/News 31.01.24

Framestore provides world-class VFX for suspense thriller Leave The World Behind

Award-winning VFX company Framestore has provided world-class special effects for Director and Producer Sam Esmail’s suspense thriller Leave The World Behind – the global hit streaming now on Netflix.

Based on the book of the same name, this spine-chilling thriller tells the story of two families, strangers to each other, yet brought together by an ominous blackout that soon turns their weekend getaway into a vacation from hell.

Starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Myha’la, Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Bacon, Leave The World Behind touches upon the issues of race, class and complex familial bonds set against the backdrop of an impending crisis, which not only brings the characters face-to-face with their worst fears, but also causes them to question everything they once knew existed.

Led by VFX Supervisor Avi Goodman, Framestore’s Melbourne studio delivered 35 shots in total for the project – with the CFX team having lent their skills to some eye-catching creature designs, and their environments team creating photoreal spaces that bookend the film’s trajectory.

The Ominous Herd of Deer

Lead characters Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) are shown escaping the city life’s hustle and bustle to a lavish weekend home in Long Island – surrounded by abundant wilderness and scenic beauty. But as the plot starts to thicken, one of the first signs that something inexplicably sinister and catastrophic will soon befall the world is when an abnormally large herd of silent, staring deers are spotted in the backyard of the family’s rented holiday home.

“The deer were worked on from scratch,” states VFX Supervisor Avi Goodman, drawing on Framestore’s widespread creature and animation skills. “While keeping within the boundary of believability, the Director wanted the herd of deer to give out an eerie, creepy feeling, so we went through multiple concept versions of what the deer’s anatomy should look and feel like, before nailing down the final asset.”

Once the male stag’s 3D model was built, and the skeleton and muscle structure were carefully designed in tandem with the Director’s brief, the team then took on the challenge of perfecting its actions and movements. A pre-existing animation library housing different walking, standing, movement cycles was tapped into to help choreograph the creature’s interactions with its surrounding environments in as realistic a way as possible.

“For the group deer sequence shots, we started off by making a generic male stag and then branched off into a female doe, a baby deer, and the hero stag – who is a bigger, bulkier and more muscular version of the generic male stag,” explains Goodman. “Once we had all the different versions of the deer built out, we came up with 5-6 antler and texture variations for each of the types and randomised them across all of our shots.”

“There was one particular scene in the movie that called for a top angle shot of a large group of deer gathered outside the family’s house. That was quite a challenging scene for us to put together as it required a lot of plant reparation work, removal of some existing roads and houses, and replacing them with digital trees and foliage.”

Flamingos in the Pool

Flamingos play a significant role in addressing an underlying theme in the film – the impact of an apocalyptic breakout on animal immigration patterns. As the plot starts to unravel, we see that the deer are not the only species to have invaded the Long Island holiday home. Soon after, Ruth (Myha’la Herrold) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) stumble upon four flamingos splashing their way through the swimming pool late at night- serving as yet another symbol of something dark and heinous looming in the background and the animals behaving erratically in response.

As with the deer, the team spent a good amount of time working on the flamingo’s physique and structure – pulling references from other creature work in Framestore’s arsenal. “This was a significant shot for us to put together,” says VFX Supervisor Avi Goodman. “For the feathers, while we had some pre-existing models in our feather pipeline that we could use as a starting point, we had to revamp parts of the assets to make it seem authentic to a flamingo – increasing the difficulty level a tad bit for us.”

The Texturing and Modelling team in Melbourne also had to work in close collaboration to ensure all the intricate details contributed to each creature’s sense of magical realism. Since the emphasis of the scene lies on the flapping of the wings to symbolise chaos, the animation team had to carefully analyse different wing movements and gestures of a real-life flamingo, before replicating that movement in the animation.

The Universe and Beyond

Additional to the animal work, Framestore was also tasked with creating two big, surreal-looking, thematic environment shots that play a monumental role in the film’s storyline.

A shot from space looking down on Earth at the start of the film, meant to showcase Earth’s pristine beauty and charm before the apocalyptic chaos takes over, was tasked to Framestore to complete. The shot called for a cross-over between the skills of Framestore’s environments team and the software ‘Terragen’ – used specifically to help design and create terrains on different surfaces.

“While Terragen was a tricky software for us to control, we got some really good results by the end of it,” explains VFX Producer Avi Goodman.

The second shot that the team worked on can be seen towards the end of the film when all of Earth has gone up in flames – reducing it to nothing but smoke, fire and explosions. This particular scene required Framestore’s team to dabble in a wide range of special effects to give the smoke and fire its desired naturalistic look.