Over the years films like The Abyss, Deep Blue Sea, Blue, and U-571 amongst others alike, have adopted science fiction as their subject. These films utilize visual effects as tools to enhance the story that engages and entertains their audiences. Mumbai and Chennai based Pixion studios, has stimulated the genre by creating an underwater abyss for The Deep. A BBC One television drama produced by Tiger Aspect Productions.
Shot at a studio in Dumbarton Scotland over twelve weeks, the series boast of well known actors such as Minnie Driver and James Nesbitt which revolves around the perilous adventures of a crew that delves deep into the Arctic Ocean to search for rare micro-organisms to seek new sources of bio-fuel.
Before getting hold of any visual effects or animation project, post production studios across continents are pitted against each other through the proposal phase. Since Molinaire the front end of Pixion in London got an enquiry for the project from BBC, they got involved with the project right through the bidding stage.
VFX giants like Double Negative was one of the studios that were bidding against them. Studios are required to do different tests, to present the level of visual quality that can be produced. Pixion made the underwater craft to show the strength of detailing as far as the modeling is concerned during the tests. “A lot of research and development was carried out on how light behaves deep under water, these tests were made to present the quality of VFX that’s taking place in India.” Says Viral Production head of the Indian based Pixion Studios.
Viral Thakkar from Pixion and Simon Carr from Molinaire spearheaded VFX for the series. Viral overlooked production at the Indian facilities while Simon led the team in London. The created the underwater world’s appearance along with creatures, dust particles, explosions, sea craft etc. Over a hundred artists at Pixion worked on the project for six months, contributing with over 550 VFX shots for five episodes in the first season.
Viral Thakkar the Cg head of the series, shares his experiences with BollywoodHungama on how ‘deep’ visual effects can go. Courtesy Pixion Studios.
Envision the Integration
Molinaire conceptualized it in London, the art work was already made with the production house so we basically got all the material and we went ahead and modeled the sea crafts here in India. The brief was mostly from London itself.
The characters were basically shot in a craft called the Lurch; the craft that could go to profound depths underwater has a glass bubble around it. The most difficult part was to create the entire CGI craft around the live action plates shot, we created the entire exterior of the craft, in addition the craft has many LED lights all over and in order to match the lighting, reflection and refraction the glass bubble around it had to be made in CGI. Tracking the live action plates with CGI elements was another challenging feat in itself, since there were a lot of hand movements. The director wanted to have a nice hovering hand held feel to it since the scene was underwater.
Creating the underwater abyss
We didn’t have to really create water because, if you analyse it when you descend underwater you see particles and dirt mostly. Since the Lurch was a thousand feet underwater, we had to create more of a particle based look for the series. As far as the bubbles were concerned we did our research, the moment the craft descends under water.
There was no question of creating bubbles for the fact that bubbles can’t form underwater because there is no air trapped.
Aquatic volcanoes and underwater explosions
The script called for underwater volcanic eruptions, so our team at Pixion had to create fluid effects, smoke, fire etc. In order to get the smoke simulations precise, research was done on the way smoke behaves underwater. Smoke simulations were made possible using Fume Fx plug-in with 3DS Max’s.
No one would’ve seen an explosion going off under water, the clients wanted to achieve a particular look for the explosions, so to achieve that we got substantial feedback from the clients regarding the shots before it got approved.
The robotic arms which were used to pick up objects from the seabed on the exterior of the Lurch were actually 3D meshes. It was animated according to the live action actors hand movements. The arms were modelled, rigged and animated by our team.
Besides creating an underworld environment, there were quite a few sea creatures that were modelled, rigged and animated for the series. Creatures like vampire squid, Beluga whales and fish; this gave The Deep a photo real look.
Being a BBC project we couldn’t compromise on the quality, that was the most challenging part. They were very particular about the details enen though it was a television show. It was almost treated like a vfx feature film.