This Short Film Shows You Just What Happens When You Get Visual Effects Right

It’s always exciting to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of our favourite films or TV shows and this is exactly what the, Black Sails Season 3 Visual Effects video, gives us. A team of over 60 artists worked under the expert guidance of, Aladino Debert, to create dramatic visual effects.

The predominant focus for VFX supervisor and director, Aladino, and his troops was a hurricane storm in episode 2, which required dozens of photo-real ocean environments including ships, weather and pirates. Although he had worked on water FX in the past for full-length features, the challenge was altogether different this time round. Add to that the schedule and budget and the task become a huge scale project, where balancing expectation and cost was key.


Creating the storm scene required weeks of discussion and research into how a storm worked – from the behaviour of the waves to the way the rain fell and the effect this would have on a ship. In fact Aladino had to create a whole new way of predicting the way the ship would balance on the wave using only one type of software, a feat never before achieved.


The result is spectacularly believable. Sometimes, like with magic, when you reveal the secrets behind the trick it takes away the majestic effect of it all. However, it is testament to the strength of production, that even once we understand how it works we are still equally as fascinated by the end result.

We spoke to Aladino about the process and the challenges of creating such an extensive visual scene.

The Plus: How did you initially become involved with the project and what was your brief?
Aladino Debert:
We started working on Black Sails during the second Season of the show, and before we finished it, around November 2014, we had already started discussions with Starz and Erik Henry (the studio’s VFX Supervisor) about our involvement in what we knew were going to be extremely challenging episodes on Season 3.


TP: What was the process for creating the visual effects? (Including what software you used)
From the beginning, we knew we were going to need some new processes and tools in order to achieve the kind of results necessary for the various episodes. Before we started production (in January 2015), Greg Teegarden (CG Supervisor), Hiroshi Tsubokawa (Effects Lead), Rick Glenn (Animation Supervisor), Matt Dougan (Lighting Lead), Michael Melchiore (Compositing Supervisor) and myself began to meet regularly to find the best ways to approach what we knew was going to be very challenging work. For instance, for the early development of the storm at sea, starting with the overall look and feel of the environment of the ocean such as wave behavior, rain effects, color and mood of the overall sequence, we developed a new technique for allowing animators in one software package to predictably place ships on a wave and have it accurately represent itself on the wave in another software package, something that hadn’t been done before. I knew we needed an interactive method for animating cameras and ships, and our tools allowed us to achieve that to a great extent. In this case, all the water and weather effects were created in Houdini and rendered in Mantra. The ships themselves, with their dozens of digi-double pirates, were animated in Maya and rendered in Vray. Compositing was done in Nuke.


TP: What was the most challenging aspect?
Without a doubt, it was creating the photo-realistic hurricane/storm. I personally had never done anything like it before. Creating a one-off shot would’ve been hard enough, but we needed to create dozens of shots and, more importantly for me, we needed a pipeline flexible enough to help me art direct particular aspects of the shots. Water is a very tricky thing to create in CG, because it does not scale well. In other words, you can’t cheat water’s behaviour, because we are wired to recognize it quickly. However, that makes it very hard to replicate; besides realism, I wanted it to look great! The funny thing is, we became so use to creating the ships (sail cloth simulation comes to mind,) even though it was challenging on the first season (2) by Season 3, we didn’t concern ourselves too much with them. Not that it was easy, but it’s a testament of the great work the team responsible for them created in Season 3.


TP: What was the most enjoyable part of the project for you?
Coming from a commercial background, at least in the last 12-years or so, I’m used to having to improvise a lot to achieve the look that I want on any given show. In this case, given that we had more time (about 10 months for the entire show), it allowed me to really push as far as we wanted to get the look I was seeking. We didn’t compromise at all. That was partly a result of the show’s requirements, both from Starz and Erik Henry (show’s VFX Sup), but frankly also because I had a great team and the time to dive in deep and really get results I hadn’t been able to get in the past. Which opened my eyes, and made this show an incredible experience.


TP: What other types of projects do you work on?
I am both a VFX Supervisor and a Director (for Mothership, Digital Domain’s sister production company). I’ve been in the industry for a long time, and mostly worked in commercials, but we are branching out to what we call “Short Form”, including exciting projects like Black Sails. More recently I’ve directed projects for Oculus, Nike, Audi; and cinematics for games such as “Battleborn”, Microsoft’s “Ryse: Son of Rome”, 2K’s “Evolve” and “Gears of War”. Additionally the list of commercial clients I’ve worked with in the last few years is long, and includes everything from robots to sailing ships on project for companies such as Cisco, Xbox’s “Halo”, BMW, Sprint, Chevy, Nissan, Pepsi, Honda, Boeing, Renault, Havoline, Dolby, and Brighthouse Networks among others.