What is your background?
I studied Animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Germany from 1997 to 2002, and after that, I worked as a VFX generalist. I then specialized in On-Set VFX Supervision and finally VFX Supervision. For most of my career I worked in commercials, with some movies crossing my way from time to time, but thanks to Scanline VFX, I now work full-time in movies.
How did you and Scanline VFX get involved in this show?
Benjamin Munz, the Producer of RatPack Films and our COO Jasmin Hasel met at several occasions in Munich over the years. They always planned on doing a project together one day, and Blood Red Sky finally became that project. Scanline was involved in the show for a very long time. The bidding process began in 2013, but the show was never greenlit until Netflix came on board in late 2019.
How was the collaboration with Director Peter Thorwarth?
Peter Thorwarth is a great and humble person. He was very clear about his vision for the movie, but always open to new ideas and input, so collaborating with him was a very pleasant experience.
What were his expectations and approach about the visual effects?
Peter didn’t want Blood Red Sky to become an effects-driven vampire movie. It was very important for him to keep the movie in the real world as much as possible for a vampire movie. Most of our VFX work was used in a supportive and invisible manner, except in particularly emotional moments of the movie where we exaggerated the VFX a bit.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
As mentioned, the project already had a long history before I joined the show in early 2020 for the shoot. Michael Mielke was our Executive Producer on the show and the Scanline production mastermind on Blood Red Sky. He was involved in this project from a very early stage. Including preparation, he worked for a couple of years on the project. Our VFX producer, Katharina Hofmann, was our organization and structure fanatic. She kept everything under control throughout post-production.
We worked together in a very close manner and were in constant contact with one another. Our production department did a great job of organizing the project in a way where we were able to deliver a huge number of shots in a very short time, while still giving the creative process enough room to breathe. I’d like to thank them here again for their outstanding work.
How did you split the work amongst the Scanline VFX offices?
The main portion of the work was done in our Munich and Stuttgart Scanline offices. Since everybody was working remotely from home anyway, it felt as if we were all together in one huge virtual office. In addition to that, our London and Seoul offices supported the project with comp work for a few standalone sequences, and for certain tasks we also got support from our colleagues in North America.
Can you elaborate on the plane creation?
The plane in the movie is supposed to be an Airbus 340-600 and our 3D department built a very detailed CG version of it. Art director Uwe Stanik provided us with all the Transatlantik Airline logos and typos, which went onto the plane. For the shooting, RatPack purchased an old flight simulator cockpit, which was big enough to fit actors and crew inside. However, it was a Boeing 737 cockpit, so we had to adjust our CG airplane to be a hybrid of an Airbus with a Boeing cockpit. Outside of one shot, where the SWAT team opens a cargo hatch, all exterior shots of the plane were of the CG plane. Interior shots were shot at an airplane set in Prague, which we extended in comp to make it look longer.
Some sequences are seen by night. How does that affect your lighting work?
When on a big airfield or runway at night you don’t see much of the plane, except some blinking lights. Therefore, we had to cheat a bit to make our plane more visible to create more interesting looking shots. Each airplane has a lot of lights built in it, including anti-collision, logo, wing, and taxi lights. We switched those lights on and off depending on what looked best in the shot. Airplane enthusiasts might notice that we didn’t always stick to air traffic regulations.
In the airport sequence, we pushed the reflections to make the fuselage more visible. On the RAF airbase, we created full moonlighting to make the plane more visible.
The night shots, especially the low light shots inside the plane, were much more a challenge for matchmoving than it was for lighting. Matchmove did an especially great job in tracking the main actor’s body parts in the very dark shots.
How did you create the clouds?
Before the shoot, we created a simulation of a dense cloud cover at night using our in-house tool Flowline. Those clouds were rendered as a 180° image and projected onto a black screen, which was set up around the cockpit in the studio. We used those same clouds for the shots of the airplane flying at night on top of the clouds. We then used smaller cloud structures to cover the cockpit windows and cargo hatch for the rising sun sequence inside of the plane and used the Eddy Plugin in Nuke for those shots. We wanted to ensure our comp artists had full control over the clouds, so they were able to react quickly to director feedback inside comp.
Can you tell us more about the other vehicle creation?
We took most of the vehicles from our internal 3D model database. However, some of these vehicles needed adjustments in the textures and armaments to make them look like RAF vehicles, such as the Typhoon jet fighter and the Eurocopter, for example.
How did you create the various environments?
Most of our environments were a mix of 3D set extensions, parts of the original plate, and Digital Matte Paintings. We built a lot of the hangars and taxiways in 3D for the RAF station, which were painted over by the DMP department, and the rest of the environment was pure DMPs.
Only the runway and the airplane are 3D models in the airport sequence. We went to the airport in Leipzig to shoot Background plates. Those plates were stitched together and extended by DMP to make it look like a much bigger airport.
Can you explain in detail about the transformation into a vampire?
The transformation into a vampire happened in three stages. Mark Coulier’s SFX makeup team developed the look of all three stages and did a great job in putting silicon face extensions onto the actors.
Stage 1 – Blue lines appear on the skin and teeth and fingernails begin to grow. In a couple of shots, we painted out the blue lines on the skin and let them reappear. There were also one or two shots where we let teeth and fingernails grow.
Stage 2 – The vampire’s teeth are there, and the face begins to change. Our work was limited during this stage to only some retouches.
Stage 3 – The face continues to change; jaws get bigger, and the distance of the eyes widens. In this stage, we widened the eyes of the two main characters, Nadja and 8Ball, and replaced the lower part of the face in some shots with a 3D model.
Can you elaborate on the healing process of the vampire?
The wounds were done by SFX makeup, we did a 3D track of the appropriate body parts, and the healing animation was done in comp.
How did you manage their eyes?
The three most important things were to not destroy the actors’ specific characteristics, lose their performance while changing their faces, and not destroy the great designs of the SFX makeup department. Finding the right balance of how strong our face changes could be was a process that took a couple of weeks. We had 3D scans of the actor’s faces with fully applied stage three SFX makeup. The Modelling department used this as a basis to model the widened eyes and bigger jaws.
Our senior comp artist, Tim Klink, came up with a method that enabled us to widen the eyes directly in comp in a very short time. We then 3D tracked the heads of the actors with the stage three scan, copied those transformations onto our extended stage three head model, and used the resulting differences between the models in the comp department to drive the distortion inside Nuke to widen the eyes.
Can you tell us more about the fire FX work?
The fire was done using our in-house tool, Flowline. We didn’t have enough time to simulate the fire for every shot, so our FX department simulated different fires and rendered them from different angles. Those clips were then used by our comp department in several shots, combining them into one big fire.
Can you elaborate on the massive final explosion?
We did a real massive explosion on set and filmed it from four different angles. At the time, we thought it was massive enough to fit our airplane underneath, do a little tweaking, and be done. However, in post we realized the real explosion was not big enough, so we extended the explosion using our in-house tool, Flowline. We ended up having a huge CG explosion, with some parts of the real explosion seamlessly mixed in. I think for explosions this sentence rings true: « Bigger is better. »
Did you want to reveal to us any other invisible effects?
Besides the typical invisible stuff like screen inserts and rig removals, we did a lot of work with snow. During our shoot in Slovakia, we had days with a lot of snow, which we didn’t need. When shooting in the Czech Republic later we ended up needing snow, but our real fake snow was being blown in the wrong direction by the wind. We ended up removing a lot of snow from some sequences and adding CG snow into other sequences.
Which shot or sequence was the most challenging?
The fight between Nadja and 8Ball was the most challenging sequence because of the face changes and the difficult lighting situation for matchmoving. But in reality, the most challenging task of the project was to make sure we finished in time.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
What gave me really short nights was our short post-production period of 20 weeks.
What is your favourite shot or sequence?
It’s hard for me to tell you a single favourite sequence because I liked all sequences we worked on. That said, now seeing the SWAT team storming the airplane is fun for me because they’re on the runway when in reality the SWAT team was only storming a scissor lift with some green fabric.
What is your best memory of this show?
Leaving quarantine after days of isolation and being able to continue to shoot was such a relief. Unfortunately, that happened a couple of times.
How long have you worked on this show?
I joined Blood Red Sky at the beginning of the shoot and worked on the show for 15 months.
What’s the VFX shots count?
We delivered 527 shots.
What was the size of your team?
134 people were working on the show at Scanline.
What is your next project?
Blackout – a mini-series for the German streaming platform JOYN. The show is about some hackers switching off the European power grid.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
- On the Comet by Karel Zeman
- Invention of Destruction by Karel Zeman
- The James Bond main titles by Maurice Binder
- The original TRON
A big thanks for your time.
// Blood Red Sky: VFX Making of by Netflix
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© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2021