Led by VFX supervisor Aladino Debert, the Oscar-winning studio delivered around 160 shots for the second season of Netflix’s popular reimagined sci-fi adventure series.
Digital Domain has just shared with AWN a brand-new VFX breakdown reel and supporting images showcasing their work on Season 2 of Netflix’s popular sci-fi adventure series, Lost in Space. The show, set 30 years in the future, is a modern re-imagining of Irwin Allen’s classic 1960’s science fiction series inspired by Johann David Wyss’s 1812 novel, “The Swiss Family Robinson.” The new show is produced by Legendary Television and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, Last Witch Hunter); Zack Estrin (Prison Break) serves as showrunner. The series stars Toby Stephens (Black Sails, Die Another Day) as John Robinson, and Molly Parker (House of Cards, Deadwood) as Maureen Robinson.
Led by VFX supervisor Aladino Debert, the Academy Award-winning studio worked on around 160 shots over episodes 201, 208 and 209; work began in January 2019, with stepped shot delivery concluding this past September. The majority of the work involved the sequence in episode 201, “Shipwrecked,” where the crew of the Jupiter jury-rigged their spaceship into a sail ship while battling a nasty storm; work on episodes 208 and 209 consisted mainly of creating robots, both the character named “Scarecrow” and Will’s friendly robot.
On episode 201’s sail ship transformation, the biggest challenge for Debert was creating believable stormy seas. “Without question, water is one of the most complex effects to achieve realistically,” he explains. “It just doesn’t scale well. You can see that clearly in older movies that used water tanks shot in slow motion. They haven’t aged well. Water in a natural setting is such a familiar sight to so many people, that most audiences have become very good at spotting fake water.”
“Thankfully, we had experience creating water effects in the past,” he continues. “Digital Domain was involved with creating sequences for both Black Sails (along with Lost in Space VFX producer Terron Pratt) and Outlander (including a sequence that involved a ship crossing the sea during a storm). So, we knew what we were getting into. The challenge comes with us always wanting to up the ante and make it even more realistic and engaging.”
For Debert, technically, the boundary between the ship and water was the most complex to achieve. “It’s something I’ve always paid a lot of attention to due to the ‘scale problem’ with water,” he reveals. “Wider shots are often easier, because there aren’t any scale references… like a ship. But, if the splashes and wakes are not done properly, the whole shot quickly devolves into something that looks like a toy boat… or toy spaceship! Although we had previous experience with this issue, we continued to do extensive R&D and tests to make sure it felt as realistic as possible. Perfection is never achieved in my opinion, so it’s an ongoing process.”
Creatively, staging the entire storm sequence at night was particularly challenging, as there had to be a balance between realism – nights are mostly black – and style – audiences like to see their heroes. “To achieve that balance, we had to tailor what to see specifically, to draw the eye to particular bits of a shot without relying too much on lightning flashes, something the showrunner was not in favor of,” Debert shares. “We actually rendered most of the shots significantly brighter than what you see in the final work, because it was a bit easier for the lighters and effects artist to work on. We then brought everything down to match the live-action and the requirements of the clients in compositing.”
Producing the show’s signature robots for episodes 208 and 209 didn’t pose too many issues; finding and capturing an emotional look and performance was another story. “The robot work was challenging for other reasons,” Debert adds. “It had more to do with finding the right behavior for a wounded robot. Hard surfaces are something we are quite good at, so rendering or making it look real wasn’t the issue. But giving emotion to a broken-up alien robot certainly was!”
For Digital Domain, long known for excellent feature film and high-end commercial VFX work, their TV VFX production takes advantage of lessons and skills learned on other projects where the budgets are higher and schedules a bit more forgiving. “Experience on any medium, even if it’s not what you are working on, is always helpful, and Digital Domain’s feature films and high-end commercial work help our work in episodic VFX,” Debert notes. “In the case of features, longer schedules and higher budgets allow us to develop techniques and know-how that’s impossible to attain in shorter timelines with less resources. In the case of commercials, when you lead those projects, you often must develop the best way to do something fast. So, when you combine the high-end VFX requirements with the shorter schedules and smaller budgets of modern episodic work, you can see how that kind of experience is invaluable.”
Remarking on how much he enjoyed his time on the re-imagined sci-fi classic, the VFX supervisor concludes, “As someone who used to watch reruns of the campy 60’s version of Lost in Space while growing up in Argentina, being able to participate in such a modern interpretation was a blast! The show is a great mix of action, family relationships, comedy and fantastic visuals. I’m looking forward to hopefully working on the next season!”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.