Inspired by a true story about the largest heist ever attempted, Eric Garcia’s new nonlinear, eight-part Netflix crime series Kaleidoscope spans 24 years leading up to the event during Hurricane Sandy, as well as the year that followed.
With Framestore’s VFX Supervisor John Kilshaw acting as the show’s overall VFX Supervisor, Kilshaw lent his cinematic and episodic expertise to Netflix and the creative team, from the show’s inception through to completion.
“Whilst a straightforward show in many ways, the non-linear nature of the story added a level of complexity that we have not seen before, which raised some challenges,” said Kilshaw. “With the support of the directors, Eric Garcia and the incredible team at Netflix, a lot of those challenges became so much easier to deal with.”
As the lead VFX vendor throughout each of the episodes, Framestore’s New York-based CG and 2D teams tackled a multitude of artistic requests and effects-heavy shots.
One of the most challenging scenes to accomplish was creating a realistic swarm of bees that seamlessly traveled down a corridor, confusing motion sensors in the process in order to mask the movements of one of the characters. Achieving a physically believable impression began with the VFX team studying the movement of bees; the relationship and reaction to their queen, how the colony works together, as well as their individual anatomy. Given the danger that shooting bees would entail for both actors and crew, Netflix opted for the digital route, which saw the team source reference footage of real bees for overall scale of movement, right down to individual elements, to give the shots an overall grounding.
Next was a behemoth undertaking of environmental work to recreate a Manhattan skyline in the midst of a hurricane. Without permission to fly over the city to film during COVID, the challenge for the team was to break existing stock footage down enough to make them feel bespoke. Using Houdini for the FX, Maya for asset generation and complicated 3D work, and standard Nuke tools, the team leveraged lighting models to remove city lights, transformed the time of day into a night scene, removed traffic, and built in dynamic clouds and weather patterns to entirely reimagine each shot.
For scenes in a tunnel, the team at Netflix were supportive of an approach to shooting which allowed for a more straightforward post process, avoiding the trap of creating something over-complicated for its own sake. Keeping this method in mind, thoughtful set extensions, water FX, and 3D smoke were paired with broody sound effects, creating a dark and realistic point of view for the audience.
Another sequence requiring the expertise of Framestore’s team featured characters trapped in a fiery blaze. Whilst often forgotten about in digital fire scenes, the VFX team was intent on creating a sequence that included digital heat waves, ripple effects and flying debris to enhance the level of reality and highlight the peril that the characters faced. The team incorporated accurate practical references, digital matte paintings and 3D flames to the scene, with the help of Houdini, Maya and Nuke. By utilizing the set lidar, they were able to apply these effects to the accurate 3D space. The end result was a hyperreal series of shots that even included a body set alight.
“The highlight for our team was helping to add extra drama to Episode 107, creating fire and smoke effects to bring together an already intense sequence,” said Framestore’s CG Supervisor, John Montefusco. “Taking cues from the practical fires in the plates, our FX team was able to create a large library of flames, as well as bespoke infernos.”
Finally, a key scene set inside a sauna room called for Nuke FX to create a steam element that circled around one of the characters, giving the feeling that he was in the metaphorical eye of a storm, ultimately marrying a number of plot elements into one point of interest.
“The variety of work made this show a pleasure to be on as things never once felt repetitive or boring,” continued Montefusco. “On a job like this, communication is key – having a direct line to John Kilshaw on the client side and Steve Sanchez as our internal VFX Supervisor made the project seamless.“
Kaleidoscope is now streaming on Netflix.