Case study | Netflix
Creating pixel perfection with Netflix
Massive waves rock an intergalactic spaceship as it unfurls sweeping sails to transform into a seafaring vessel. Searing flames engulf a nightmarish supernatural villain as his face contorts in rage. An explorer pores over the mysterious skeletal remains of a humanoid-robot species on a distant planet. For streaming platform and production company Netflix, the challenge is to take each of these wild, dramatic, far-fetched moments … and make them feel entirely real. Television is booming, as demand for small-screen entertainment reaches new heights. New series are bigger, bolder and more cinematic than ever before. But as audiences invest more of their time, the pressure is on for creators to deliver characters, stories and visual experiences that live up to their rising expectations.
Netflix’s roster of original programming includes leading sci-fi and supernatural shows. To tell stories in these imaginative on-screen worlds, the company needs visual effects (VFX) compelling enough to make audiences feel like everything they’re seeing could happen in the off-screen world. Turning fantasy into reality is just what the visual effects artists at Accenture Song do. An in-house team comprised of leaders in computer-generated imagery (CGI), 3D visualizations, animations and immersive experiences applies a combination of technological and artistic abilities to bring key moments from Netflix’s top series, including “Stranger Things,” “Lost in Space” and “Barbarians,” to life.
For each series, the stakes are high: Complex visual effects that appear on screen for a matter of seconds can take weeks or months to create, and timelines are tight. From 75 members of the team in Stuttgart, Germany, Accenture Song hand-selects the right combination of talent—based on technical and artistic skills, as well as passion and interest in the shows themselves—to create each effect. They work with advanced software tools, including Side FX Houdini, Autodesk Maya, VRay and others; for each project, the out-of-the-box tools are customized via plug-ins and creative custom programming to solve specific production problems and leave more time for creativity.
The devil is in the details: If a CGI character falls to the floor, even the floor itself must be recreated in the computerized sequence. If the wind blows against a creature’s back, the artists need to account for how each hair will move. In crowds of thousands, each person must seem individual using crowd simulation tools. The more complex the effect, the more steps involved, and the more opportunities for things to go wrong. As a result, the process becomes highly collaborative, with each artist interacting and communicating to prevent anything from falling through the cracks.
For Season 4 of “Stranger Things,” the team created effects for a pivotal scene in which the villain, Vecna, is attacked with fire. They re-built Vecna in CGI to enable his body for interactions, so that the fire simulations and shotgun impacts would seem believable. The final product shows flames striking the character while still preserving actor Jamie Campbell Bower’s performance and facial expressions throughout the sequence.
For “Lost in Space,” the Accenture team took on effects for the Jupiter, the Robinson family’s spaceship, which appears in every episode. For a Season 2 scene in which the Jupiter transforms into a sailing vessel while on an ocean planet, producers needed a deeply complex, photorealistic water simulation. The team also designed alien creatures for the show, starting the process with classic 2D artwork based on real-life animals and transforming it into 3D CGI models.
Each scene adds up: With “Lost in Space” alone, Accenture has created 655 shots over 18 episodes, as well as 88 “full CG” shots—scenes in which everything on screen is computer generated, some of the most complex work in the industry.
With successful collaborations on “Lost in Space” and “Stranger Things” complete, Accenture and Netflix will work together on future seasons of some of the streaming platform’s premium series. Collaborating across multiple seasons helps to build the trust and respect that fuels creative experimentation. And as new series continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible on screen, Accenture Song’s broader experience in state-of-the-art visualization capabilities, augmented reality and other new technologies means it is ready to provide creative solutions to future challenges.
Primetime Emmy Nominations
Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards Nominations
Industry accolades draw welcome attention to this work—but in many ways, the best marker of success is when the work is invisible. If audiences can sit back and be immersed in the story—without knowing it is the product of months of time and effort, high-tech tools and cutting-edge creativity, or even that it is computer generated in the first place—the VFX artists consider it a job well done.