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Milk VFX Goes ‘Intergalactic’ for Sky

Visual effects studio delivers 850 shots across eight episodes of the sci-fi prison break drama, spanning complex planet and city environments, a spaceship crash, hyperspace travel, creatures, and character enhancements.

Milk VFX has shared with AWN a Season 1 VFX breakdown reel, and project details, for its work as principal visual effects supplier for the new Sky Original outer space prison-break drama, Intergalactic, now available on SkyOne and NOW TV.

Led by VFX Supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara, Milk created 850 shots across eight episodes, producing an exceptionally broad range of work that included planet and complex city environments featuring well known landmarks; an FX-focused desert storm; a spaceship crash; a submerged planet; a spacewalk, including complex water and bubble elements; and hyperspace travel, in addition to creatures and character enhancements. The Milk team was supported by Egg in Dublin, Ireland. Filming took place at Space Studios in Manchester, the surrounding areas, on location in Spain at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, and in the Gorafe desert.

Intergalactic tells the story of fearless young cop and galactic pilot, Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn), who is wrongly convicted of a crime and exiled to a distant prison colony. In route, Ash’s fellow convicts seize control of their transfer ship - the Hemlock – forcing her to join them on a run towards a distant galaxy, with epic adventures along the way. 

Take a look at some Milk's work on the series:

Milk began development work on Intergalactic in July 2019, with the shoot and asset build coming towards the end of 2019. All shot production work was completed during the 2020 lockdowns and delivered in December 2020. 

Deguara worked closely with showrunner Julie Gearey (Prisoner’s Wives), director Kieron Hawkes, production designer Mark Geraghty, and executive producer Iona Vrolyk, leading the VFX teams at Milk and Egg to deliver the entire project remotely on a tight schedule during the 2020 lockdowns. 

To ensure the visual integrity of the series’ frequent space travel sequences, Deguara consulted Sky At Night space scientist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE about the science of space, hyperspace travel, and the folding of space time known as the “Alcubierre drive.” 

According to the VFX supervisor, “I spent an absolutely fascinating two or so hours chatting with Dr. Maggie about how hyperspace travel would look. This allowed our artists to develop concepts representing how these elements would actually behave, to ensure the VFX supported the storytelling as ‘realistically’ as possible. We created a bubble-like effect around the Hemlock to represent the folding of space time, which we then expanded to feel like an ocean.”

One of the project’s biggest challenges was the visually evocative opening sequence, which required maximum impact. Milk had to create a full CG, wide panorama of a dystopian future London that had emerged from floodwaters; it was surrounded by a giant dam in the shadow of hundreds of giant buildings supporting the futuristic “new London” (the “Commonworld”) built high up above. The old London buildings were over three hundred meters deep - twice the depth of the English Channel. 

The shots featured well known London landmarks - Westminster, St Paul's, Tower Bridge - which had to be accurately portrayed with a level of dilapidation that reflected the time that had passed as well as the flooding. In addition, there was a whole cityscape of futuristic “new London” buildings up above, to be constructed with giant skyscrapers, floating platforms, roads, and monorails – to enhance the location shoot at the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex in Valencia, Spain. They also needed to create a lot of atmosphere - shafts of volumetric light, clouds of dust, fog, steam from the engines of the platforms, low level vegetation, and falling debris. 

Although this had originally been envisioned as more of a DMP-based sequence, it was built in 3D with a small team of assets artists, to allow a high level of detail in the shots. 

A group of generic buildings was procedurally destroyed and thousands of these were placed around the scene to form the base of the old city. The landmark buildings were surrounded with debris and covered in ivy. Lighting was finessed to reveal enough of the painstakingly crafted detail and to give it scale, but also allow the sense of threat and mystery to come across as well.

In addition, the hero vehicle - Ash's Police Pod – which we see swooping through both parts of the city, went through many changes as the team matched it to the practical prop and then developed it in subtle ways to enhance its look and feel.

Noted Deguara, “Concept artwork from the production design team was indicative of the ambition of the show, but still required shaping to fit the footage that was shot, the aesthetic of the show as it developed, and not least the practical requirements of getting it built and delivered in the timeframe. All during lockdown.”

Milk’s FX team was key to some of the most challenging VFX sequences in the series, including the dramatic space walk in Episode 8, in which one of the characters “drowns” in her space helmet. Part of the challenge was to create water bubbles inside her helmet while ensuring that the water behaved believably - keeping as close to the science as possible while supporting the intensely tragic moment.

“Our FX team observed water behavior in the NASA space station as part of their dev phase - we watched video footage of an astronaut wringing out a cloth and the water behaves as if it is ‘sticky’ in space,” Deguara said. “When we eventually watched the drowning sequence in full for the first time, we were all holding our breath. It’s a very evocative moment.”

“I’m really proud of the entire team,” he concludes. “The breadth of work across eight episodes was really varied and challenging, and they worked like superheroes from the concept phase right through both lockdowns last year to bring Intergalactic across the finish line last December.”

Source: Milk VFX

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.