Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the 90s cult classic Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop is set in the not-too-distant future and follows a crew of bounty hunters operating out of their spaceship in an effort to capture the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals.
In a truly collaborative global effort, Framestore teams across New York, Los Angeles, and London joined forces to deliver a total of 112 VFX shots throughout episodes 104 and 109 of the 10-part series.
“Framestore was essential to the success of the VFX for Cowboy Bebop -- they really knocked it outside of the park on the ‘Faye Saves Callisto’ sequence,” said Victor Scalise, VFX Supervisor. “With their experience on spaceships and destruction, I knew I would be in good hands. They make even the most complex sequences easy and fun. It’s a joy every time we bring them onto our projects.”
A vast majority of the team’s VFX work was undertaken for episode 104, with a number of shots created from scratch and extensive CG or compositing work employed to build the Burner Spaceship, Schooner Spaceship, missile and atmosphere surrounding Jupiter’s moon -- Callisto.
“Having the privilege of previously working with Victor Scalise and Scott Ramsey on Netflix’s Away, we were able to leverage that experience and the shorthand we’d developed with them to jump in and hit the ground running,” explained Andy Zazzera, CG Supervisor at Framestore. “Sci-fi and spaceships are always fun to work on, but the specific aesthetic of this show meant that we got to explore unique avenues with the style of FX we employed. As part of our endeavor to always take things to the next level at Framestore, we built a bespoke practical rig to shoot real jets of fire. We captured the fireballs with a high-speed camera, then layered that footage into our shots to enhance the CG effects.”
The CG Burner and Schooner ship exterior shots required both compositing onto plates on the ground as well as flying through a practical sky. The shots also included planetary force fields, FX ship thrusters, heat haze, dust elements, falling pebble elements and water effects, set cleanup, and an array of additional integrations.
When it came to the spaceships’ interiors, the Schooner required green screen background replacements for a starry space scene, all carried out in Nuke, whilst full CG shots were split between the Callisto atmosphere and space. Full backgrounds were created in either Nuke or CG, on occasion assisted by digital matte painting, and integrated with the Burner, Schooner, CG debris, FX smoke trails, thruster trails, and more. Two shots required a visual separation of Callisto’s atmosphere from the rest of space, so a Hexagon effect was created in CG and integrated into the scenes using Nuke.
“The fan knowledge and general popularity of the original Anime added a layer of complexity as we had to ensure our visuals did not stray from the style and vibe of the 90’s cult classic,” said Framestore Compositing Supervisor, Sebastien Boulange.
The team also created almost 3,000 square miles of terrain for the surface of Callisto. By employing a hybrid methodology that allowed them to build a world at the quality of a traditional CG film asset, but with the speed and interactivity much closer to a real-time production. Unreal Engine also played a role in developing proofs of concept for the massive scale environment, allowing the team to create significant drafts in a matter of hours instead of days, informing the full quality final builds as a result.
Green screen shots required a CG Burner Spaceship extension and full background replacement. Originally shot in a soundstage with a practical Burner model, the surrounding spaceship structure, windshield, and windows were then created in CG and composited around the set.
Finally, set extensions were created using 2D digital matte painting, including the addition of background islands, a pier, extending set structures, replacing blue screens, removing set crew and lighting equipment.
“After reviewing episode 104 where Faye chases down a missile, Framestore was my first call to tackle such a huge sequence,” said Scott Ramsey, VFX Producer. “From pre-viz to final delivery, Framestore’s New York studio is a pleasure to work with.”
“Having worked on multiple Netflix shows in recent years, we were lucky enough to join the same fantastic team who constantly challenge us when it comes to the quality of work they expect,” said Framestore VFX Supervisor, John Kilshaw. “It’s a pleasure to be so in sync with a client and feed off the same level of passion they have for the project.”
Watch Cowboy Bebop now streaming on Netflix.