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May 18
2021

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

MILK VFX ORCHESTRATES AN INTERGALACTIC ESCAPE PLAN

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Milk VFX

Escape prisoners get to experience the various wonders and dangers of the universe in the Sky series Intergalactic with showrunner Julie Gearey (The Secret Diary of a Call Girl) and Executive Producer Iona Vrolyk (Holby City) collaborating with VFX Supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara (Good Omens) to produce 850 visual effects shots across eight episodes. Milk VFX served as the main vendor and was supported by Egg VFX in creating a futuristic London, a spaceship crash, an asteroid field, a submerged planet and a spacewalk. “Doing a show like this was different even though we’ve done a lot of sci-fi shows [at Milk VFX],” states Deguara. “Because Intergalactic was a constant journey where you go from planet to planet, we never looked back at doing stuff with the exception of New and Old London. The story was always moving forward. Every episode threw up a different technique that got another department busy. Modeling in Episode 101 with London was huge while Episode 102 was massive for effects.”

It was important to make sure that the bubbles did not obscure the eyes so as to retain the original performance.

One of the first topics of discussion between director Kieron Hawkes, Gearey, Vrolyk and Deguara was a massive urban environment build. A particular piece of concept art created by Production Designer Mark Geraghty (Vikings) and the art department established the look for Old and New London. “London has been destroyed by flooding,” Deguara explains. “The water has been drained out and a city gets built on top of that with a giant dam around it. It was like an old tin ship with light beams coming through to provide atmosphere. It actually solved a lot of problems that were in my head. We used this idea that New London is polluting Old London. Massive vents were built that stream in loads of air, and that allowed us to add distortion in the air and smoke.”

All of the landmarks associated with London were constructed and then destroyed. “The main landmarks and surrounding buildings were built in a high resolution,” states Neil Roche, Head of 3D at Milk VFX. “After that it got more generic as we went back.” A procedural methodology was adopted by Dimitris Lekanis, FX Lead at Milk VFX. “We got 10 buildings from modeling and created a quick system to create and destroy extra variations, which modeling then took back and had to place them depending on the shots,” says Lekanis. A layout tool was developed to make the asset more manageable. “We couldn’t get all of the assets into one London asset, but we especially wanted to work on the hero ones individually in modeling and look development,” remarks Sam Lucas, Head of Modeling at Milk VFX. “The layout tool recorded positions of each building or landmark or anything that you would have put into a scene. You could go away and work on them individually and rebuild the scene every time with the latest look developments. This made the scenes light to use, which is something we have not used or developed before at Milk VFX.”

A dramatic crash takes place in the forest of Pau Rosa involving the prisoner transport spaceship known as the Hemlock. “There was a lot of layout of the trees that Dimitris did in Houdini,” explains Roche. “A rough placement of static trees was done in Maya which was passed over to Dimitris to do the breaking up of the trees. Then that was passed back into Maya for lighting.” Hundreds of thousands of trees populate the forest. “We had basic forest set up in a clever way,” notes Lekanis. “We replaced all of the trees that were not fractured with the actual fractured trees. These fractured trees were used as instanced collision geometries which meant there was much less for the computer to do.” A partial practical set build was shot. “On the day we built the real front of the ship we had just underneath from the nose and the walkway out,” states Deguara. “We also filled all the sides in with lots of trees and that saved us on loads of visual effects for the slow coming stop shot as it allowed us to look in that direction.”

A line in the script described an asteroid field, known as the Hestia Wreath, to be a wonder of the universe. “It was based on geysers that burst out water that freezes in the air,” reveals Deguara. “That gave us this lovely atmospheric feel.

Famous landmarks were incorporated into the layout of Old London such as the Tower Bridge.
 
New London was constructed on top of Old London which was destroyed by a flood
Principal photography took place at the City of Arts and Sciences situated in Valencia, Spain.

“Doing a show like this was different even though we’ve done a lot of sci-fi shows [at Milk VFX]. Because Intergalactic was a constant journey where you go from planet to planet, we never looked back at doing stuff with the exception of New and Old London. The story was always moving forward. Every episode threw up a different technique that got another department busy. Modeling in Episode 101 with London was huge while Episode 102 was massive for effects.”

—Jean-Claude Deguara, VFX Supervisor, Milk VFX

Caves were studied to better understand how to best light Old London.

“London has been destroyed by flooding. The water has been drained out and a city gets built on top of that with a giant dam around it. It was like an old tin ship with light beams coming through to provide atmosphere. It actually solved a lot of problems that were in my head. We used this idea that New London is polluting Old London. Massive vents were built that stream in loads of air, and that allowed us to add distortion in the air and smoke.”

—Jean-Claude Deguara, VFX Supervisor, Milk VFX

The main spaceship is the Hemlock which serves as a prisoner transport.

We needed to have a backlit sunlight because we were trying to create these sun-dog lens flares. That way we got to the point where we hit the ‘wow’ factor because there was this nice golden glow to everything. A massive moon that was next to it provided us with a bit of side lighting and extra bounce light.” Beside the layout, it was important to make sure that all of the asteroids were not the same size. “It was important to convey depth, and the only way that we could achieve that was by having a sun on camera,” notes Matias Derkacz, Head of 2D and VFX Supervisor at Milk VFX. “The sun not only gave us these artefacts to make it visually interesting, but gave shape to these asteroids, as well as these subtle details to help the eye to understand how big this place is.”

New London pollutes Old London using enormous vents.

Considered to be a wonder of the universe is the asteroid field known as the Hestia Wreath.

A key visual element for Hestia Wreath scenes was the sun-dog lens flares.

On the submerged planet of Kelp, a city is covered with 10 feet of water. “We decided to actually bake the ocean into a multitude of textures in order to be able to use Arnold for rendering, because most of our planet was already look-developed and laid out with Arnold in mind,” remarks Lekanis. “Because we have these long shots at the beginning of the sequence, we had to configure a system based on what the camera is actually seeing and how far is it from the camera, and based on that bake the amount of detail and texture needed.” Atmospherics like smoke helped to convey scale and added life to the compositions. “We made a big kit of parts for all of the roller coasters,” remarks Lucas. “Some were complete while others were broken down. We had loads of jetties in different states of destruction which enabled the layout to be rearranged on a per-shot basis.”

Water leaking into a space helmet during a spacewalk causes a suspenseful moment. “It was all practical, and we added that to an interactive platform,” reveals Deguara. “There was a section that they reused for different parts of the spacewalk. That went well. We had to replace the visor, as it wasn’t quite working as far as reflections. Water in space will go wherever it will go. It will get in your eyes and mouth. We found this cool YouTube video of an astronaut wringing a flannel that showed how water actually stuck to his hand and how it was moving and undulating. [Director] China Moo-Young didn’t like having bubbles around the eyes. There weren’t tons of bubbles floating around. The water travels up the neck of Verona Flores [Imogen Daines] and settles on her face – that’s what is causing the main choking part. It didn’t interfere with the performance at all. When we showed the scene to the clients for the first time in the screening room, everyone held their breath.”

 

“The layout tool recorded positions of each building or landmark or anything that you would have put into a scene. You could go away and work on them individually and rebuild the scene every time with the latest look developments. This made the scenes light to use, which is something we have not used or developed before at Milk VFX.”

—Sam Lucas, Head of Modeling, Milk VFX

 

Watch a VFX breakdown reel of Intergalactic from Milk VFX here: https://vimeo.com/539242437

Milk VFX produced 850 visual effects shots across eight episodes with additional support provided by Egg VFX.
Principal photography for the planet of Pau Rosa took place in the Gorafe Desert located in Spain.

A partial set was built of the Hemlock for the crash-landing sequence.
A massive simulation was the dust storm that engulfs Pau Rosa.
The submerged planet of Kelp features roller coasters in various states of disrepair.
A new layout tool was developed to make creating and rendering London more manageable.

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