When the premise of a television series includes the scent of a spectre menacing a Japanese interment camp in the United States during World War II, then you know there’s the potential for some horror-related effects imagery.
In The Terror: Infamy, the second season of AMC’s The Terror series, there certainly was. To help deliver that imagery, CVD VFX was enlisted as one of the key vendors for the show, helping to craft views of the interment camp itself, as well as stage a number of horrific sequences. These included a jeep crash, a mis-adventure on ice, and a scene where one of the lead characters is dragged from below the ground. Infamy co-producer and senior visual effects supervisor Lawren Bancroft-Wilson and CVD VFX visual effects supervisor Matthew Lane detail the intricate 3D, 2D, digital matte painting and other effects behind the work.
Bringing CVD Onboard
I had to pick vendors that I knew I could trust and that I had a relationship with. CVD was immediately part of my plan from the get-go. I’d worked with them before on Dirk Gently, Dark Matter and The Crossing pilot and I knew that they could take on a lot of work like extension backgrounds and environment creations. They’re great at finding ways to problem-solve. This was to help me meet the visual and creative expectations, but also try to find ways to solve it in terms of the logistics and deliver on time and budget. Even right from the beginning I was bouncing ideas off Matt Lane and Chris Van Dyck about the best ways of shooting the camp scenes.
Crafting A Camp
Despite the show’s sometimes fantastical scenes, it still had to play out as if it were grounded in historical accuracy. For the internment camp, then, the show’s production designer Jonathan McKinstry researched camps from the era, right down to the type of wood that was used. The plan was to build a partial camp set in Vancouver doubling for Los Angeles, with CVD VFX to then provide digital extensions. The portions built practically were Lidar scanned and photographed, and CVD VFX began crafting a CG model to cover the wider views.
One of the things CVD VFX needed to replicate in the build was the fact that these kinds of internment camps were often constructed in a rush, and internees moved in when the camps were still unfinished. “There’s unfinished buildings and fence posts that needed to be worked on – all those things needed to be part of CVD’s model,” outlines Bancroft-Wilson. “And then they developed that model over the episodes to make it all feel more lived in. CVD really took the designs for those changes and made it into a practical thing to help tell the story without all of it having to be built on set.”
Originally, the camp set extensions were imagined as 2.5D matte paintings. But extra establishing ‘drone’ shots saw CVD VFX build the camp as much more of a 3D asset. “We were able to instance the different variations of barracks out into the environment,” discusses Matthew Lane. “This allowed us to still use two-and-a-half-D two for the transition areas, say for road extensions or up-close elements.”
Lane says the practical camp location provided an ideal foundation for the style of the final visual effects shots, giving artists something to anchor their camp to. “I personally feel like they worked out really well, in the sense that we extended it seamlessly. The practical camp was an impressive set that they built and a nice visual target for us to aim at.”
Crashing A Jeep
As detailed as the internment camp extensions were, they proved to be somewhat more manageable than what Bancroft-Wilson describes as the show’s hardest shot; a jeep flipping over, ejecting one of its passengers and crashing. It was originally intended to be a shot filmed practically, including with some bluescreen stunt photography.
“That plan did not go as expected and CVD VFX had to come in and save the day,” marvels Bancroft-Wilson. “They did the crash in CG and it turned out so well. I think a lot of people don’t even realise that there is a transition from a practical jeep swerving and crossing the bridge and then a full CG jeep crashing.”
CVD VFX post-vis’d the crash with the team at Day4Nite, creating several concepts, some of them, notes Lane, were quite extreme. “I think showing it to the Producers with all those options really helped them wrap their heads around what they wanted that sequence to look like after they shot it.”
The studio already had a CG jeep built for some of the camp scenes, which they then up-res’d in texturing and rigged for further animation. What helped sell the whole scene, again, was that a great deal of practical photography existed of the jeep driving that CVD could refer to.
Their work also had to bookend with scenes of only one of the vehicle’s two riders remaining in the crash site, which meant a solution was necessary to eject the other person mid-crash.
“We figured out a way to have that guy flying through the air as the jeep overturned,” says Lane. “Just making it a CG shot from behind the hill the jeep hits let us solve that problem, because we could make a digi-double fly out and cover it with debris and back-lighting. You just had to get a sense of him leaving the jeep. I think it worked well.”
Bancroft-Wilson and the series’ makers were equally impressed with the results.
The jeep crash was one of the most successful uses on this show to show people just how visual effects can be there at any point in production to help to realign things.
Into The Sand
At one point, a character ventures into a Japanese garden only to be pulled through a ground of pebbly sand by some kind of creature. These shots would see practical and visual effects combine in order to shoot the actress being pulled into the ground, but then taken even further into the abyss below.
“The special effects coordinator, Tony Lazarowich, had designed a set-up as a mini sand trap where there was a cutout with a latex barrier that the person could be pulled down through and into,” explains Bancroft-Wilson. “Then I talked to Matt Lane about where visual effects needed to come in, in terms of re-creating the sand surface and making sure we weren’t going to need to pull the actress all the way underneath.”
CVD VFX built a portion of the sand area digitally to match the practical location and simulated sand pieces to interact with the actress. “Then,” says Lane, “it was just about getting a good matchmove on the character so that they could interact with the sand while being pulled through. One of the challenges was the fact that she didn’t actually translate as far in the practical sand pit as they wanted to in the final shot. So we had to cheat a lot of the movement in the matchmove.”
On The Ice
CVD VFX’s work continued on The Terror: Infamy with an ice lakes sequence that sees a group of men drilling and chopping into the ice before it starts cracking dangerously. It was a sequence where visual effects was again called upon to do some heavy lifting when a practical fake ice set was partially destroyed by rain the night before the shoot.
On location – essentially a parking lot – the ground was covered with snow. CVD VFX added not only background extensions but ultimately the entire surface below the men, and the cracking animation. The cracking effects were handled in Houdini, and then reference photography used to reveal the cracking in compositing.
“That’s actually a great example of where I probably would have freaked out a lot more if I didn’t know I had CVD to rely on,” says Bancroft-Wilson. “What CVD was able to do when mother nature was re-writing the script for us was amazing.”
Partnering On Shots, Even The Bloody Ones
For Bancroft-Wilson, having CVD VFX on board The Terror: Infamy meant not only high quality visual effects work, but also being able to draw upon a short-hand communication to get shots done on a TV schedule.
What I really like about CVD is that I know I can give them a bunch of shots, have a quick conversation about it, and then not have to worry. And, I’ll get version 1s and 2s and there’ll be pretty much good to final. They’re definitely not a company that I feel I need to micro-manage.
— Lawren Bancroft-Wilson, Co-producer
From CVD VFX’s point of view, the show saw the studio deliver a broad range of visual effects, from complex environments and 3D to plenty of set extensions and clean-up work. Plus, of course, blood, and lots of it.
“The team here are very good with blood,” states Lane. “One of our very first shots was the one where a character is pulling a string out of a wrist. And that was…bloody. But we have a great blood library, and we can do blood and gore with the best of them.”
It’s so great working on a show when you’re coming to the table as a strategic partner. I love that we get to weigh in and problem solve with Lawren as it elevates the finished product but also the experience for everyone involved
– Chris van Dyck, Head of Studio