VFX expert at The Media Production Show
The Media Production Show returns this year on 13-14 June at London Olympia.
There will be a variety of seminars and sessions over two days featuring insight and opinion from industry experts across a wide range of topics.
Henry Badgett (pictured, right) of BlueBolt Ltd, the London-based visual effects company that has worked on high-profile projects such as Taboo, Guerrilla, The Current War and the new Robin Hood feature film, will be among those speaking at the event.
We wanted to find out more about BlueBolt’s work on Taboo and gain an insight from Badgett about the VFX industry in general.
Sonja Klaus was the production designer on Taboo, working alongside Badgett, producer Tim Bricknell and director Kristoffer Nyholm.
“Sonja had designed the world around Taboo’s main London Wapping location and these early meetings were for deciding what you would see of it, and which bits her team had to build as sets versus green screen for us.
“The next biggest period of collaboration was when we got initial turnover of a few key shots. We worked these up, using period references from Sonja to inform our building designs, and had some useful feedback from her on layout and authenticity.”
Highs and lows
Taboo was a large-scale project, which produced unique challenges as well as some very satisfying moments.
“Taboo presented BlueBolt with a relatively high number of environments to build for a single show. The challenge was in choosing which ones could be combined into larger 3D scenes that could be re-used, and then handling the DMP (digital matte painting) bottleneck this produced on a per-shot basis.
“Some of our compositors turned their hand to digital matte painting (DMP) to help out there, which they enjoyed.”
The challenges were offset by the satisfaction Badgett and the team derived from working on the hefty period drama.
“Taboo was a pretty creative show in the edit - some of BlueBolt's most enjoyable and satisfying moments came from working closely with the editors to create scenes where they wanted to achieve something different to what was scripted and shot.
“A sequence that springs to mind is when James Delaney's ship the Felice Adventurero gets destroyed. I like working on scenes that don't make any sense until the VFX work is in there, because you feel what you are doing is particularly helpful!
“At completely the other end of the spectrum, I get great satisfaction from watching some of the quieter dialogue moments where BlueBolt has added small details to the background to give the scene added visual flavour and help with the geography.
“For example, several of the 'foreshore' environments, and the green screen windows on the interior sets. I think this is something a lot of viewers have picked up on - the show has had a lot of praise for its rich tone and texture, and I think that was a part of it.”
With production budgets growing all the time, particularly in TV, we wanted to hear Badgett’s thoughts on the changing scales of projects and any differences between working in film or TV.
“Those two shows [Taboo and War & Peace] are good examples of productions that took the VFX seriously - they both had big ambitions, came to see us early on before filming, and used their budgets quite cleverly to get the most value - which includes doing a small amount of supporting work to a large number of ‘B’ or ‘C’ level shots to help the big establishing ‘A shots’ sit in to the cut.
“As to a preference for film or TV, I count myself lucky to work at BlueBolt where the same team does both, as they make a nice change from each other. I guess if I had to choose, I probably get more satisfaction from TV, which in my experience leaves a bit more of the creative process to the VFX team, and a TV episode deadline is usually more manageable than a film one.”
Route to VFX and industry changes
Things could have been different for Badgett, who started his training in a totally different sector.
“I studied architecture at university where I realised I didn't want to be an architect, but did want to find something I could use the same skillset for. I did a short and intense course at the Finishing School which isn't around any more, but Escape Studios would be the closest thing.
“What has changed since then is that there are a lot more university courses doing VFX, and the software is easier to get hold of study versions at home. There are loads of YouTube tutorials to teach yourself and it’s also much easier to film something at a good resolution yourself to practice on.
“On the other hand, I don't know if the industry is any easier to get into, in London at least, where a lot of the entry level rotoscoping work is now outsourced abroad. This is despite there being an exciting boom in high-end TV coming here, what with Netflix and Amazon producing their own content.”
“My career high point was in Lithuania filming a big shot on War & Peace with an army of hundreds of extras, stunts and horses choreographed with massive SFX explosions. When the dust settled, the director turned to me and asked if it was good for me before he moved on! As if I could have said no...”
With thanks to Henry Badgett for his help in compiling this article. You can hear more from Henry on 14 June, Day Two of The Media Production Show, as part of the Production Designers Showcase in the Production Theatre. To register for your free badge, click here.
Taboo small header photo via FX Networks/Olly Robinson.
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