In Season 1 of the fantasy series Shadow and Bone, we were introduced to Alina Starkhov (Jesse Mei Li), a young cartographer in a war torn land divided by a dark entity called The Fold. When Alina and those around her discover she is a one of the Grisha, holders of mythical gifts, and also wields the even more dominant powers of a Sun Summoner, her life changes irrevocably.

Shadow and Bone was one of the top ten most watched shows on Netflix in 2021, so NVIZ was delighted to be brought in to create Previs for several sequences for Season 2. In the new series, the Grisha are being hunted and Alina is on the search for mythical creatures called Amplifiers that can increase her powers even further.  

The NVIZ Previs spanned six sequences including the Sea Whip, Weddle Harbour and inside The Fold, as well as some early character tests. The team led by Mike McGuinness and Andrew Fraser were brought on very early in the process, in some cases, before storyboards were completed and worked closely with the VFX Supervisor, Ante Dekovic to make the best use of Previs and Techvis to inform creative and financial decisions.

Not wanting to waste any time, the team got to work with NVIZ’s Scout Cam, then still in its nascent stages. The initial Scout Cam sessions were facilitated with the help of one of our remote artists, and it allows the director to move around in the virtual scene tasking the artist to save the camera on shots he/she prefers, effectively creating a digital storyboard. Once the Production team saw what could be achieved, they immediately set about setting up a meeting with the Director and DOP to trial it.  

Working from art department drawings, the NVIZ team created the frightening Seawhip Lair environment in Unreal Engine. From there production were in a fully informed position to calculate the space limitations, ideal positioning and the best movement arcs of the 8 characters involved in relation to the Seawhip and to build the master scene and subsequent shots.  

For the Weddle Harbour sequence Alina and Mal (Archie Renaux) are trying to secure passage on a boat named the Hummingbird. Here the Techviz was a crucial stage, as the production needed to accurately evaluate how much greenscreen they would require for this very large and complicated environment. 

Other environments included; the exterior of the Fold where Grishas are held captive in cages, the Hummingbird Launch, Hellgate Prison, Kirigan’s Hideout and Spinning Wheel CourtYard, where Alina confronts Kirigan and one of the terrifying Nichevo’ya. Kirigan is able to create the monstrous Nichevo’ya from the Fold and they are hulking, faceless creatures with enormous claw-like hands, able to withstand bullets and move through walls. 

When Alina finally finds the Amplifiers, elements of their bodies must be inserted into her body to capture their powers. The team had to move quickly to execute the best camera angles for this sequence in the timeframe they had. Unreal Engine was a key component creating continuity for the look, adding fantastic lighting and lens effects on a beauty pass.

As with many productions over the last couple of years, a sign of the times was that many of the sessions for Shadow and Bone S2 were run remotely. The pandemic hit in the early stages of production and while it took a couple of attempts before remote working ran smoothly, we were delighted that our client seemed very happy with the work, approving many general animation shots at the first stage.

Watch Shadow and Bone season 2 streaming now on Netflix. 

Tanya Combrinck
Author: Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 15 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq.