A visual journey into the VFX of ‘The Good Lord Bird’

Breaking down key VFX scenes from the show.

Did you catch Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird? The Ethan Hawke-starring series follows the last years of the American abolitionist John Brown.

Ingenuity Studios was the primary VFX house on this series; over 450 shots the studio worked on matte paintings for period-correct landscapes, gun battles and other effects. Brad Minnich was the production visual effects supervisor, with Ingenuity’s work overseen by VFX supervisor Andrew Woolley, VFX producer Adam Lambert and executive producer Matthew Poliquin.

Here, the Ingenuity team break down some key final VFX shots from the series by diving into the making of the shots in the image captions. Check them out below, along with a VFX breakdown vid.

This sweeping panoramic scene started off with a small blue screen behind the actors sitting in the wagon behind the horse leading it, in the setting of a real-world grassy field. Everything beyond those foreground elements was created by the Ingenuity Studios team in comp through matte painting. The team used Google Earth to fly around the location where the story is set: Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Doing so gave them the ability to plot out different pieces which weren’t part of primary production. Historical references for the bridge were also researched, and since the events depicted in this series took place in 1859, it was important to reflect that moment in time. With this in mind, modern buildings had to be removed from the town. The bridge that is featured throughout the series, was built in CG and added to the shot. Drone footage was provided for reference, and photography elements were used to bring it together. There was a crane move in this shot so the team had to separate everything out in order to build in the correct parallax. The shot was finished off with sky replacement. Image credit: Showtime.
This shot features the Rail Man talking to Onion, set at nighttime across from Harper’s Ferry with the moon on the right serving as the primary light source, along with the headlight from the train in the station tunnel. The Ingenuity Studios team added all the foliage surrounding the main structure and integrated it with low-lying atmosphere from the river below to help give geographical context. This shot falls off the darkness of a towering mountain. Image credit: Showtime.
This shot was provided as stock footage, and Ingenuity was tasked with adding the plume of smoke which was built in CG and tracked to the train. The team focused on the lighting and density of smoke as well as matching the angle, direction and dissipation to the speed of the train. They then used the lens grids shot by production to match this shot to the look of the anamorphic lenses used in principal photography. Image credit: Showtime.
Ingenuity Studios added muzzle flashes and damage from the gun fight to this scene where staunch abolitionist John Brown and his men come to free the slaves. The burning building behind the action of this shot is just getting started and will increase in intensity and spread as the sequence unfolds. Ingenuity had to track all the bullet hits throughout the scene building them into each subsequent shot to ensure continuity. Image credit: Showtime.
This scene features a Dolly move from left to right with horsemen riding through the shot. There is a blood hit on the far right motivated by a gunshot from a rider up front. The Ingenuity Studios team did a lot of tracking and roto in the foreground of the riders in order to bring them back on top of the fire and smoke they created to the left of frame. These elements were perfected in comp to achieve the look of them interacting with the structure and allow the smoke to feel as though it’s billowing out over the second story. This shot included sky replacement to help create a beautiful image and assist the storytelling. Image credit: Showtime.
The previous shot is from the lower left of this frame next to the burning building, looking up the hill to the right. Here we have the horses riding out of town towards the church while fire ravages the buildings they leave behind them. The original plate had everything intact with a small two-foot fire on the platform of the structure to the right of frame. The Ingenuity Studios team degraded all the structures with charred and fallen wood, growing the flames up, on and in the various structures to create depth and texture in the wreckage. Again, the team did sky replacement to match. Image credit: Showtime.
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