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FuseFX Ratchets Up the Visuals and Adventure in ‘Outer Banks’ Season 3

The leading VFX studio delivers plane crashes, house fires, and a cave with 500-year-old gold treasure, in the latest season of Netflix’s action-adventure mystery teen drama about two warring clans in North Carolina’s famous barrier islands.

As the treasure quest grew larger for John B Routledge and his friends on Outer Banks, so did the duties of Art Codron and his team at FuseFX.

As VFX supervisor on the show’s third and latest season, now streaming on Netflix, the three-time Emmy Award winner Codron and his FuseFX team brought considerable experience to the production. He’s worked on Marvel series such as Loki, Dr. Seuss adaptations like Green Eggs & Ham, as well as biographical TV miniseries like Pam & Tommy. But out of the 100-plus projects FuseFX has been a part of, Outer Banks pushed the team in new ways and, according to Codron, helped them all grow in the craft. 

“I've been doing this for a long time, but I’m constantly learning and there are constant improvements in technology,” he says. “It's always good to stretch new muscles. To do something a bit larger in scope, and really push the limits on everybody. It's like taking out a fast car for a ride and seeing what it can do. It has its challenges. But that's what's good. You can see the benefits of that growth from everybody. They get to be better artists or supervisors. So, it’s cool to be on a show where we see things get pushed, and then pushed even more.”

Outer Banks – an action-adventure mystery teen drama series created by Josh Pate, Jonas Pate, and Shannon Burke – kicked off its first season by introducing the two clans of North Carolina’s 200-mile stretch of barrier islands (called the “Outer Banks” or OBX): the working-class Pogues and the rich-and-famous Kooks. The tension between these two long-time rivals heats up when Pogue John B discovers that his presumed dead father, Big John, may have been betrayed by his Kook treasure-hunting partner Ward Cameron. 

When John B and his friends, including the OBX’s former Kook princess Sarah Cameron, discover the treasure, it leads to a whirlwind of betrayal and murder. And while each of the show’s seasons has had its fair share of visual effects mastery (as would be the case in any treasure-hunting series), the third season raised the bar, bringing in plane crashes, more international travel, cave exploration, large sea mammals, and, of course, lots more gold. 

“The goal was more of the same, just more,” says Codron. “They warned us that they would be punching things up this season.”

In the third season, John B, along with the enemies he’s made, discover that the treasure Ward and Big John were hunting was only the tip of the iceberg and a steppingstone to the real prize – the 500-year-old city of gold legend, El Dorado. 

“It was really cool getting the chance to create this city that’s been adapted so many times already,” shares Codron. “The cave the scene was shot in, by itself, was stunning, without us even doing anything. And then the production designer and art department gave us a bunch of concept art, which had designs for all the idols, the general layout, the big gold centerpiece, and the gold veins going through the cave walls. In the end, it had a real Disney-esque style.”

But Codron wasn’t only interested in the awe-factor of the massive amounts of gold they’d be creating in the South American cave; he set his sights on making 500-year-old gold look as ancient as 500-year-old gold that’s been sitting in a dark, wet cave should look.

“It was actually a lot of rounds back and forth with the gold to get it to look right,” notes Codron. “Initially, it was looking a little too shiny, and a little too clean. So, we had to age it down and get it to feel rockier. Once we had the modeling down, we textured everything to match the real cave walls and then composited it in, with plenty of cleanup in between all of that.”

Not only did the cozy cave not leave a lot of room to hide set lights, it’s also a tourist attraction – with many scenes filmed near Welchman Hall Gully in Barbados – and a large amount of cleanup was needed.

“It’s a real tourist location, so they have these trams with pathways inside the cave, which we had to paint out,” says Codron. “But that wasn’t as tough to handle as the gold veins in the walls.”

Streaming gold along the side of a cave wall may seem like a simple CG task but sticking an element like gold onto the walls of a real and rocky cave meant that all the pixels had to lock nicely, and consistently. For Codron and the team, it was like running around a boat deck to constantly make sure all ropes were secured. 

“There were many times we had to go back and check the effects because we’d be at a point where we thought we were almost done and then a couple of the pixels for the veins would start slipping,” he says. “But it went pretty well thanks to the smart vectors we used in Nuke.”

But even gold veins on cave walls can’t compare to the tedious nature of CG water, of which there is plenty of in this show. 

“It’s certainly a heck of a lot easier to do these days than it would have been in the past, but in some scenes, like where John B and his dad are out at sea and they watch a whale breach out of the water, it’s especially challenging,” Codron explains. “It’s a two-step thing. Getting a whale to move in a natural way, that's the first thing. And then once you get that nailed, you have to then get the water to move along with all of that and make it look real, which is tough because if the scale is off, if the speed is off, if there's any one little thing that's off, it breaks the whole effect and it’s back to the drawing board. It’s one of those things that has to look perfect to look right.”

Water is famously loathed in the animation and effects industries. As incredible as it looks in some final products, the journey to get there is heavy, literally.

“In this business, we call water “heavy,” meaning the computer power needed is considerable,” Codron shares. “When we do the fire and the burning cross, computer-wise, it goes very fast because the rendering is simple. Whereas something like water, especially a plane crashing into water, because there's so much going on, it just takes a long time.”

The very first episode of the new season features a plane crash as the Pogues make their way off an abandoned island back to civilization. As the amphibious aircraft prepares for landing, it loses its bearings and crashes into a port-side beach on the Caribbean Ocean. It was the first and one of the most significant VFX action sequences of the season. 

“Whenever you crash a plane, it’s on the bigger end of things,” says Codron. “It's usually multiple cuts. You have to match continuity. It has to all make sense. And then this one is made tougher because it's crashing in water, which is another element you have to figure out. It’s a lot of physics because not only does it have to crash, but we have to look carefully at what the reaction is from the crash. People don’t die, and the plane doesn’t totally come apart. So, it needs to be dramatic and cool looking, but not catastrophic. It’s just episode one, after all. YouTube was really our best friend for figuring those things out.” 

He adds, “Whenever you get into water or fire or smoke, you get into effects and it's complex. It's just time-consuming.”

Another “signature sequence,” as Codron calls them, is when John B’s house goes up in flames after it’s set on fire by a member of the Kooks bent on revenge. Even though the shots were more straightforward than any of the water effects, it still took some fine-tuning to get the look right, since the team couldn’t use real fire. 

“When the chateau burned, we were not allowed to actually burn anything, especially because we were in a location where everything was flammable,” says Codron. “The ideal choice is to use flame bars, which are large barbecue-type things, and we'll have a flame that's a few feet high, which gets some nice interactive light and some flicker. But sometimes you can't even do that. So, the second way is to get lighting tubes that have orange and red gels on them. And they're controlled electronically to give off some nice flicker and some interactive light. It doesn’t look like fire by itself, but everything around it looks like there's a fire there.”

He continues, “So when we input the fire effects from the library of fire elements, we have to cover up those lights with fire, we blend it in with all the interactive light and it looks very convincing.”

In addition to all the computer-generated effects, matte paintings, an old-school VFX trick, were also used for the cross-melting scenes, creating island airfields, cityscapes, and ocean horizon extensions. Codron says he and the FuseFX team are also especially proud of some nighttime airplane scenes which feature purple-hued lightning storms. 

“Those were 100% created by us at FuseFX,” says Codron. “Initially, they were going to be stock shots that we put airplanes into, but then the production heads wanted to give it a little more pizzazz. So, they had us do the clouds and all that. They're some of my favorite shots from the season. They're just really moody and fun.”

Outer Banks has been renewed for a fourth season, though the release date and details of the storyline have yet to be announced. But we can be fairly certain the VFX bar will be raised once again.

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at