UK animation and VFX studio returns for the Sky TV drama's third and final season; VFX breakdown reel highlights studio’s work crafting a range of subtle, magical visual effects grounded within the tone of the storytelling.
For the third and final season of Sky TV’s A Discovery of Witches, UK animation and VFX studio Realtime re-joined Bad Wolf to bring to life magic performed by Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer). Following up on their visual effects work for the second season (which was shortlisted for Best Visual Effects at the Broadcast Tech Innovation awards), the team was tasked with creating magical VFX that showcased how much Diana’s powers have developed.
According to VFX supervisor Sue Land, “Diana’s powers are growing and therefore the magical content increases with each season. That said, the magic must always feel real and grounded to the nature of the show. This season we’re back in the modern era, so the VFX had to feel appropriate to the time and that of a confident, powerful witch.”
Watch the studio’s VFX Breakdown Reel from highlighting its Season 3 work:
In the series’ third season, Episode 4 sees Diana visualizing an Elizabethan London on top of the modern-day architecture. Using reference of buildings from the UK city of York as inspiration, the team blocked out a model of the lane from match-moved cameras, using ZBrush to add additional detail and aging to the material.
Diana then casts a “salt spell” in order to locate the last page from the Book of Life. To visualize the style of the spell, Realtime’s Art Department developed a series of concepts for the creative team to work from. Red salt acts as a magical GPS, with the grains moving around a map before forming the shape of a house. This effect was created using Houdini, the particle sims focused on target-seeking behavior to get the specific shapes needed. The house was built using a volume-based modelling process. The team rendered it with varying degrees of transparency to achieve the final look.
Those familiar to the show will recognize Diana’s weaving spells, threads of magical luminescence manipulated by Diana’s hands. A combination of techniques was developed for the threads, from match-moving hand movements to ripple solvers and vellum curve simulations in Houdini.
“Visual effects are always best when they serve a purpose beyond just looking pretty, and this is particularly true with magical shows,” Land shared. “Our sequences had to be handled with subtly when often the temptation is to over embellish the magic and make it twinkle. We generally found ourselves paring back on what we initially thought would sell the shot to better serve the story.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.