From Locust Swarms to Stampeding Buffalo: Goodbe Kansas' VFX Achievements in Outlander Season 5
April 26, 2021

From Locust Swarms to Stampeding Buffalo: Goodbe Kansas' VFX Achievements in Outlander Season 5

As fans eagerly await the next season of Ronald D. Moore's Outlander series, Goodbye Kansas Studios provides a look back at its work from Season 5, delivering 175 shots and five assets. The studio was initially commissioned to work on just Episodes 1 and 2, but the project quickly grew to involve work across the entire series. 

Left: House on the lake before; Right: House on the lake comparison.

Goodbye Kansas started by creating an environment extension for the Blueridge Mountains and other compositing work for Episode 2, which involved enhancing footage of a dying man to make his tormented final moment look more realistic. After completing this VFX work, Goodbye Kansas was commissioned to create several more shots for the show including a locust swarm, a herd of buffalos, dramatic shots of a storm and further extensions to the set.

Desiree Ryden, VFX producer, said: “We doubled down on the strengths of Goodbye Kansas, with our comp team in London working alongside the CG team in Stockholm. Outlander was an interesting show to work on, and we were happy to contribute to a series with such excellent storytelling. It has a massive fanbase, so we felt a huge responsibility to the people who love the show.”

Buffalo visit.

To create the stampeding buffalo sequence, Goodbye Kansas combined shots of a real buffalo called “Mick Mack” captured at Woburn Safari Park with stock footage and a full-sized puppet. However, the friendly-looking buffalo filmed at Woburn was simply too nice to feature in the scenes.
Desiree Ryden added: “We needed to make Mick Mack look angrier. We enhanced its eye as well as dust and snot to make him seem tougher. It was a difficult scene, but it worked out. We broke the rule book and used every trick we could think of to make it feel as real as possible.”

Goodbye Kansas has created lifelike digital creatures, and crowds of creatures for other productions in the past. Having had this experience, artists were well placed to take on the challenge of creating a cloud of CG locusts.

“The more swarms we do, the better we get,” Ryden continued. “During Outlander Season 5, there is a scene showing a locust swarm on the horizon and farmers lighting fires to drive them away. The challenge was to build up a swarm over the duration of the sequence and get the timing right so that each locust was travelling at the right speed. “We created an FX cache we could place in shots and used keyframe animations for specific bits of action and close-ups. It was a challenge because the smoke was heavy and actors were shown among the swarm. Although motion blur makes it hard to see the individual insects, if you plucked one out you’d see the extreme details our teams put into them.”

Smoke field comparison.

The studio was also tasked with filling a wedding scene with virtual guests - a process that taught it some lessons which could prove very useful at a time when it’s not possible to easily assemble large groups of extras. Jim Parson, VFX supervisor, said: “We had to fill a wedding with hundreds of guests, using just 50 or 60 extras. We filmed some of the extras in our greenscreen set and used them to populate the scene. This was easier than creating 3D models and cheaper too. During the COVID era, our method could be used to populate huge landscapes without involving large casts of actors. This approach might not work as well for close-ups, but for long shots it was a great idea.”

Wedding party.

Season 5 also features a dramatic flashback sequence which was shot to resemble a silent movie, requiring careful work in After Effects.

Jim Parson added: “The silent movie aesthetic was a very original way of showing a flashback. It required a graphic feel, which is not something we usually do when compositing in Nuke. We used After Effects in the flashback sequence, which helped us create the flow and transitions which were key to the scene. It was a unique approach.”

Goodbye Kansas also worked on two previous series of the show, contributing to Seasons 3 and f4. Shooting on Series 6 was set to begin early in 2021.