Welcome back to part 2 of our series on the VFX work behind BBC America’s latest Terry Pratchett adaptation – ‘The Watch’. In part 1, we covered the initial design process behind the two dragons at the heart of the story. There’s Goodboy, the hand-held dragon with the power of a flamethrower. Then there’s the Noble Dragon, the terrifying, smoky city-razer causing chaos.
In part 2, we’re going to talk about the pre- and post-visualisation work that went into creating the two unique dragons. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
Previously, we talked about creating a unique look for the Noble Dragon; something audiences had never seen before in a dragon. We decided on a smoky, ethereal design that created an air of mystery and unknown terror about the creature.
Once we had a model, we went on to create tests to show how the FX would look and behave on a basic flying version of the model. The brief we received from director Craig Viveiros was that it should look like plane trailing contrails. He wanted the dragon to have a sinister visual impact and pose a serious threat to the characters.
We used a basic model of a dragon for our test, with a very simple rig. We draped it in smoke to give an idea of what it would look like in the final series, and the test scene was a simple animation block-out with the dragon breathing fire. This previs ensured that the director and execs could all agree how the dragon would behave and look when it flew, ahead of starting work on shots.
Once we had a test everyone was happy with, we created a fully rigged model of the Noble Dragon model sculpt we had created, which we then put through various flight cycles to show how it moved in the sky. This was part of our team’s internal process for developing the animation for the Noble Dragon.
Principle photography took place in South Africa, creating the live action plates we needed to incorporate our dragons. The art department created a full-size replica of Goodboy for actress Lara Rossi (Lady Sybil) to hold in shot. He was then replaced in post-production by the CG Goodboy. This was partially to help with her performance, but we also hoped that in wide shots we could use that rather than the CGI model, to reduce costs.
Post-vis was done of all the key CG sequences using a mixture of filmed plates and full CG environments. This allowed for a continuing creative dialogue with the showrunner, director, and producer, as well as Lola VFX who were in charge of creating the cityscapes.
Alongside this, the look dev of the Noble Dragon was started. There were a number of issues with a huge creature who is made of smoke, fire, and lightning that had to be solved. Legibility being the most important. As she had to work in both day- and night-time situations, a flexible tool set of passes was created to suit all conditions. It allowed for independent control over her eyes, smoky body, internal lightning, fiery throat and belly, as well as a skeletal pass to add definition to her skull and chest for the closer shots.
By doing this, we accomplished what we needed to; we made this dragon distinctly different from anything that’s come before. It takes what people think when they hear the word dragon and turns it on its head.
The same can be said for Goodboy, who presented his own, if somewhat smaller, challenges. While the Noble dragon was all about the big picture, Goodboy is all about detail. From the scarring on his face to the texture of his wings, fine, nuanced animation allowed this character to transition from cute to deadly, beginner to proficient flyer.
In the end, both dragons came away looking different to anything we’ve seen before. And we think both dragons are a great addition to the series . This was a great project for us to flex our creative muscles and deliver something the client could be proud of.
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