The studio’s team shares how it created the Showtime sci-fi series’ stunning space bound shots, alien skin suit technology, and deformed faces.
Award-winning visual effects studio One of Us (Under the Skin, The Matrix Resurrections, Fantastic Beasts) has dished details of its involvement delivering more than 100 VFX shots on the new Showtime series The Man Who Fell to Earth.
For the production, the One of Us team was led by VFX supervisor Rupert Davies and VFX producer Sameera Bulusu, with Andrea Falcone and Andy Tusabe serving as CG supervisor and 2D supervisor, respectively.
The studio’s work on The Man Who Fell to Earth is on display right from its first episode, in which an alien crash-lands on Earth, climbs out of the crash site crater, and grows a skin suit to disguise himself as a human. Tusabe says its sprawling, space bound opening sequence was of high priority for the team to pull off as they began working on the show.
“I really enjoyed working on the space sequence,” Tusabe says. “As a child, I always had a fascination for NASA images. Being able to play with them and bring them to life was an amazing experience.”
Both Tusabe and Davies developed a 2.5 D style for the series, which was fittingly based on NASA photography. The space sequence was made solely with 2D tools, to enrich the story with a painterly aesthetic.
The show’s main character, Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is introduced not long after the alien crash-lands somewhere in New Mexico. “Th[at’s] also the time the CG team got busy,” Falcone says. “The camera dives into the crater to reveal, at the bottom of it, a creature that bursts out of a mysterious membrane.”
“The client shot some beautiful footage inside a detailed set -- a recreation of a 20-foot-deep limestone rock shaft, a very successful practical effect,” Falcone continues. “But what was initially just a set extension - to make the live set rock shaft deeper - developed into a fully CG sequence. We replaced the whole environment, the practical effects, and the actor in most shots.”
The rock shaft was constructed by way of a detailed CG build. And since the entirety of the environment had to be replaced, the CG artists added molten rock, debris, and atmospheric effects to give the space a balance of dynamism and realism.
The episode soon reveals that Faraday possesses a kind of nano-technology that he uses to create a protective membrane during his interstellar travels. Enter the skin suit.
“Now that the membrane is open, the nano-tech turns into a liquid, which then envelops his leg and gradually covers and remodels his whole body, to become human,” Falcone explains. The skin suit was created with extensive Houdini FX work, and close collaboration between FX, lighting, and comp artists. To bring the nano-tech liquid motion and skin formation to life, the One of Us team opted to use growth algorithms, allowing them to control the path of movement the nano-tech liquid as it subsumes the body.
In another pivotal scene from the show - which the team refers to as ‘Josiah’ - Faraday menacingly enters a room with a dying man and shuts the door behind him.
“It looks like he is going to kill him as he grabs [an]other guy by the throat,” Tusabe notes. “But then it’s [made] clear he is actually healing him -- when you see the energy flowing from his eyes, curing the illness, [which is] represented as a black cancer.”
The scene required a great deal of tracking, in order to depict the veins in the ailing character’s skin, and the light that glows from within him.
“It was mostly 2D,” Falcone says. “We used some CG elements to create the internal anatomy, but it was a creative job -- almost fully handled by Andy and his team.”
In the directors’ favorite scene from the show, Faraday’s skin suit technology malfunctions under the pressures of gravity and acceleration during a plane ride, causing his face to become deformed.
For this scene, the CG team recreated the character’s head, which was then tracked, deformed, lit, and blended with Ejiofor’s real head.
“The face deformation sequence was a particularly enjoyable one for us to work on,” Falcone recalls. “The client gave us a blank canvas. The brief literally was, ‘Do something that will make us laugh.’ We had to develop a look quickly without investing too much time in CG builds. We did use a digi-double, but it was the compositing work that really made the sequence successful.”