Soho-based VFX studio One of Us was among the talent pool that crafted visual effects for director George Clooney’s melancholy post-apocalyptic sci-fi series The Midnight Sky for Netflix, and here they share their experience.
Portraying two parallel journeys of survival, Clooney plays Augustine, the last man on a dying Earth, himself stricken with terminal cancer. In his attempt to contact the spaceship Aether, returning from a mission in search of a habitable world, Augustine must trek from his Arctic base through a radioactive ice storm to a weather station. It feels like a piece in tune with our times.
Visual Effects Supervisor Matt Kasmir brought One Of Us on board to deal with some of the more design-intensive aspects of the project. These ranged from the epic to the intimate: from huge vistas of K23, a human-friendly moon of Jupiter, to the holographic family life which serves to comfort the crew of the Aether.
Oliver Cubbage led the One Of US team, and worked closely with Kasmir and Clooney, bringing energy and inspiration to the design, and then precision to the execution.
Cubbage traveled with Kasmir to the island of La Palma to film the background plates for the K23 environment. The beautiful, alien looking landscape of La Palma provided a perfect backdrop to build upon to realize this new world. Accompanied by some subtle production designed plants and using a stand-in actor, they filmed the plates that would provide the backbone of the K23 dream sequence. Close-up green screen shots were filmed in a studio with Felicity Jones, who played Sully, as she was far enough along in her pregnancy to not be able to travel.
Kasmir commented on the partnership, “I have always loved the creative style One Of Us brings to its work, so I knew I had to get them on board from the beginning. They were huge creative collaborators and Oli and his team produced one of George’s favourite sequences – the living memory holograms. Working with them in post – although remotely of course – was a blast.”
The family holograms were a key element for Clooney, Cubbage explains the creative process, “they required a look which conveyed the melancholy of separation, and so the tech is imperfect – like the crumpled photograph in your wallet. Most of this treatment was created in comp, and was tailored shot by shot, to catch the nuances of performance. VFX is often called upon to create spectacle, so it is an exciting design challenge to find an abstract way to evoke emotion.
We are proud of this collaboration with Clooney, Matt Kasmir, and with the team at Netflix, and delighted to see the success of this visually rich and affecting piece.”
The Jovian moon of K23 needed to be seen at different scales. We begin tight in on scientist Sully (Felicity Jones) taking samples from a stream. We progress through a ravine, its sides covered with unearthly plants, which then opens out to a field, and beyond that a plain, mountains, and the sky dominated by the parent planet. Everything about this environment had to be coherent and credible, but utterly alien. The challenge here was to choose which laws of nature to obey and which to break. This sequence combined plates shot in La Palma, with Digital Matte Painting and many CG elements. This also required precision in comp, and a great deal of creative input, particularly in the otherworldly palette.
One Of Us also created other holographic tech aboard the Aether and in Augustine’s Arctic base. A dimensional map table, an interactive chart of the solar system, and a game to entertain crew members. All of these elements were simple and elegant, designed to support but not distract from the performances of the actors.
The Midnight Sky is currently streaming on Netflix