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Freefolk Conjures Up Mythical VFX for Arthurian World of ‘Cursed’

Studio delivers 200 shots, during lockdown, on new Netflix fantasy adventure series based on Frank Miller's young adult novel.

Freefolk, the London-based, Emmy Award-winning post-production and VFX studio, has just shared with AWN some news about their VFX work on the new Netflix fantasy series, Cursed.

Based on the young adult novel by Frank Miller (executive producer and writer on 300) and Thomas Wheeler, Cursed tells the story of Nimue, a young sorceress whom scholars believe is destined to become the formidable and mysterious Lady of the Lake. The show’s cast includes Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) as Nimue, Devon Terrell as Arthur and Gustaf Skarsgård as Merlin.

Set in the Arthurian legendarium, the show required a variety of visual effects to create a believable re-imagination of the mythical world. Freefolk, led by VFX supervisor Steve Murgatroyd, head of CG Harin Hirani, and VFX executive producer Meg Guidon, was tasked with creating large scale environments for the Fey Camp, the Weeping Monk and the Convent of Yvoire, along with a fully CG, photoreal fawn, CG set extensions, storm atmospherics, elements and intricate design work for the Fingers of Airimid. 

Explaining the complexities of the Fingers of Airimid, one of the series’ signature effects, Murgatroyd noted, “The Fingers of Airimid appear on the face of Nimue, her mother Lenore as well as other Fey elders. The ‘Fingers’ take two forms: an angry, spiky look and a magical design that is more leaf-like; the effect is activated when the Fey people are overtaken by the powers of the ‘Hidden.’  It took a lot of design work to get the final look locked down but was very worth it, not only were Netflix delighted but it’s already distinctly Cursed.”

Another stand-out sequence created by the Freefolk team is an epic 40 seconds worth of woodland engulfed in flames and burning Moonwing creatures.  This inferno takes place when the Weeping Monk sets a Fey Village ablaze, and the environment is designed and modelled entirely in CG.  The burning forest behind the blue screen live action of the Weeping Monk character, sees Moonwings falling in flames from the trees, another pleading Moonwing executed on the ground, all amidst a symphony of Houdini simulations of fire, smoke, and embers.

Cursed is an ambitious fantasy adventure series produced for Netflix, so we were looking for partners who had the capacity to realize our vision, and we had a great experience working with Freefolk,” series producer Alex Boden said. “We really appreciated the close collaboration with the whole creative team that delivered some of the key VFX on Cursed as well as their work on the Teaser Trailer for the show.”

With lockdown taking hold three weeks before Cursed was due to deliver, the entire VFX crew had to relocate to secure working from home set-ups, and despite the global pandemic, still delivered all the shots without delay.

Guidon explained that regarding how Freefolk’s production team handled the sudden pivot to working remotely from home, “from a technical perspective, we’d been preparing for the inevitable for about a month before we were locked down and our brilliant technical team worked hard to set up secure remote working for everyone.”

She continued, “It also required remote wrangling and efficient line production skills to ensure the workflow didn’t falter - with a strict routine put in place for dailies and turnaround of notes. We already had a bespoke pipeline to serve the Netflix delivery specifications, but soon had a solid remote pipeline in place so we were able to carry on smoothly.  This working practice is now set up for whatever the future holds.”

Cursed premiered globally July 17 on Netflix.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.