BlueBolt created the VFX for the third series of MRC/Hulu’s hit satirical comedy drama series The Great – based loosely on the life of Catherine The Great, Empress of all Russia and starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult. BlueBolt have delivered VFX for all three series as lead VFX studio.

Led by VFX Supervisor David Scott, BlueBolt delivered 369 VFX shots for season three; recreating 18th century Russia with crowd duplication in key settings, squib hits, and muzzle flashes, in addition to CG butterflies and a comet. The focus of BlueBolt’s work was the creation of a full CG icy lake environment which takes centre stage for season three’s most dramatic story moments, accounting for 185 shots across two pivotal episodes.

BlueBolt extended a single practical snowy riverbank and ice surface – shot at St Clere’s estate, Kent, UK during the summer – into a wide, expansive, frozen lake and woodland, which needed to be seen from both sides in multiple shots. In addition, evolving from the original brief, David and the team were tasked with creating a CG horse and a character digi-double to provide credible dramatic action when a character and horse suddenly fall through the surface of the ice. In addition, they enhanced underwater shots showing the horse and rider in the aftermath of the fall and reprised underwater shots in a later episode where another character swims below the ice to search for the lost rider and horse.

VFX Supervisor David Scott said: “The set was surrounded by multiple bluescreens so once the general layout of the environment and look of the shots was established, the next challenge was embedding the characters into the environment in the different lighting conditions we experienced on set.

The icy lake environment as a whole was our biggest challenge on the show. There were concerns with shooting so much coverage against bluescreen for such pivotal story points, as well as the budget surrounding the sequences, so executing these scenes in an efficient and VFX-friendly way was key from the start.

For both episodes where the scenes took place at the icy lake, we spent time during Prep creating TechViz for the Director and DOP so they could pre-visualise the shots before the shoot and it helped us effectively plan the shoot days with the ADs so we could position the bluescreens in a time-efficient way on location.

The one thing we could not necessarily factor in on the shoot day, which filtered into Post was the change in weather throughout the shoot days. During the episode six sequences for example, we quickly shifted from grey clouds to extreme sunlight and shadows so we had to account for that when balancing the shots in Post.

The tone of the show is all about character and the horse and rider falling into the ice was originally shot as a practical element. In the edit, the element didn’t deliver the visual impact required for such a key moment. Our challenge was then to create a CG horse and a character digi-double to provide credible dramatic action when they suddenly fall through the surface. This proved a creative team effort in VFX direction, animation, lighting, FX work right through to final composite.”

The Great is produced by MRC Television and can be streamed on Hulu and Lionsgate+ via Amazon Prime in the UK.

Jon Creamer

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