “And we were an integral part of that design in the end.”
“For example,” says Raisani, “the top deck of the Jupiter 2 became something that involved visual effects and production really working tightly together. We provided a model of the Jupiter 2 asset, and it was realized that the slope of the top of the set was too dangerous for actors or even stunts to work on, which we needed for the ocean shots. So we worked together to find an angle that we felt was true to the visuals that had been established in Season 1 but was safe to work on. Then we figured out exactly where digital effects would take over on the build. Production built with several other vendors contributing. “On Season 1 our show grew, so we kept taking on new vendors to help with that growth,” attests Pratt. “Our plan for Season 2 was to try and reduce that to a smaller number and more of a core team.”
The Jupiter 2 ocean shots were one of the more significant sides of the VFX effort. So much so, in fact, that VFX actually began concepts even before scripts had been written. Mackevision and Important Looking Pirates delivered a number of visuals that were used, says Raisani, “to help inspire the writers and then help us all understand what that would actually look like. There was also a ton of internal previs done, overseen by our Previs Supervisor, Dirk Valk.”
Adds Pratt: “Our additional Visual Effects Supervisor, Marion Spates, also took some of the concepts and previs and immediately started developing a water simulation, dropping our ship model from Season 1 into it to determine what kind of waves it could actually deal with in a storm, how is this going to function, how is it going to cut through the waves, those kinds of things.”
Ultimately, scenes featuring the spaceship having deployed sails and navigating the currents (plus the storm and a waterfall) were shared between Mackevision, Important Looking Pirates and Digital Domain.
The Resolute is the mothership spacecraft appearing in the Lost in Space series. While it had been seen in Season 1, this new season featured the station in a much larger way. Plus, it gets destroyed.
“It’s huge,” comments Pratt. “The CG model is massive. We knew there was going to be an incredible amount of interaction with the asset. So during prep, we actually enlisted Important Looking Pirates to rebuild the asset from scratch. We needed to be able to put it in any camera position, any lighting environment. And then, ultimately, we had to break it up.”
The interior of the Resolute was also an important consideration. “The pod bay has to be one of my favorite sets,” outlines Raisani. “And that doesn’t exist at all, practically. It was just a doorway. That was another example of production and VFX really figuring out the best strategy. All that we built was the interior of the pod and everything else was Important Looking Pirates.”
At one point, John and Maureen Robinson observe a giant creature – dubbed the ‘space whale’ – as they traverse a gas planet. Important Looking Pirates and Mackevision entered a design phase, with El Ranchito completing the final VFX shots.
“We really needed this character to give us a sense of wonder,” states Raisani. “We started with conceptualization and really figuring out, who is this creature within this world? We thought of it as the earthworm of the gas planet. They are ingesting one type of gas and excreting another kind of gas. So we have this very ethereal type creature. There was a lot of back and forth to find something that felt large but didn’t feel ominous, because we really wanted to maintain that sense of wonder, not a sense of fear.”
Season 2’s final episode includes a dramatic showdown between the robot known as Scarecrow and an invading legion of robots on board the Resolute. The massive sequence was, of course, a major visual effects moment. “In the script,” relates Raisani, “it literally read ‘Thirty seconds of robot awesomeness.’ And that was the only description of the action! I went over to Image Engine and I let them read that line, and then we talked about how we wanted to approach it.”
“The CG model is massive. We knew there was going to be an incredible amount of interaction with the asset. So during prep, we actually enlisted Important Looking Pirates to rebuild the asset from scratch. We needed to be able to put it in any camera position, any lighting environment. And then, ultimately, we had to break it up.”
—Terron Pratt, Visual Effects Producer
Raisani says reference for the fight centered on action films that featured long takes. “We looked at things that had longer shots that covered a lot of different beats. Image Engine was so good – it was more like directing actors than it was directing visual effects with them. They were just so in tune with how the robots should perform.”
Given the complexity of the sequence, there was some initial doubt as to whether it could remain in the show. “When it came into post-production, that scene was really on the chopping block because it was so expensive,” admits Raisani. “I really fought hard for it, not only for the effects of the sequence, but as a big fan of sci-fi and robots, I really felt that our fans wanted and needed this moment in the show. So I pitched it to showrunner Zack Estrin as, ‘We’re not going to have a fight for the sake of having a fight. We’ re going to tell a big story within a fight.’”
Pratt suggests that the completion of the sequence, while daunting, was actually made possible by the large amount of autonomy the VFX team was given. “It was pretty much a clean slate. Zack has always been on board and very supportive of our department, and allowing us to engage with vendors and really bring them into the process and let them create and let them come up with ideas that they think would be exciting.”
Indeed, the visual effects side of the production had gained so much traction with the show that Raisani was given the opportunity to direct Episode 8, ‘Unknown.’ He had already directed on second unit for the previous season and this new one, which gave the VFX supervisor further familiarity with the cast and crew, and aided in helming the episode.
“Plus,” he says, “the benefit of having such a heavy VFX background is that it allowed me to not think about that stuff – the VFX. I also had an amazing team of people that I could rely on to think about those things for me in detail so I could really focus on the actors and their performances and the camera.”
In Episodes 5 and 6 of Season 2 of Lost in Space, the Robinson family is on a rocky alien planet where they encounter a series of dinosaur-like creatures. Known as ‘Vivs,’ the vivacious – and arm-less – monsters were CG Image Engine creations.
In terms of design, Production Visual Effects Supervisor Jabbar Raisani says showrunner Zack Estrin wanted to craft something more alien than had been seen on the show before, while being grounded in a creature that the audience could recognize.
“We try to ground everything in something that you’ve seen on Earth, usually,” acknowledges Raisani. “So that’s the furthest we’ve pushed away from an Earth-like creature. We started with looking at raptors and dinosaurs, and then mixed that with dolphins and other underwater life.”
The Vivs inhabit an ochre rock formation, which informed one of the creatures’ design features, specific barbs on their tails that they would use to navigate the rocks and cliffs. “We really tried to think deeply about design thinking when it comes to creatures,” states Raisani. “We say, ‘What does this creature do within this world?’ And then we design everything based on its function within that alien planet.
“We also wanted them to feel bird-like,” says Raisani, who adds that ostriches were an inspiration here. “Ostriches have this thing where they breathe in through their mouth or nose, but then they exhale through the back of their head or neck. We really leaned into that to try to give him something that felt like a creature that lived in a hot environment which was made for running.”
Another design element added into the Vivs was in terms of movement. It was imagined they could almost perform parkour steps around the cliffs, “which gave us an opportunity to really bounce around and use that tail to help push them off of the rocks,” notes Visual Effects Producer Terron Pratt.
“Then on set we had our stunt actors running around, where they held their arms behind their back. At that point we had already determined that the Vivs would not have any upper arms. That helped everybody understand what we were eventually going to get with the final creatures.”