Numenera: Strand and Visual Effects

This is a guest post by Joan Manuel Urquiaga Valdes, director of the forthcoming Numenera: Strand short film.

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. When imagining an alien land, a lot can be said with visual effects that can’t be said with dialogue. VFX are much more than just eye candy—in a film like Numenera: Strand, they give the Ninth World life, immerse the viewer within it, and make it completely believable while also completely alien. They’re crucial to the movie taking us where we want to go.

I’ve worked as a visual effects supervisor for 8 years and seen a lot of VFX productions. Visual effects are expensive, but I’ve made science-fiction short films on shoestring budgets (Renaissance), and the process worked because I tailored the film’s setting and story to my strengths as a filmmaker.

But there are different disciplines within visual effect production. Compositing is my strong suit, but when it comes to bigger and more complicated things like big scale object hard surface modeling (spoiler alert: such as a huge flying numenera object) and massive particle simulation for atmospherics (clouds, dust, light particles), that’s when people with special skill sets are required. You can only do so much as a compositor.

To give you an example, this shot (an actual shot from Numenera: Strand) is a compositor’s dream:

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A scenery shot with a big matte painting in the background. Here the flying particles aren’t that important to the story and can be produced by easier tools than simulations, like stock footage.

But compare that to this prop shot, for instance, with its glow and small particles:

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We shot this so that we could add Numenera “magic” to it. In the script I wrote “a stream of particles flow from the character’s hands into the object.” In the trailer we see what I can do as a compositor, but to be able to tell the story more accurately, we need particle simulations that require another set of skills. That’s the only way to get the important plot point across.

So the magic of Numenera and the way we choose to portray it in the film requires some special skill. This is the difference between an ordinary short and a short like ours.

Along with particle simulations we also want to create atmospheric effects. Atmospheric effects are one of the ways we can ensure a high quality end result. Getting the clouds, mist, smoke and airborne particles right is a key element in getting an exciting and believable shot.

As you can see in these frames from Prometheus, without the interaction with the atmosphere, these shots wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.

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These images are all good examples of how a team with the right skill sets and under the right time and budgetary conditions, can produce high quality visual effects on a short film, making the experience richer than most other short films. We want to make a film that elevates Numenera to the same quality level a feature full-length movie would have. That’s the only treatment we feel the Numenera legacy deserves. Six minutes isn’t long, but we’d rather use our budget to produce an immersive, completely believable experience, rather than lesser quality effects on a longer film. To reach these effects we need advanced modeling experts onboard to continue telling the story right.

We hope these images contribute to the understanding of the immense work behind making visual effects into a reality, but also bringing the story of the Ninth World and The Drifter to the public.

Valdes/Eriksdotter, the production company bringing you Numenera: Strand, are currently crowdfunding the additional budget necessary to complete the film’s effects to the standards discussed above. Visit their Kickstarter campaign to help make this higher level of production a reality!

Charles Ryan
Charles Ryan

Charles M. Ryan has written or contributed to titles in nearly every class of tabletop game—board games, card games, trading card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games—over a 25-year career in the game industry. He has also served as the global brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and headed up the marketing department at the UK’s Esdevium Games, one of the world’s largest game distributors. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Monte Cook Games.