5 July 2022

Top VFX on screen – our top tips for screening and streaming

Skilful VFX has saved many a roadkill movie from a Golden Raspberry Award. But what do you get when the script is smokin’ and the visual effects are so hot you could fry an egg on them? Our list of the best that’s screening right now, or yet to come this year, that’s what. Are you sitting comfortably?

Back in March, the final season (nooooooooo!) of The Last Kingdom premiered on Netflix. The spankingly good VFX was produced by those maestros at BlueBolt studios, as it has been since the reign of King Arthur (in episode one).

However, the fifth season features the most eye-popping visuals to date. It required a VFX cornucopia of spectacular and complex environment extensions, gasp-inducing CG armies, and historically accurate computer-generated ships, as well as erupting Icelandic volcanoes and oceans created with matte painting and compositing work. Have a peak here to see the breakdown.

But hold your Saxon horses for a minute! The great news is that this isn’t the last you’ll see of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, for BlueBolt aren’t quite finished with him yet – the filming of a feature-length sequel, Seven Kings Must Die, has just wrapped, although we’ll have to wait until the end of this year to see if BlueBolt can uber-visual their previous greatest hits.

Now, that may be the final farewell to Uhtred, but BlueBolt aren’t done with their inner Viking yet. Over 90% of Universal movie The Northman features visual effects, whilst stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke and Björk get bogged down in a revenge drama which may or may not feature Björk’s swan dress (it was the egg at her feet that killed it. Where did that come from?). Anyhow, back to the VFX – the BlueBolt team of 47 2D artists and 36 3D artists laboured on extensive environment work, CG ships and water, creature work and an erupting volcano. vfxwire.com reported that a particularly VFX-heavy shot in the film features the king’s ships approaching a village. The scene includes a full CG sea with four computer-generated sail ships complete with fully digital crews, cargo, and horses. Oh, come on BlueBolt, up your game – surely you could have included a ship’s cat.

Next up is Apple TV+’s Attenborough-voiced offering, Prehistoric Planet. All VFX was masterminded by MPC Episodic, beloved collaborators on projects for HBO, Amazon Studios, Netflix, Warner Bros etc, etc, etc. The show combines award-winning wildlife filmmaking, the latest palaeontology discoveries and state-of-the-art VFX to unveil the habitats and inhabitants of the ancient Earth. Each animal required a complete digital anatomy, including bones, muscles, skin, scales, fur, feathers and teeth. Streaming right now, if you want a great close up of genius in action.

We couldn’t really bow out of this mini-guide without mentioning the A-word – Avatar. The sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 behemoth is due for an end of 2022 release, and whether the storyline bombs or not, the VFX will not disappoint. Wētā FX have vastly improved the skin texture and eyes of the Na’vi, but just as importantly the team took a year and a half to develop a new motion-capture system. They expertly blended three years of underwater filming and performance capture to produce something we reckon’s gonna be heart-stopping.

And lastly, we cannot leave without a special mention for Sky’s The Lazarus Project. Vine FX transformed scenes filmed in the Czech Republic into the streets of Paris, complete with landmarks, architecture and multiple nuclear explosions in a myriad of locations. Of course, any self-respecting nuclear explosion is accompanied by an atomic mushroom cloud, blast waves, compression rings with heavy smoke clouds, and a destroyed cityscape. Vine FX built that up in 3D, in case you were wondering.

And that’s all folks…

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