To bring the new Netflix sci-fi drama series Away to life, Framestore collaborated closely with the show’s VFX Producer Scott Ramsey and VFX Supervisor Victor Scalise to create an array of photoreal depictions of space across each of the show’s ten episodes.
Starring Hilary Swank, who captains the world’s first ever mission to Mars, the series is set almost entirely in space and called for a seamless range of visual effects and digital environments which would help drive the story’s narrative. With Oscar-winning experience placing Sandra Bullock in space for Alfonso Cuarón’s blockbuster Gravity, Framestore was well-positioned for the project.
Framestore’s studio in New York delivered subtle but impactful visual effects, from the exterior of the Atlas space shuttle to the interior of the ship’s core, meticulously crafting true to life visuals from LiDAR scans that would allow the audience to focus on the story and not the production.
“We set the bar very high for visual effects on Away,” said Ramsey. “Framestore has a lot of talented and creative people, and we knew they’d be a perfect fit for the show. With the scans complete, Framestore went to work turning over proof of concept and quickly moved to photoreal set extensions. Having early looks on the interior of the Atlas really put our minds at ease.”
Framestore VFX Supervisor John Kilshaw and the team researched actual NASA footage and scientific literature in order to ensure complete accuracy and attention to detail across every element of each shot. Framestore was also invited to work closely with the show’s team to creatively develop, previsualize and consult on the timing and pace of the final landing sequence of the season.
“Away was one of the most enjoyable projects I have had the opportunity to work on, alongside clients who truly enabled us to be an involved, collaborative partner on their show,” said Kilshaw. “We were tasked with the challenge of creating moments that aided the narrative in the most believable way possible, researching practical optical effects and then implementing them seamlessly to enhance the look and feel of our shots so the viewer was unaware of visual effects utilized.”
The goal for the series was to make the Atlas spaceship feel real, yet cinematic. While civilians are used to seeing space as a pure black background that might otherwise seem as though it is shot on a soundstage, the team opted for a warmer light to expose some of the surrounding stars. It was also important to consider how the ship appeared in its environment, and how to show it traveled at speed from Earth. To accomplish this, the team employed VFX tactics that called on the movement of planets and the Sun, when possible.
“The biggest challenge we faced was for our last episode as the crew attempts to land on Mars,” explained Scalise. “The design was important not only to achieve beautiful shots, but to add tension to the story. Our producers wanted to ensure the audience felt the danger in the same way that the astronauts did. We needed the viewer to be thinking, ‘They might not make it.’ Framestore pulled it off amazingly -- we held the tension for the entry and then achieved the wow factor when showing the audience the surface of Mars.”
Created by Andrew Hinderaker, production of the series was led by True Jack Productions, 6th & Idaho, and Universal Television, and is available to stream on Netflix.