A visual journey into Scanline’s ‘Stranger Things’ machine

Go step-by-step into the VFX of the Russian machine.

The Creative Arts Emmys happen this week, and one of the show nominated for Outstanding Special Visual Effects is Stranger Things (s3).

To mark the nomination, we’re looking at Scanline VFX’s work for the Russian machine in this past season. Overseen by Scanline VFX supervisor Berter Orpak, the machine turns on a number of times and also acts as a backdrop to a thrilling fight scene.

Follow along below in the imagery and captions care of Scanline’s Jasmin Hasel (COO/executive producer) and Michael Mielke (executive producer).

1. Death of Grigori

Hopper throws Grigori into the fast-rotating middle section of the machine and is ripped to pieces, requiring some complex fx simulation work. Here, Scanline built a detailed character asset for Grigori made up of all essential parts of the human anatomy. Due to the complexity of simulating the various elements together, the studio decided to use Houdini for this shot. The work started with a rigid body simulation of the skeleton to establish the overall dynamics and pacing. With that approved, artists added several soft body simulations of muscle and skin tissue using Houdini’s Vellum tools. The muscle tissue was later on used as a fluid emission source for the blood and a volume source for a fine layer of blood dust.

Plate of Hopper pushing Grigori into the machine at the Russian base. Onset proxy for the Russian machine with practical rotating light rig to simulate the flickering and flashing lights of the machine and produce realistic light and reflections on the actors.
Hopper keyed out of plate and placed into of a full CG recreation of the Russian base machine room.
Addition of the Russian machine model. Grigori substituted by a low poly 3D dummy to get the animation timing right. Sparks and fx simulations added as the machine breaks apart. The machine itself consisted of 6 highly detailed segments made up of 200 different objects and 35 million polygons!
Final composite. Grigori is now a highly detailed digital double. Additional glow and glare effects added to the scene.

2. Machine overload

The machine eventually overloads, spinning faster and faster, releasing more and more uncontrolled bursts of electricity before it finally explodes. Multiple different FX setups were built using Thinking Particles in 3ds Max to deal with rigid body destruction simulations and the whirling currents of electrical arcs. The electrical arcs would automatically target surfaces of the machine room and leave burnt areas on the wall which triggered additional spark generation.

3D model of the machine room environment without the machine.
Model of the machine placed into the environment and lighting from the effects added. Debris from the machine as it breaks apart can be seen in the air and on the ground.
Electrical arcs added as well as additional lighting.
Final composite with additional 3D spark elements and compositing finishing touches.

3. Explosion!

The machine explodes in a giant burst of electricity and disintegrates the hazmat suit team in the room. Using Houdini simulations for the disintegration FX of the hazmat suits, skin, flesh and bones, the digital doubles were stripped away one after the other by the blast.

3D environment including the machine and original lighting from the plate.
Addition of atmospherics and smoke from the machine exploding.
Addition of electrical arcs and effects.
Final composite with additional sparks and the digital double hazmat suite team as well as plate elements in the foreground.

4. Electricity

For this show, extensive dynamic electricity setups were built from scratch which was a major development task
for Scanline’s DX team. One of the setups automatically “crawled” over the gun surface and subsequently created correct electricity arcs. Additional setups allowed gave artists more creative freedom to position and animate electricity arcs where necessary.

Full CG representation of the Russian base machine room floor with cables and power connectors.
Overlay of a 3D wireframe rendering of the rotating Russian machine.
Grey shaded Russian machine model with some internal light effects.
Textured and shaded Russian machine – glow effects, sparks and lights added.
CG walkway added.
Final composite with keyed out actors integrated with the CG render.

Finally, check out Scanline’s VFX breakdown for its s3 work, below.

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