Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode 5

TV Drama, 2015

Milk won a BAFTA Television Craft Award for its work on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell episode five.

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Milk created the visual effects for the BBC’s seven hour television drama Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which premiered on BBC One on Sunday 17th May 2015. Directed by Toby Haynes and adapted by Peter Harness from Susanna Clarke’s best-selling novel of the same name.

VFX brief: To create a range of effects across seven hours, to support the epic tale of the return of magic to Georgian England.

Working closely with director Toby Haynes, Milk designed and made standalone VFX sequences in each episode, portraying the magicians’ use of the elements to create magic; crowd work to help portray the Battle of Waterloo; environment work to bring the magical fairy world to life; as well as creating a large body of invisible, seamless effects to support the narrative.

Milk also undertook the traditional work associated with a period drama such as paint outs/clean up, set extensions and matte paintings to set the scene and add scope and scale in Georgian England.

Each sequence required a bespoke approach and had to fit the tone of a fantastical world set in a real historical period.

NUMBER OF SHOTS: 1000 shots

SIZE OF CREW: 50 artists

DURATION OF PRODUCTION: Summer 2013 – January 2015

SCOPE OF WORK:

Milk’s primary task was to make magic utterly believable by bringing to life the natural elements used by the magicians. Milk created an impressive body of effects work throughout the series, bringing to life stone, sand, water and mud as well as a flock of ravens.

The key VFX sequences include crowd work, water and mud effects work on the spectacular Battle of Waterloo sequences in episode 5; bringing the York Minster statues to life; the opening sequence showing the Shambles and York Minster which introduces the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in episode 1; and the ‘sand horses’ and the fleet of ‘rain ships’ in episode 2.

The Milk team spent several invaluable months doing R&D prior to and during the first months of the shoot for the key sequences. Milk collaborated closely with Toby Haynes and producer Nick Hirschkorn prior to pre-production and throughout the process with the production designer and edit team.

VFX work in episode five: “Arabella”

The Battle of Waterloo –

The opening five minutes of episode five transports the audience into the 1815 Battle of Waterloo where Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) directs his otherworldly powers to aid the British war effort. Milk spent three months creating a full range of effects to bring this epic sequence to life for television, including; full 3D aerial shot of the battle, crowd work, water and mud effects simulation, modelling and texturing, matte painting, animation and 2D work.

Waterloo full 3D shot –

The episode opens to a spectacular sixty-second swooping aerial shot of Waterloo, panning over a smoke-covered battlefield filled with thousands of soldiers and cannon-fire to reveal the full scale of the war. Milk worked closely with director Toby Haynes to design the sequence, pre-visualise the shot and get the camera move absolutely right in order to transition from full 3D to live action.

“Rather than just seeing twenty extras in the scene, with the main battle happening off-camera we wanted to get the full horror of the fighting. Milk has done similar scale shots for films such as “Insurgent” so this represents a crossover to what can be done in high-end television in 2015.” Said Will Cohen, Milk’s CEO.

Inspired by battle scenes in Sergei Bondarchuk’s film “Napoleon” – in which 40,00 extras were used – the Milk team began building the Waterloo sequence, using it as a point of reference for terrain and textures.

The Milk team studied historical reference maps of the battle and Google maps of the area to ensure the terrain geography and formation of the soldiers was historically correct. Once the camera move and length of the shot were locked down, the team worked on the choreography of the shot by blocking the soldiers’ actions using simplistic rigs.

Milk used Golaem Crowd to create 50,000 soldiers in the battle scene. We created four different types of soldier identifiable by their uniforms and two types of soldiers on horseback. The team also created a variety of props including cannons, trees, bushes and houses.

All the props were researched to ensure historical accuracy: Each cannon for example, had five soldiers manning it. The production’s costume department provided the soldiers’ uniform references and Milk photo scanned each one.

In total Milk created 50,000 digital extras, cannon fire and the crowd fighting and running. We used Golaem Ragdoll for the soldiers being hit by cannonballs. We created a library of canon explosions with projection of a cannon ball; done in Maya and Houdini. We also created glinting water for the puddles and created footprints for every person on the battlefield. Smoke, mud and atmosphere elements were simulated in Houdini and rendered in Maya. The clouds at the beginning of the shot were rendered in Mantra.

Once we had created these assets and interaction we sought Toby’s input. The shot was created over a three-month period.

Water funnel – As the camera descends into the fighting at Chateau d’Hougoumont – where the Napoleon’s army are attacking the British Army – Jonathan Strange is using magic to help repel the enemy forces. Milk’s Effects team created the water funnel that Jonathan Strange conjures to put out the fire at Hougoumont. The water funnel involved a choreographed body of water arching up into the sky and jetting towards the burning Fort to extinguish the flames. The whirlpool timing and shape had to be controllable and directable. For this task Houdini was the preferred choice: A combination of procedural approach, flip fluid and white-water simulations as well as post-sim procedural tweaks were used in order to control and direct the jet of water whilst retaining realistic movement.

The main body of water was procedurally generated and extruded along a curve. From there liquid flip and white water simulations were created. Misty smoke was generated from the combination of the body of water and liquid simulations. The resulting caches were then post-tweaked and re-timed to accentuate certain required characteristics of water movement. A 2D join was tracked in – when the water well splits up into 5 sections and puts the fire out.

The main body of water was rendered using Arnold in Maya from the lighting team and the smaller droplets and white water was rendered from the FX team using mantra in Houdini.

Milk created and enhanced the rain that is falling throughout the sequence. Practical water from hoses was also used as the soldiers come out of the burning fort to accentuate the effect.

Ivy– During the fighting at Hougoumont Napoleon’s soldiers start to climb over the walls. Milk created and animated the ivy, which Jonathan Strange brings to life and uses tentacle-like to grab and then flick French soldiers back down from the wall. The enemy soldiers were shot practically with a stunt man on a wire rig, Milk then created digi doubles and take-overs timed just as the ivy flings each soldier away from the wall. Milk created hero vines in Maya and used Houdini for the multiple ivy branches as they grow.

Mud hand – Throughout the series Milk’s brief was to bring to life a very visceral and naturalistic form of magic. Towards the end of the Hougoumont sequence, Jonathan Strange creates a giant mud hand to crush an attacking French soldier to death.

The brief for the mud hand was to create a large scale, realistic hand made of mud that rises up from the ground and crushes a soldier to death. Milk’s effects team began by matching the mud hand to the terrain at the location where the sequence was shot. Once we saw the plate we knew that the mud needed to be quite fluid, gooey mud.

During an R&D period the team were able to explore a variety of techniques to produce different mud qualities. One method involved allowing the hand to break apart dynamically, depending on which areas of the animated mesh articulated the most. This produced natural looking results but gave the impression of a dry, brittle material. The method that we settled upon was more heavily based on particle fluid simulations. The animated mesh was deformed in such a way as to give the impression of flowing mud, with viscous fluid particles being emitted from the bumpiest areas to produce falling chunks and streams. Extra displacement and colour variation was added at render time to create more detail and introduce a rain interaction effect.

Milk’s animation team built a hand asset, which lifts up and crushes the French soldier to death. The actor was filmed on a wire and the hand animation team had to accommodate his position with him leaning slightly forwards.

Enhancements– Milk created soldiers’ wound enhancements, blood hits and blood on cloth for the Hougoumont sequence. We couldn’t find a good reference for an ‘axe wound’ at the required angle. So we used a mannequin, created the wound with SFX make up/blood and ripped clothing with material, photographed it, then enhanced it in Photoshop and composited it into the shot.

Digital matte painting – The Waterloo scenes are augmented by a number of environment extensions and matte paintings, including the final shot in which the camera cranes up to reveal a wide shot of the post battle carnage.

At the end of the battle sequence we flash forward to Jonathan Strange at home with Arabella, looking out of their window at snow falling. The entire view from the window was created by Milk with a combination of matte painting and 2D snow.

Arabella in Lost Hope – Arabella is enchanted and taken into the magical realm of Lost Hope. Milk created a matte painting showing the carriage taking her from the green countryside of England across into the dark, desolate and macabre Lost Hope.

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Awards

  • Gold
    BAFTA Television Craft Awards 2016

    2016

  • Nomination
    VES Awards

    2016

Credits

MILK VFX CORE TEAM:

Natalie Reid/Jenna Powell VFX Producer
Jean-Claude Deguara VFX Supervisor
Sara Bennett Head of 2D
Luka Leskovsek 2D Supervisor
Nicolas Hernandez 3D Supervisor
Sarah Williamson VFX Co-ordinador
Mark Bright VFX Editor

Sam Lucas Modeling/Texture Supervisor
Neil Roche 
Rigging Supervisor
Amy Felce 
Matchmove Supervisor
David Bennett
Animation Supervisor
James Reid 
FX Supervisor

Turlo Griffin Matte Painting Lead

MILK VFX CREW:

Stefan Brown Modeller
Jason Brown Modeller
Gavin Platt Junior Modeller
Henry South Texture Lead
Will Pryor Rigging

William Correia Animator
Ruth Bailey Animator

Luca Zappala FX TD
Nick Webber FX TD

Jan Schubert Lighting TD
Bastien Mortelecque Lighting TD
Adrian Williams Lighting TD
Dom Alderson Lighting TD

Mario Brioschi Compositor
Henning Glabbart Compositor
John Peck Compositor
Matias Derkacz Compositor
Luciano Lopes Compositor
Sandra Chocholska Compositor
Matt McDougal Compositor
Kenn Kalvik Junior Compositor
Elisa Simoncelli Junior Compositor
Daniel Long Junior Compositor

Jay Murray Roto Prep
Chris West Roto Prep
Kier DeCordova Roto Prep

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