Union VFX | The Irregulars

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The Irregulars

Director | Various

Union help The Irregulars solve crime Supernaturally

Loosely based on the street urchin gang ‘the Baker Street Irregulars’, who appeared in several of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, The Irregulars are a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner - the elusive Sherlock Holmes.

Union’s work focused on the supernatural elements of the story as Irregular, Jessie, experiences increasingly vivid nightmares and explores her powers.

In the first episode, Jessie’s dreams find her walking barefoot within a tunnel system.  Just as she catches a glimpse of something disappearing around a corner there is an explosion in the tunnel. She is engulfed by a gust of smoke and then surrounded by multiple ghostly miner characters.

To achieve their ethereal look and movement the team experimented with lots of ideas in FX and comp, looking to references ranging from Francis Bacon paintings to slit-scan photography techniques often used to visualise movement across time.

Onset we assisted with the blue screen shoot of the miners. These were then modelled, textured, roto-animated and tracked into the scene. The CG miners were used to generate lots of different fx passes which were then manipulated in comp to give the three-dimensional ‘trail’ effect on the body and the helmet lights.

The end result is quite beautiful; only revealing in the final episode that they might be ‘human’. 

Jessie soon discovers that she has the ability to see into people’s memories uncovering how the sinister Tooth Fairy and Bird Master acquired their powers through an Ouija board.

We created a CG glass and animated its movements around the ouija board which triggers a surge of dark energy that travels up through the characters’ bodies as they are possessed.

It took several rounds of look dev to settle on the glowing infrared sub-cutaneous effects in this scene.

The team then created geometry for the exposed hands and heads, breaking the faces into lots of sections to provide more control. Tracking and roto animation were used to marry the base layer and FX passes to the geometry and create their journey from hands up to the face and head.

Painted UVs and mattes were added to give a feeling of glowing throughout the body and the clothing was done as a 2D effect using a combination of keying and noise patterns.  Care was taken on the face to compliment and accentuate the existing patterning of the make-up.

Show VFX Supervisor Richard Briscoe comments: “In portraying how the negative rip energy entered and took over these characters, we needed to give it almost tangible substance; insidious, malignant… yet also somehow beautiful and mesmerising.

“It needed to reach out into them, spread through them in an organic, perhaps almost sentient, predatory way. Visceral, engulfing… corrupting like infection and yet feel empowering.. even ecstatic and revelatory, to them. It needed to manifest with, or as, strong (penetrating) light, allowing us to see its passage and progression.

“So we wanted to convey the sense of it spreading through every cell of them, not just over the skin surface, but visibly within them… flooding and coursing through veins and leaching out into the flesh. Its’ brightness, glowing out through the skin (and clothing) from within.

“The balance here was achieving the visibility through their surface, to glimpsed inner structures - but without making them  appear too “Invisible Man” transparent, or too overtly ghoulish - like a figure just made of veins.”

Others soon find out about Jessie’s powers and want to harness them by convincing her to sacrifice herself and uses taro to begin a ritual to extract her powers for herself.  As she does so, a huge storm forms from dark energy.

The impressive sky view of the storm is fully CG and based on formations of cloud rotating slightly and growing as they suck in surrounding mist and thinner cloud formations to create a cyclone effect.

“The Director and I wanted a cataclysmic intensity with intricate detail, yet dwarfing scale; animated to give it the feel of supernatural, faster-than-natural moving energy. Spiralling and centred overhead around the focus of where the dark energy is being summoned from, around an inner central void or ‘tunnel' within - "the lightning factory" as we called it.

“The team at Union had plenty to solve in creating and animating the main cloud formations and the interactive lighting/lightning of them as well as in the less immediately obvious stuff (that we always spend so much time finessing and articulating) shot-to-shot continuity and pacing. In this case, choreographing the build-up and increasing intensity in a series of uneven escalating peaks, across the sequence.

"It needed to become ever more energised by the emotions and struggles playing out between the characters on the roof below. 

"Creating the right look, was a case of balancing the legibility of ‘surface’ & form detail while giving dynamic pace to the cloud movement without destroying the necessary sense of scale.

“It was crucial to create a sense of spectacle and barely constrained energy.

“This was a critical episode finale, a pay-off sequence for the episode; pulled off energetically and with just the right, in places delicate, touch.” 

A series of light passes were rendered both within the clouds for inner glow, and outside the clouds with the source off-camera. We then had the control in comp to animate and choreograph these passes as lightning flashes, building in intensity through the scene. The broader flashes were used to reveal the scale and detail of the storm clouds.  Additional bespoke DMP and comp flashes were created for the hero lightning that ultimately strikes the tower and Patricia.

This lightning strike sequence was shot in the bluescreen studio with the actress wearing a harness and wire. We prepped out the crew and wires and reanimated her movement, adjusting to create a more dramatic trajectory.  For the stylised electrocution effect itself, we rebuilt the pole in CG and the lightning was a mix of FX and comp effects.

As peace descends we see the tower in a beautiful sunrise which the team created as a DMP.

The team also augmented a series of dramatic moments where Jessie connects with other characters and jumps into their memories. The most dramatic of these is the ‘spectral tussle’ scene in which Jessie and the Tooth Fairy wrestle, separating gradually from the room they are in, before Jessie descends through a series of disturbing visions and memories, ultimately crashing out through a mirror. We delivered this creative, abstract sequence as a purely 2D solution, prepping the characters out of the shot to enable us to manipulate the background in the build-up, then animating 2D elements to create the effect of Jessie’s fall.

DFX Supervisor Dillan Nicholls comments: 

“The Irregulars was an amazing project to work on, with ambitious, open creative briefs and huge scope for innovative solutions across fx and comp. We are really proud of our work on the show, which the team delivered through the start of the first Covid lockdown with all the challenges of moving to working from home.” 

You can watch The Irregulars on Netflix now.

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