The Great S3: Creating a vast icy lake was just one challenge for VFX firm BlueBolt

The Great S3: Creating a vast icy lake was just one challenge for VFX firm BlueBolt

The Great 3Having worked as lead VFX studio on the first two series of MRC/Hulu’s satirical comedy drama The Great, London-based firm BlueBolt once again created the VFX for Series 3.

Based loosely on the life of Catherine The Great, and starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, the series takes a sideways swipe at historical events. 

The VFX for the third run – that had its production base at 3 Mills Studios when it filmed from late May last year – recreated 18th century Russia with crowd duplication in key settings, squib hits, and muzzle flashes, in addition to CG butterflies and a comet.

Led by VFX supervisor David Scott, BlueBolt delivered 369 VFX shots overall for the third series. 

The focus of the work was creating a full CG icy lake that accounted for 185 shots across two key episodes. BlueBolt extended a single practical snowy riverbank and ice surface – shot at St Clere’s Estate, Kent, UK during the summer – into a wide, expansive, frozen lake and woodland, which needed to be seen from both sides in multiple shots. 


Scott and the team were tasked with creating a CG horse and a character digi-double to provide credible drama when a character and horse suddenly fall through the surface of the ice. They also enhanced underwater shots showing the horse and rider in the aftermath of the fall and reprised underwater shots in a later episode where another character swims below the ice to search for the lost rider and horse.

The Great

Scott, who is currently working on Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu, said: “The set was surrounded by multiple bluescreens so once the general layout of the environment and look of the shots was established, the next challenge was embedding the characters into the environment in the different lighting conditions we experienced on set. 

“The icy lake environment as a whole was our biggest challenge on the show. There were concerns with shooting so much coverage against bluescreen for such pivotal story points, as well as the budget surrounding the sequences, so executing these scenes in an efficient and VFX-friendly way was key from the start. 

“For both episodes where the scenes took place at the icy lake, we spent time during Prep creating TechViz for the Director and DOP so they could pre-visualise the shots before the shoot and it helped us effectively plan the shoot days with the ADs so we could position the bluescreens in a time-efficient way on location. 

The Great 3

“The one thing we could not necessarily factor in on the shoot day, which filtered into Post was the change in weather throughout the shoot days. During the episode six sequences for example, we quickly shifted from grey clouds to extreme sunlight and shadows so we had to account for that when balancing the shots in Post.

“The tone of the show is all about character and the horse and rider falling into the ice was originally shot as a practical element. In the edit, the element didn’t deliver the visual impact required for such a key moment. Our challenge was then to create a CG horse and a character digi-double to provide credible dramatic action when they suddenly fall through the surface. This proved a creative team effort in VFX direction, animation, lighting, FX work right through to final composite.”

The Great is produced by MRC Television and can be streamed on Hulu and Lionsgate+ via Amazon Prime in the UK. 

BlueBolt – The Great Season 2 VFX Breakdown from BlueBolt on Vimeo.


Image credits: BlueBolt/MRC/Hulu.


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