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March 03
2021

ISSUE

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The Devilishly Clever, Hyper-Realistic Effects Of 30 COINS

By TREVOR HOGG

For betraying Jesus Christ to the Romans, the apostle Judas Iscariot was paid 30 silver coins, which are the subject of a horror-drama series produced by HBO Europe. The blood money is reimagined by acclaimed director Álex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus) as having supernatural capabilities and is consequently sought by the forces of good and evil in 30 Coins.

The exterior belltower sequence in Episode 101 that takes place at nighttime was actually shot on a partial set with bluescreen. Images courtesy of HBO.

Deluxe Spain was responsible for 80% of the visual effects, with Baraboom! Studios handling the previs, techvis, postvis and final creature animation. “Deluxe Spain managed all of the steps of the post-production process from dailies, color grading and editing,” remarks Dario Basile, Senior VFX Producer at Deluxe Spain.   “Curro Muñoz, from Deluxe Spain, was the main visual effects supervisor who worked alone during the shooting and on most of the sequences in the show.”

 

30 Coins was an amazing challenge,” states Basile. “We spent 18 months working on it, and there was six months of shooting. In the end, there were more than 2,000 shots. In the last episode, we have more than 400 shots. Working with more or less 90 artists, visual effects coordinators and visual effects editors, and all of the stuff involved with the shoot, it was incredible traveling through the world imagined by Álex de la Iglesia as he has a very creative mindset. Álex knows about all of the processes involved with post-production and visual effects. We were able to work with him to organize the shooting so it gave us all of the plates and materials needed to deliver these huge number of shots. Our TDs fine-tuned various tools that we needed to start working on 30 Coins. We built a different infrastructure of the studio with a faster network and bigger render farm. There was enough time to work on the pipeline we were looking for in pre-production.” 

“We started work on the last episode first. [Environment Supervisor] Lucía [Peralta] worked on a lot of concepts and we were ready to begin with that. We knew that the cathedral was one of the most important assets, so we started creating it before shooting began.” 

—Dario Basile, Senior VFX Producer, Deluxe Spain

Belltower was digitally extended to make it appear higher and more dangerous.

A maelstrom had to be simulated for Episode 102 which heightens the supernatural aspect of the series.

Allegorical imagery had to coexist with realistic settings in order to create a believable world for the viewer. “It was about finding the right balance,” states Lucía Peralta, Environment Supervisor at Deluxe Spain. “From the beginning of the project we knew that Álex wanted hyper-realism. I read the scripts a few times before shooting began to get a sense of what was going on. Afterwards, I asked Álex detailed questions to learn what he had in mind. I collected a bunch of references from the lighting, mood of the scene and architecture that I showed him.  Then we started conceptualizing. That usually takes a bunch of weeks. Once we’re all happy with the results we decide what is going to be a DMP or a full CG environment and go on to produce them.”

The mirror sequence was practically shot in a palace situated in Madrid.

Each mirror is an entranceway to a different world.

“We’re lucky that there is a lot of history in Spain so we have thousands of years of architecture. The locations were amazing. We just had to push them to the next level. Most of the big environments, which were hard to make, only happened in one episode. We always had the bulk of the material once we started working on an environment. Once they shot and gave the underground cathedral to us, we knew it would never show again in the season, so we didn’t have to worry about coming back.”

—Lucía Peralta, Environment Supervisor, Deluxe Spain

Because of the availability of locations, scenes were shot out of sequence. “We started work on the last episode first,” remarks Basile. “Lucía worked on a lot of concepts and we were ready to begin with that. We knew that the cathedral was one of the most important assets, so we started creating it before shooting began.”  Continuity amongst the environments was helped by the emphasis on capturing actual locations that were digitally augmented. States Peralta, “We’re lucky that there is a lot of history in Spain so we have thousands of years of architecture,”  “The locations were amazing. We just had to push them to the next level. Most of the big environments, which were hard to make, only happened in one episode.  We always had the bulk of the material once we started working on an environment. Once they shot and gave the underground cathedral to us, we knew it would never show again in the season, so we didn’t have to worry about coming back.”

One of the biggest environment builds for Deluxe Spain was the underground cathedral.

Outside of the steps leading into the Cathedral and some practical props, the rest of environment had to be CG.

The Vatican Library needed to feel infinite, which is why the ceiling is never shown.

The underground cathedral was a CG-heavy environment. “Once we figured out what they wanted in concept, we had to get the whole idea of the environment ready,” explains Peralta. “We had the steps from a big square in Madrid and had to build everything else out. There was a lot of detail, design, and little pieces that we needed to get into that cathedral to make what Álex wanted. He had a clear idea.  There was no DMP. It was all achieved in CG.” Another key setting takes place in a hall of mirrors with every one of them leading to a different world. “The hall of mirrors was one of my favorite locations. That was shot in a palace in Madrid. It was a huge hall filled with mirrors. We started to look into that scene when we got the edit. For me, the first impression was, ‘This is cool. How do we manage to not get lost, because this is a Baroque hall, so everything is essentially the same?’ We set different camera projections for each mirror so we could work and modify them. When it came to the characters, that was compositing. We had a good team onboard for this series that did iteration after iteration until they got the look right.”

“The hall of mirrors was one of my favorite locations. That was shot in a palace in Madrid. It was a huge hall filled with mirrors. We started to look into that scene when we got the edit. … We set different camera projections for each mirror so we could work and modify them. When it came to the characters, that was compositing. We had a good team onboard for this series that did iteration after iteration until they got the look right.”

—Lucía Peralta, Environment Supervisor, Deluxe Spain

A library in Spain served as the basis for the Vatican Library. “They had a good idea of where they were going to shoot and Álex already knew what he wanted, which was massive,” remarks Peralta. “Álex wanted the Vatican Library to feel like it was never-ending and you never got to see the ceiling inside. The visual effects supervisor went scouting out on location, and once it was agreed that was the library, we went in there and did a full 3D scan, brought it over, and used that to start working with the CG changes to build the environment to see how big Álex wanted it. All of that work was done before he went to the set, which was one of the last locations shot. That enabled him to shoot it with the final result in mind.”  

With Spain becoming a production hub, Deluxe Spain was able to hire Spanish artists situated around the world to work on the 30 Coins. “It’s always the team that allows you to prepare a good show and to also identify a good supervisor to work on that,” notes Basile. “You have to find the best balance between the team and the budget that you have.” 

Initially, the pandemic was a disaster for the film and television industry in Spain.  “We were in the height production for 30 Coins,” adds Basile. “Within a couple of days all of the team was working remotely. Two weeks were spent working on the DPM, security compliance to ensure the secure transfer of the material. We worked a lot with the production company, Pokeepsie Films, and HBO to guarantee that everything goes well. The IT team did incredible work. The paradigm has changed for visual effects. In past we were always thinking about working in the facility with all of the security compliance with a local storage. In this case, you can work with international content with international artists all over the world. In the end, this was the best moment for our facility.”

An interior warehouse is transformed into a nighttime exterior setting.

Megan Montaner portrays Elena, who is a veterinarian in the Spanish town of Pedraza where the battle between the forces of good and evil takes place.

Eduard Fernández portrays the unorthodox Padre Manuel Vergara who attempts to thwart the conspiracy to collect all of the 30 coins given to Judas Iscariot in order to bring about the end of the world.

Director Álex de la Iglesia

Dario Basile, Senior VFX Producer, Deluxe Spain

Lucía Peralta, Environment Supervisor, Deluxe Spain

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