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July 09
2019

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

GOOD OMENS: Making Creatures at the End of the World

By IAN FAILES

Among the many and varied visual effects requirements of Amazon’s Good Omens, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman about the birth of the son of Satan and the coming apocalypse, were a myriad of creatures that needed to populate Heaven, Earth and Hell.

This creature work was tackled by Milk VFX, which also delivered hundreds of other shots for the six-part series ranging from environments to atmospherics, and transformations to many magical-type effects.

VFX Voice sat down with key members of Milk’s team to discuss just some of the creatures they created, including Satan himself, a hellhound and a Hell-bound assistant.

The Good Omens crew film with central actors David Tennant (left) and Michael Sheen.

“We knew we would be altering the face and neck [of the stand-in Great Dane to create the hellhound], so we took loads of photo reference and gave it to our conceptual artist. Then, in modeling, we started making the teeth bigger and making it more gnarly.”

—Jean-Claude Deguara, Visual Effects Supervisor, Milk VFX

From dog to hellhound

In the show, a dog, it transpires, is in fact a hellhound, and transforms into the scary beast for a couple of scenes. A small dog played the canine in its usual form, but for the transformation to hellhound, a Great Dane was relied upon for reference.

“They were out looking for the biggest dog with similar coloring to the smaller dog,” outlines Visual Effects Supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara. “We knew we would be altering the face and neck, so we took loads of photo reference and gave it to our conceptual artist. Then, in modeling, we started making the teeth bigger and making it more gnarly.”

The Great Dane was filmed against bluescreen and then enlarged to be the size of a horse, with the head and neck predominantly CG. One of the challenges was the hellhound’s thin fur. “The texture of the fur was quite tricky to catch during lighting, so we spent a lot of time grooming that,” says CG Supervisor Adrian Williams.

The stand-in dog for the hellhound is filmed against a bluescreen backing.

Milk’s CG model for the hellhound.

The final hellhound shot. Milk’s workflow for the shots involved Maya, Arnold and NUKE.

Satan appears, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

“As the camera moved around the creature [Satan], we could remove areas and delete big rocks that were obscuring the camera at certain times. You’d never notice it when you watch it through, but it was a way of creating these holes in the smoke and in the rocks to reveal the creature gradually.”

—James Reid, Head of Effects, Milk VFX

The CG Satan made use of extra muscle and fat simulation courtesy of Ziva, a plug-in to Maya.

Rise of Satan

Continuing the Hell theme, Satan also makes an appearance in Good Omens. Milk initially followed designs that had the character as a monstrous and grotesque creature, but ultimately the show’s makers felt it needed to be more human-like in nature (it was also voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, so Milk realized specific facial features after consulting video reference of the actor reading the lines). “Because it was going to be such a big feature on camera we decided to do a really simple muscle and skin system just to convey the weight,” notes Williams. “Once we were happy with that general look we simulated that and handed it off to our effects teams.”

Deguara says that “the guys did this beautiful simulation of Satan’s hand tearing through the ground and smashing, and there were loads of rocks and smoke and other stuff.” Then, adds Deguara, the showrunners felt that Satan’s appearance had been covered over a little too much by effects, so it was scaled back.

“As the camera moved around the creature, we could remove areas and delete big rocks that were obscuring the camera at certain times,” explains Head of Effects James Reid. “You’d never notice it when you watch it through, but it was a way of creating these holes in the smoke and in the rocks to reveal the creature gradually.”

Behind the scenes of Good Omens.

 

“We put some extra control in the forces [in the disintegration of the demon Usher] in Houdini, and talked with animation as well to make sure that the animation could be suitable, but also tell the story without compromise.”

—James Reid, Head of Effects, Milk VFX

Meet Usher

A short and stout demon called Usher (voiced by Andy Hamilton) was another of Milk’s fully-CG creations. On set, a blue stand-in was regularly used, including for a shot of the character unfortunately meeting its demise in a bathtub of holy water.

For Usher’s disintegration, Milk controlled the simulated splashing so that other characters weren’t impacted by the (deadly to them) water. “We put some extra control in the forces in Houdini,” says Reid, “and talked with animation as well to make sure that the animation could be suitable, but also tell the story without compromise.”

Usher, the hellhound and Satan, are just a few examples of the several creature effects crafted by Milk for Good Omens – that kind of work also included a kraken, wings for the main characters, maggots, snakes and even bunnies. All in all, the studio completed 650 shots for the series, working closely with author and showrunner Neil Gaiman and director Douglas McKinnon to deliver the show on a typically fast TV schedule.

“It was quite a tight turnaround of work once we got turnovers,” says Visual Effects Producer Jenna Powell. “We had all the different departments working pretty much simultaneously from the beginning so that we could keep the pace going and make sure that the artists were working in the most efficient way possible. We had a lot of sequences that influenced others but that also only appeared once. So we wanted to make sure that we were condensing all of the similar types of work together to make the most of the team that we had.”


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