Led by VFX supervisor Max Riess, teams from Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Toronto and Los Angeles delivered more than 268 final shots over a 22-month period.
Leading design company, Pixomondo, has once more shared some of their great VFX work with AWN; led by VFX supervisor Max Riess, studio teams in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Toronto and Los Angeles delivered over 268 final shots for the hit Amazon Prime Video noir-ish fantasy series, Carnival Row. Created by René Echevarria and Travis Beacham, the 8-episode series centers on mythical winged “fae” creatures struggling to assimilate as unwanted immigrants in an unfriendly, racist society after fleeing their homeland’s genocidal war. The show, named after the rundown, working class neighborhood where most of the fae now live, stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne.
Over a 22-month period beginning with the first CG wing tests in September 2017, Riess’s team of around 200 artists delivered more than 268 final shots. As you can imagine, in a show about faeries, CG wings were front and center; their design, and the believable physics of how the fae maneuvered with them both on the ground and in flight, were crucial elements in the show’s success.
Wing design and animation proved especially challenging. According to Riess, “Our lookdev team started out with 3D sketches and concept artwork. We spent a lot of time researching animal wings in nature. One of the biggest issues was scale. A dragonfly has very filigree wings, which we needed to modify in order to carry a human-sized creature convincingly. In the design process, we spent a lot of time thinking about the anatomy of faerie wings. We developed a look inspired by insects and hummingbirds with very flexible wings that can go from limp to solid. This way we were able to transition seamlessly from CG wings to prop wings.”
“To get the CG wings onto the actors, we had to do extensive body tracking and rotomation,” he continues. “We developed a couple tools that allowed our animators to bring in the wing rig and snap it automatically to the tracked wing position marker. Some shots had an extra CG back patch to integrate the wings on bare skin.”
Pixomondo created all sorts of fairy wings for the show: Vignette’s wings (Delevingne’s character), generic female and male wings, dead wings, baby wings and glowing wings, each requiring unique looks and capabilities. “Their designs, and fluorescent glowing effects, were inspired by deep sea fish and jellyfish,” Riess notes. “We created extra geometry inside the wings that was able to illuminate inside the cells.”
“One of the most challenging aspects of the show was to get the wings moving the right way,” the VFX supervisor adds. “We created a motion library of wing cycles with different flap rates and styles and differentiated between male and female flight cycles. The fastest cycle we used has up to 120 wingbeats per minute.”
Pixomondo was also responsible for a number of digital environments along with hundreds of CG assets. “In addition to our work on the wings, we created full CG environments like the sacred library and the roofs of the city of Burgue,” Riess shares. “The aerial fight between Vignette and Hamlyn [a rival faerie] was a challenge, as most of the VFX elements combined complex on-set rope work with dynamic CG camera work. Over 300 assets were built to bring the city to life. For one shot a full CG double of Hamlyn falling into the courtyard needed to be created.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.