CGI studio Realtime re-joined Bad Wolf for the third season of Sky TV’s A Discovery of Witches, helping to bring to life magic performed by central character Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer).

Following several sequences crafted for the second season, the team was tasked with creating VFX that showcase how much Diana’s powers have developed.

VFX supervisor Sue Land says: “Diana’s powers are growing and therefore the magical content increases with each season. That said, the magic must always feel real and grounded to the nature of the show. This season we’re back in the modern era, so the VFX had to feel appropriate to the time and that of a confident, powerful witch.”

Episode four sees Diana visualising an Elizabethan London over the top of the modern-day architecture. Using reference of buildings from the UK city of York as inspiration, the team blocked out a model of the lane from matchmoved cameras, using ZBrush to add addition detail and aging to the material.

Diana finds herself casting a salt spell in order to locate the last page from the Book of Life. To visualise the style of the spell, Realtime’s Art Department developed a series of concepts for the creative team to work from. Red salt acts as a magical GPS, with the grains moving around a map before forming the shape of a house. This effect was created using Houdini, the particle sims focussed on target-seeking behaviour to get the specific shapes needed. The house was built using a volume-based modelling process. The team rendered it with varying degrees of transparency to achieve the final look.

Those familiar to the show will recognise Diana’s weaving spells, threads of magical luminescence manipulated by Diana’s hands. A combination of techniques was developed for the threads, from match-moving hand movements to ripple solvers and vellum curve simulations in Houdini.

“VFX are always best when they serve a purpose beyond just looking pretty, and this is particularly true with magical shows,” adds Sue Land. “Our sequences had to be handled with subtly when often the temptation is to over embellish the magic and make it twinkle. We generally found ourselves paring back on what we initially thought would sell the shot to better serve the story.”

 

 

Pippa Considine

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