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Milk brings magic to epic BBC series

9 June 2015
Milk Jonathan Strange Mr Norrell

Milk created all the visual effects for the BBC’s new seven-part television drama Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The series premiered on BBC One on Sunday 17 May 2015, and tells the story of the return of magic to Georgian England.

Working closely with director Toby Haynes, Milk designed and made standalone VFX sequences in each episode, as well as the traditional work associated with a period drama such as paint outs/clean up, set extensions and matte paintings to set the scene and add scope and scale in Georgian England.

The key VFX sequences in the first two episodes include bringing the York Minster statues to life; the scene-setting opening sequence showing the Shambles and York Minster, which introduces the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in episode one; and the sand horses and the fleet of rainships in episode two. Milk’s work in subsequent episodes includes crowd and effects work on the Battle of Waterloo.

The Milk team spent several months doing R&D prior to the shoot and during the first few months of the shoot on the key sequences in the series, which proved invaluable.

One of the projects involved Milk creating the dark fairy world Lost Hope. Haynes’ early idea was to create a dark, macabre world devoid of life, based on millennia of war debris stacked in layers on a battlefield. Milk created the Road to Lost Hope environment in full 3D. The establishing shot was created with a long camera-tracking move. Key elements were built and instanced for the environment including armour, skulls, layers and layers of 3D models, all piled on top of each other. When the parallax lines up the image of a skull within Lost Hope gradually comes into view. This entire sequence was designed by Milk from concept to final shot.

Rolling mist, smoke, and volumetric lighting were added to create atmosphere, and the only real element in this shot was the actors and some trees.

Multiple stand-ins were used for key assets such as towers, trees, one stand-in for skeletons and debris, rotating and creating new versions of it. Sim cloth was created for flags.

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