The task of faithfully and sensitively depicting the harrowing events in the Sky Originals and Peacock series ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’, presented a significant challenge for the VFX team, led by VFX Supervising Producer Alan Church and Overall VFX Supervisor Simon Giles.

Here, Giles and Church explain the vfx process behind Synchronicity Films’ series.

“We needed to portray the harsh without alienating the viewer. Achieving this delicate balance required thorough research, including studying historical documents, photographs and survivors’ drawings and many consultations with our Historical and Cultural consultant Naomi Gryn, who in turn took advice from other research bodies and specialists including the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, the Imperial War Museum and many important research materials such as Herman Langbein’s ‘People in Auschwitz’ and ‘Maladie de Famine’ – research conducted by a group of starving doctors and scientists on the effects of malnutrition on Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto – and scores of survivor testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation, to ensure visual effects depicted the environment in which Lali story plays out, to the best of our ability, within the boundaries of resources and production time.”

“The production shot in Slovakia, Austria and Hungary between February and June 2023 on specially constructed sets with huge greenscreens placed where it was most effective to extend the scale of our versions of the notorious Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp, of which we constructed Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and also the Auschwitz I gate. We wanted VFX to be as authentic as possible, and knew the sensitive nature of the subject matter demanded the utmost respect and dedication from the entire team.”

Back in London, Church and Giles brought on-board Union VFX and Untold Studios to the team to complete the 500+ VFX shots of the infamous two camps. The work commissioned also included sensitive portrayal of characters who endured extreme deprivation and starvation, thereby requiring VFX based emaciation. This aspect of the project required meticulous care to ensure VFX contributed meaningfully to the story and the series’ overall vision, avoiding any form of sensationalism. Without the aid of careful VFX, we would have been unable to tell this particular part of the prisoners’ experience.


Union VFX

Working in tandem with the production company Synchronicity Films, and the VFX production team (Union’s team led by VFX Supervisor David Schneider) we built vast and detailed environments to facilitate the digital reconstruction of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau .  Within these visceral environments, Union also built in the ability to interactively deconstruct areas of the camp to accurately show Birkenau’s expansion during the earlier periods of the story.

To maintain as much authenticity as possible, building the CG environments involved paying close attention to historical material – photographic as well as written accounts from survivor testimonies and various historical texts. Adding further textures, mud, weathering, camouflage, helped complement the CG builds, and DMP extensions and enhancements were used extensively across the show.

The digital sets were populated with sprites comprising prisoners and guards. 2D elements and 3D FX combined to recreate weather conditions in addition to the fire, smoke and ash that loomed over Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

Developing a significant creative and technical trust with the show’s creative team fostered a genuine spirit of collaboration and enthusiasm despite the horrifying subject matter. It was a great undertaking and the studio felt buoyed and inspired by the incredible passion and compassion of the production team.


Untold Studios

Untold Studios were tasked with a broad scope of work, which included sensitively and skilfully creating different levels of emaciation and bruising for both BG and FG characters throughout the show. Other shots included recreating Auschwitz I from the entrance gate, VFX enhancements, FX simulated blood for the tattooing and a distressing death wall sequence.

Exhaustive research, which included scouring the archive of the Imperial War Museum, was carried out to ensure that levels of emaciation, injury and locations were all as historically accurate as possible within production limitations, timescales and editorial requirements . To achieve the appearance of emaciation, male and female sculpts were created, with a custom-built system developed in-house. Sculpt layers atop the base asset could then more easily be switched from a ‘healthy’ weight to an extreme level of emaciation, and every level in between. Differing levels of bruising and dirt were also factored in at the asset stage, to give us the best control through the pipeline.

“It was an incredibly humbling experience to work on this powerful and meaningful project. Everyone at Untold Studios worked painstakingly to ensure our work was as historically authentic as possible, but also sensitively and respectfully represented the horrors and the atrocities of what took place. We’re very grateful to have played a role in bringing this important story to life,” says James Hattsmith, VFX Supervisor, Untold Studios


Blazing Griffin Post

Blazing Griffin Post completed post-production for the series, consulting on all aspects of post before the shoot started, and continued to collaborate with Sky, VFX vendors and the production team all the way to final delivery.

DI Technician Stephen Beavis oversaw the conform and VFX management process.

Online Editor Jon Bruce said: “Additional 2D VFX were undertaken in the online, which ranged from green screen removal, beauty work, shot compositing and clean-up work. We worked in Davinci Resolve and Fusion, which allowed quick reaction to notes from the grade and sound sessions.

A series of this scale doesn’t come around very often, especially in Glasgow. It is credit to the support from Claire Mundell at Synchronicity that we were given the opportunity. To successfully deliver a project like this is an achievement and a sign of the dedication and creative spirit of everyone involved.”

Jon Creamer

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