Visual effects studio delivers 782 shots as the lead vendor on the final season of the hit Netflix series, filled with sprawling CG armies, historically accurate CG ships, environments, and of course, bloody Saxon battles.
U.K. VFX studio BlueBolt has shared with AWN a visual effects breakdown reel of their work on the fifth and final season of Netflix’s hit period adventure series, The Last Kingdom. Having been the lead vendor on all previous seasons, BlueBolt returned again as lead for Season 5, delivering 782 VFX shots for show, produced by Carnival Films for Netflix. All five seasons are now available on the streamer.
The VFX requirements for this project were vast and varied and included elaborate environment extensions, sprawling CG armies, historically accurate CG ships, blood addition and modern clean up.
A substantial amount of motion capture was used in this final season, a change from previous years; BlueBolt purchased two motion capture suits, allowing the VFX team to body track stunt performers and use these actions on their CG characters.
BlueBolt VFX Supervisor, Richard Frazer explained why this was important, noting, “When working on the large battle scenes, we would sometimes require our CG warriors to make very specific motions, and this would often involve one of the VFX team at the office putting on the suit and performing that bespoke motion. This allowed for much more natural looking movement in our characters and the ability to show them more prominently in frame than in previous seasons.”
He added, “We also spent additional time developing fur and hair simulations for these characters which again increased our ability to show them significantly larger in frame whilst still looking photorealistic.”
In the series’ concluding season, years have passed since the events of the last season, and King Edward is still forging ahead with his ambitions to unite the Saxon Kingdoms to fulfill his late father’s dream. Although a long-standing peace between Danes and Saxons now exists, that harmony is under threat, not only by a new Danish invasion but a Saxon rebellion. Uhtred has been entrusted with protecting Edward’s illegitimate son, the future King of England, Aethelstan. But the treacherous Lord Aethelhelm has ambitions for his grandson Aelfweard, Edward’s other son, to rule.
We follow Uhtred as he faces his greatest enemies, and suffers immeasurable loss, on his quest towards fulfilling his destiny. Meanwhile, Edward treads a fine line between peacekeeper and authoritarian as he battles to bring together the fractured Kingdoms of the land. In a surprising twist of fate, Uhtred discovers that the quest to unite England may well be linked to his own personal destiny.
BlueBolt played a pivotal role in the creative process, from start to finish, beginning in pre-production. Most scenes were filmed just outside Budapest, Hungary, with a handful shot in the UK. BlueBolt was heavily involved with the team during prep, the shoot, and throughout post-production. Around 95% of the VFX shots in the show were delivered by BlueBolt.
Executive Producer, Nigel Marchant, said of working with BlueBolt, “We could not have wished for better collaborators on The Last Kingdom than BlueBolt, who were fundamental from the very beginning in bringing the show to life. They consistently delivered first class visual effects whilst working within a budget, and were truly creative whilst always ensuring the visual effects felt organic and true to the show, allowing us to create a realistic and fully formed world, without drawing the audience’s attention to the use of CGI. BlueBolt were instrumental throughout the process, consistently mindful of cost and working to the parameters of production, and were always a pleasure to work with”.
The VFX heavy series opens with a group of warriors involved in a sacrificial ceremony set among erupting Icelandic volcanoes. They then take to their boats and depart for the shores of England. This was all shot in a quarry and lakeside in Hungary, with BlueBolt creating the volcanic land of Iceland and its ocean through matte painting and compositing work.
In Episode 6, the night-time Dane attack on the Saxon camp relied on VFX to increase the sizes of both armies and digitally extend the environment. BlueBolt also helped to enhance the moments when fleeing Danes fell through the lake ice.
The series climaxes in Episodes 9 and 10 with Uhtred and gang climbing along precipitous cliffs to gain entry to the coastal fortress of Bebbanburg, as well as a large-scale battle outside the fortress that features soldiers being driven to the cliff and pushed over the edge. All of this had to be shot in the land-locked country of Hungary. BlueBolt found several coastal locations in north Wales to shoot plates of cliffs and sea, which were used to help create the illusion of the Hungarian sets actually being atop a cliff in northern England. The team shot plates of stunt performers jumping from the top of a building into airbags to create the elements of falling soldiers.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.