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NVIZ Harnesses Unreal Engine for Netflix’s ‘Shadow and Bone’ Season 2 Previs

Leading visualization company provides key techvis to help the production team make informed creative and financial decisions by first enabling exploration of virtual scenes and providing what amounted to a ‘digital storyboard.’

Leading visualization company NVIZ has shared with AWN details of their work on Season 2 of Netflix’s fantasy series Shadow and Bone, an epic fantasy based on Leigh Bardugo's worldwide bestselling “Grishaverse” novels. In the first season, audiences met Alina Starkhov (Jesse Mei Li), a young cartographer in a war-torn land divided by a dark entity called “The Fold.” When Alina and those around her discover she is one of the Grisha, holders of mythical gifts and wielding even more dominant powers of a Sun Summoner, her life changes irrevocably.

The VFX studio provided previs and techvis on several key sequences in Season 2 of the series, which debuted March 16 on the streamer. The new season finds Alina Starkov is on the run. A beacon of hope to some and a suspected traitor to others, she's determined to bring down the Shadow Fold and save Ravka from ruin.

The NVIZ previs spanned six sequences, including the “Sea Whip,” “Weddle Harbour,” and “Inside the Fold,” as well as some early character tests. The team, led by Mike McGuinness and Andrew Fraser, joined the process early on, in some cases before the completion of the storyboards. They worked closely with the VFX Supervisor, Ante Dekovic, so previs and techvis could be used to inform creative and financial decisions.

The team worked with NVIZ’s Scout Cam with the initial sessions facilitated by one of their remote artists. The result enabled the director to move around in the virtual scene, with the artist saving the preferred camera shots, which effectively created a digital storyboard. Seemingly impressed with the process, the director and DOP set up a meeting to trial it.

Working from art department drawings, the NVIZ team created the Seawhip Lair environment in Unreal Engine. As a result, subsequent production was in a fully informed position to calculate the space limitations, ideal positioning, and the best movement arcs of the eight characters involved with the Seawhip and to build the master scene and its subsequent shots.

For the Weddle Harbour sequence, Alina, and Mal (Archie Renaux) are trying to secure passage on a boat named the Hummingbird. Again, techvis was crucial so production could accurately determine the amount of greenscreen needed for the extensive and complicated environment.

Other environments included the exterior of the Fold, where Grishas are held captive in cages; the Hummingbird Launch; Hellgate Prison; Kirigan’s Hideout; and Spinning Wheel CourtYard, where Alina confronts Kirigan and one of the terrifying Nichevoya. The monstrous Nichevoya, created by Kirigan from the Fold, is a hulking, faceless creature with enormous claw-like hands, able to withstand bullets and move through walls.

When Alina finally finds the Amplifiers, elements of their bodies needed to be added to her body to capture their powers. The team moved quickly, executing the best camera angles in the given timeframe - with Unreal Engine key to creating continuity of the look while adding lighting and lens effects on a beauty pass.

The pandemic hit during the early stages of production, requiring many sessions for Shadow and Bone S2 to run remotely. This presented challenges to the team, who, after several tries, successfully made the process run smoothly, with the client approving many general animation shots at this stage.

Source: NVIZ

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is news editor at Animation World Network.