[Ed. note: Spoilers for The Nevers episode 3, “Ignition,” ahead.]
HBO’s Victorian Adventure Series Nevers comes into its own in Episode 3, “Ignition,” during a formidable combat streak that starts out of nowhere. The protagonist of the series Amalia True is one of the “Touchés”, people who have acquired supernatural powers thanks to a supernatural event. She has made enemies, so in “Ignition”, directed by David Semel and written by Kevin Lau, she is suddenly lost on a horse-drawn carriage ride, and thrown from a bridge into a lake. Odium, her enemy’s servant, pursues her – and as he walks calmly on the surface of the water, she realizes that she has immense problems.
In the sequence that follows, Amalia (played by Laura Donnelly) cannot surface to fight Odium (Martyn Ford) without him stomping on her face or cutting her off with a heavy chain and hook. And she can’t stay underwater for long without drowning. The battle that follows is fast-paced and frenzied, and frequently captured in shots where Donnelly swims underwater, while Ford appears to be standing on the surface above her. This is the kind of sequence that asks “How did they do this? ” questions. So Polygon went to Nevers VFX supervisor Johnny Han to ask.
The most surprising thing Han tells Polygon is that the footage doesn’t use digital actor replacement at all, and very few shots are composed or use a dub. “All of the actors – and we’re really proud of that – are completely real all the time,” Han says. “We kept the digital doubles option in our back pocket if it didn’t end up looking so good, but our actors did an amazing job. Laura, who plays Amalia, was such a rider, I can’t tell you how hard she worked and never blinked at what she went through. Helen [Steinway Bailey], her stunt and double trainer, would always rehearse scenes with her, and using her was always an option. But to Helen’s credit in training Laura, we didn’t need to use Helen except for a couple of hits that were on wires. Laura did 99% of what you see on screen. “
“It was physically very difficult,” Donnelly tells Polygon. “But I had an absolute ball. It was nothing like I’ve ever done before, of course. I had never done a dive or anything, so I had to spend two days training just to learn. So I was in a wetsuit in the underwater scene at Pinewood Studios and learned to go five yards under the breather and the goggles and so forth. On the second day, they expect you to remove the breather and goggles, and you only have to swim 25 feet through the tank. It was probably the most intimidating thing I have ever had to do in my job.
The footage was shot at the end of winter, so it was impossible to do everything outdoors: “It wasn’t just about not putting the actors in icy water, to be honest,” Han said. “It was like, ‘It might be frozen, we might not be able to put nobody in water. But the crew got the opening and closing shots on the spot, to anchor the footage to reality.
“It’s a trick,” Han said. “Take the first shot, and the last shot, and it’ll help you believe the sequence. For this foreground, Ford stepped out onto a platform hidden under the water surface and the water surface was digitally replaced.
“At one point we had a discussion, like, ‘Why not do the whole sequence with a hidden platform? Han said. “And my opinion about it was that it was done quite a bit. My favorite example is Superman 2, when General Zod first arrives on Earth. He arrives in the middle of a small pond, and he walks towards the shore as if he were walking on water. Hidden platform, it still works. ”
His question, however, was, “How can we own this and make it true to the character of Odium?” He and his team wanted water’s response to Odium to be distinctive and to strongly suggest the supernatural effect of his powers. “Very early on, I got the idea that water should behave almost as if it has a special magnetic field around it, or a field that changes the behavior of water,” Han says. They used the real physics of water to inspire the movement of bubbles and vortices in the water, but also experimented with memory foam mattresses and trampolines to inspire the visual effect of water that recoiled from Odium’s presence, then rebounded rapidly. Fortunately, Han says, there was a trampoline park “literally across from our studios,” where he and his team could find visual inspiration.
“The surfaces are not solid,” says Han. “They are flexible, but there is still tension about it. And that way the water would really feel like responding to him, he is not responding to the water.
While Ford was on hand for the first shot, Donnelly was added digitally after the fact – all of her action for the footage was shot in that tank she trained in, at Pinewood Studios in England. A special camera that can be positioned on the surface of the water was used to capture the photos where Amalia is underwater, shooting against the Odium chain. This allows the effects team to achieve a split screen effect without digital composition, simultaneously capturing the action above and below the surface.
Photo: HBO et Photo: HBO
“We were able to use a special underwater camera housing that was specially balanced in terms of weight,” says Han. “Something underwater is quite buoyant, and you can move a camera and a crane very easily, but as soon as you get out of the water it’s really heavy. So we had a special housing that made it easy for the camera to pass above and below water. It’s also a very small case, so it didn’t create a big splash or an air bubble every time we went underwater.
“We’re really proud of these shots,” Han says. “Collectively, we all think this streak really works because we haven’t done too much CG. We used the VFX where it’s really needed, to replace the water and add the lake with the green screen. And it wasn’t too fantastic. Every shot makes it look like a cameraman was actually doing it, because the cameraman did make it work. “
For some of the shots from Amalia’s point of view, a white screen was used instead of a green screen, to capture the feel of an overcast sky. “With the way water distorts and refracts the image behind it, you can get away with a lot of things,” Han says. “If we made it green, it would be very difficult to extract the green. Little things like that help – any freebie we get on set, behind closed doors, and don’t have to do it later in the post, we’ll take every opportunity … So we had a system where we could swap it between white and green, pretty much like a curtain, like a stage curtain that we just pull back and forth.
Photo: HBO et Photo: HBO
Han says one of the biggest challenges in planning the sequence with stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam and special effects supervisor Mike Dawson was designing the sequence to surprise viewers, while also teaching them more about the abilities of the stunts. Touched. “How do you make it into something that tells the story of their powers, and not just a generic fight sequence?” Han said. “How do you show Amalia’s intelligence, not only as a fighter, but also as a thinker?”
Ultimately, the response was to ask Amalia to use Odium’s power against him, using her inability to shatter the surface of the water against him and strangling him below the surface with her own chain. .
“These shots, we got the profile,” Han says. “Ford hangs from four wires, almost like a hammock, because we wanted him to actually lean in the water. We didn’t want him to look like he had a flat back, we wanted him to really feel like he was diving in water, again like a trampoline. And Laura is actually underwater. It’s the same performance, all in one take. We didn’t shoot it separately, we didn’t shoot it separately.
Again, Han says most of the digital tinkering with this footage involved replacing the green screen with the location and replacing the surface of the water. “The reaction of the water to him struggling, all of that has been replaced to be more active, to make it look like he’s really struggling, the water is really lapping and splashing against him.
Donnelly says that despite the physical demands of the streak, she was confident in the job. “I was a gymnast when I was younger, so I’m familiar enough to throw myself in the air and hopefully not land on my head,” she says. “It was physically exhausting, but it was so much fun. Martyn Ford is not only the tallest man on the planet, but also one of the nicest men. We had a lot of fun trying to climb it dripping with Victorian clothes.
Ultimately, Han feels like the streak is working because so little is digital that reality plays out for the audience. “Imagine what the footage would have looked like if we had done all of this in CG,” he says. “A lot of times what happens is you get some really crazy camera moves that seem supernatural. The cool thing about visual effects is that sometimes you can go in too many different directions. The Unlimited Canvas is often your downfall, for there is an arrogant sort of thinking that says, “We can imagine something better than reality.” But when you have something to anchor it to, it always helps. ”
For more behind-the-scenes footage of the fight, watch HBO Featurette on the Episode.