Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2018

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e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 1 8 | c g w 2 7 DARK Dark, a German sci-fi thriller series, debuted on Netflix's streaming service last Decem- ber. It spans six decades with story lines set in 1953, 1986, and 2019 in the fictional German town of Winden. Missing children, family secrets, and the discovery of a worm- hole in the cave system beneath the local nuclear power plant reveal some very dark mysteries, indeed, in this first German-lan- guage Netflix original series. Berlin-based Rise Visual Effects Studios provided all the VFX shots for Season 1 of the series. VFX supervisor Sven Pannicke was responsible for planning the visual ef- fects, including design and VFX set supervi- sion during principal photography. The "apparatus" time-travel machine was one of the challenges Pannicke faced on the show. "On set, we wanted to use a prac- tical model, built and provided by the art department," he explains. "We had to figure out how far we could go with the practical model in terms of functionality. We added all the moving parts to the model as CG elements — all the turning wheels, gears, and cylinders. To make life a bit easier for us, I de- cided to make a digital copy of the complete practical model using our 3D Lidar scanning workflow. So, if the apparatus needed to come to life in a shot, we could replace the whole apparatus with our CG model. This was easier than enhancing just parts of it." Since there were two practical models of the apparatus, to illustrate different time pe- riods and different stages of development, Rise created two different versions of the CG model, as well. In addition to the apparatus, Rise craed environments and handled effects anima- tion for the wormhole, or portal. In-camera techniques and DI color correction signal shis in the timeline. Pannicke considers the nuclear power plant to be his personal highlight in Season 1. "Everybody looks for typical VFX shots like time-shi effects, but they don't expect to see a full-CG power plant in the back- ground," he explains. "The main entry of the nuclear power plant in the series was shot at the back entry to Berlin's Olympiastadion — not even all of our Berlin friends noticed that!" The location was chosen as the most appropriate venue for the shot in the Berlin area and because "shooting close to a real nuclear power plant is always a nightmare due to the hard security rules." The Olympic stadium location looked perfect to Pannicke, with its trees forming "a natural matte line to split the foreground from the CG background. But due to the complex shooting schedule, the principal shoot on that location shied to winter, and there weren't any leaves anymore and, unfortu- nately, I lost my natural matte line. So, we had to replace them with CG trees, as well." Since Rise was founded 11 years ago, it has been constantly building and growing its own in-house workflow, based on third-par- ty tools. "We were one of the very first com- panies in Europe to use [Foundry's] Nuke for compositing. Some years later, we started using [Side Effects'] Houdini as our main tool for animation, shading/lighting, and rendering," the latter done with Side Effects' Mantra, and again leading the way with this toolset in Europe," Pannicke points out. The studio has its own in-house database, called RiseBase, for tracking all its produc- tions and connecting all its proprietary tools. "This is an ongoing process, so there was no need to establish any new workflow for Dark. Even the 4K workflow had been implement- ed already," Pannicke adds. – C. Bunish idea of how Happy would actually look." Most of the time Meloni visualized Happy without a prop stand-in. "This allowed for a very organic and sponta- neous performance," according to Hew- lett. "But one of the biggest challenges was getting the focal planes to gel. As stand-ins were not shot, there were many situations where, for instance, the focus remained on Nick, but Happy needed to be sharp in the foreground." This necessitated a lot of clever solutions per shot from the comp team, and they were always able to get a good integration, he adds. "But there was a lot more contact with Nick than we had anticipated, so we oen had to go back to 3D for an additional shadow pass or object track," Hewlett notes. AxisVFX also did the effects needed in shots with Happy — water, blood, glass, deflations, transformations. There were a lot of extra effects called for by the edit, he notes, so the group would oen have to produce simulations with a fast turnaround across its sites. A support group segment featuring Happy, Raspberry, and a host of friends — including a very profane Little Bo Peep — perched on folding chairs was a standout animated sequence. Challeng- es largely had to do with rigging "very unusually shaped bodies, such as Goose the Toad, whose tiny arms and bloated torso constantly wanted to intersect with his clothes," says Hewlett. Or take Raspberry, a hero character who under- went as much development, if not more, as Happy, with his three facial rigs and extended mustache/eyebrow hairs. Although Season 2 of Happy! has yet to get under way, AxisVFX is ready to go with "a sharpened set of tools" should the company get the call. "Quite a lot of further improvement on our hair/fur system has already been taking place, as well as the infrastructure for working across our three sites," says Hewlett. "Networks and storage are freshly upgraded, which can only increase efficiency. Looking back, we now know what we didn't before; therefore, we can only get better at providing even more awesome animation and VFX for Happy!" – C. Bunish

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