Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.
In the show, the birds are under the control of a character called the Bird Master – who they soon discover is capable of creating birds out of thin air. “The Bird Masters waist coat is made out of a material that resembles the sheen of swallows,” notes Lindman. “We started out by animating swallows taking off and flying out of the actual coat and then 3D morphed the waist coat based on this animation to gradually reveal the swallows”.
Goodbye Kansas Studios has just shared with AWN some of their work on The Irregulars, delivering 229 shots and 20 assets for the recent Netflix crime drama series. Based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the show features the Baker Street Irregulars – a group of youths working for Dr. Watson saving London from supernatural elements. Goodbye Kansas’ London and Stockholm offices served as the primary visual effects vendor across all eight episodes. The team was led by GBK VFX supervisors Joel Lindman (Stockholm) and Jim Parsons (London) in collaboration with Overall VFX supervisor, Richard Briscoe.
Working from various briefs, both the London and Stockholm GBK offices joined forces on a fascinating element of the story – a supernatural liquid made from “Snowdonia Hawkweed” with healing properties that can put bodies back together. While a replacement substance was used during filming, application and absorption of the liquid into the skin was always meant to be done in post-production, with London helping clean up the VFX for the skin while Stockholm handed the look and feel of the liquid. “The task of creating the liquid came late in the production, so we had to figure out for ourselves what it would look like,” said Desiree Ryden, a VFX producer at Goodbye Kansas London. “It was a very specific, but non-specific brief at the same time. The director didn’t want it to appear supernatural – no smoking or fizzing – so it had to look real. And it was all done over two shots; one where this greenish healing liquid was applied to the skin and another where it was being absorbed.” For another sequence, the team built a series of set extensions that turned the Palm House conservatory in Sefton Park, Liverpool into the Bird Master’s lair. The top of the glass building doesn’t exist on the real conservatory, so interiors were shot in a studio while the team added shots of the surrounding locale; this made it appear in old London, with the top of the real conservatory replaced to include the heart of the lair.
Source: Goodbye Kansas Studios
“Usually creating a flock of birds would be an animation task, but because there was a call for sometimes hundreds or even thousands of birds, we had to use FX,” said Filip Orrby, head of FX at GBK. “So, a lot of the animation on this show was actually made by FX artists controlling the patterns of how the birds fly.”
The majority of the Stockholm branch’s work centered around the creation of a large flock of around 100 birds supernaturally controlled by the antagonist introduced in the first episode. In addition to designing and creating the birds, they also iterated them in a multitude of animations, placing each bird at precise locations within each frame, as well as having the birds perform specific tasks and actions in those moments.
While the team in Stockholm dealt with the flock of vengeful birds, the London office focused on more human VFX elements. With work split across multiple episodes, the London team handled various visual elements, including The Baker Street Irregulars’ prominent tattoos. The art department researched historically accurate tattoos from the period, working from a design brief; they designed a number of tattoos of which one was selected to appear in the series. GBK then added the newly selected designs.
Take a look:
“We have a small art department that did a lot of research into old tattoos from the period that the series is set,” said Parsons. “In those days, tattoos were all done with knives, so we wanted our design to have a more amateur yet polished feel to it. We wanted the audience to believe that they could have been done by one of these street merchants.”
One key scene involved the birds chasing a group of people down a street, that took cover in a dilapidated shed made of corrugated metal. Though the scene was filmed on set, the VFX team was tasked with simulating the birds attacking and attempting to peck through the shed walls. According to Orby, “We had to replace and match up the shed walls in CG and create the effect that some intense destruction had happened to the boards from the bird attack. That sort of thing is always the trickiest to execute, especially in real-life, so it made more sense to use CG.”