Are you watching ‘Vigil’? Go behind the scenes of the VFX

Goodbye Kansas shares info about its visual effects work for the BBC series.

I very rarely tend to post press releases here at befores & afters. But there’s also rarely a time when some interesting visual effects behind the scenes info become available during the middle of a series that is currently gripping at least one nation. That series is the submarine whodunnit, Vigil, and the company behind the visual effects is Goodbye Kansas Studios.

In the release, featured below, you can read about their range of shots, and get some insight at least into the first episode of the series. I believe there’s still 3 episodes to go, so, this is your spoiler alert. Here’s the release:

Goodbye Kansas Studios has delivered 180 shots for the BBC series Vigil. Episode one of Vigil has attracted an audience of 10.2 million across its first seven days, making it the BBC’s most watched new drama of the year so far.

Starring British TV icons Suranne Jones (Dr Foster) and Martin Compston (Line of Duty), the deep-sea thriller unravels a dark conspiracy that goes right to the heart of Britain’s national security, set against the backdrop of Scotland’s nuclear deterrent. Written by BAFTA nominee Tom Edge (Judy, The Crown), a suspicious death aboard the submarine HMS Vigil, and the mysterious disappearance of a fishing trawler, DCI Amy Silva (Jones) is tasked with getting to the bottom of the mystery.

Goodbye Kansas Studios worked on all six episodes as the primary vendor for the production. In collaboration with VFX producer Desiree Ryden, visual effects supervisor Jim Parsons played a vital part in the success of this one-of-a-kind production, being on-set during the filming of scenes and providing around the clock support to both the production and VFX teams throughout post-production.

During the VFX specification for Vigil, there was a need for a plethora of visual effects. As a large part of the action was set under water, the need for extensive and comprehensive visual effects grew beyond any normal remit. Vigil was created by World Productions, the same production company responsible for hit shows like Line of Duty and Bodyguard. After having previously worked with one of the producers of Vigil on the first season of Alex Rider, Goodbye Kansas Studios were chosen thanks to its extensive knowledge and expertise, especially in relation to complex water simulations.

Following its announcement in January 2020, the pandemic delayed production substantially, much like several shows over the past 18 months. Filming had to be temporarily halted as lockdown was enforced, and the Goodbye Kansas Studios team was forced to adjust to a completely new way of working. Managing Director James Prosser explains, “At that point in time, this was a first for everyone. Overnight we had to figure out how our teams would operate effectively from home, whilst developing plans of how to interact and collaborate with our clients too.”

Visual effects supervisor Jim Parsons was instrumental to the final outcome of the deep-sea thriller, working closely with Directors James Strong and Isabelle Sieb, and Executive Producer & Head of Drama at World Productions, Jake Lushington, on their vision for Vigil. “It was a really ambitious project with very demanding visual effects,” he said. “As you can imagine, the whole show involved a lot of water, and despite these kinds of effects coming on leaps and bounds in recent years, anyone will tell you that CGI water is still a difficult thing to pull off successfully.”

One of the most important assets created for Vigil was the title character itself – an incredibly detailed 150 metre model of a trident submarine, where the main action occurs throughout all six episodes. But with images, and even drawings, of real-life Naval submarines a classified secret, developing a true to life ‘replica’ was certainly a big challenge for the production team.

Jim explained, “We created a convincing model through extensive research, even going so far as talking to a former Navy officer… obviously without breaking any official secrets! The next challenge was to submerge HMS Vigil into the ‘digital North Sea’, developing each shot to make the submarine look like more than a long object in a dark ocean. We created a thickness to the water that allowed pools of light through it, creating a sinister and ominous mood, with every shot of the submarine adding to the atmosphere of the show’s mystery.”

“Without giving away too much, some important scenes feature a fishing trawler that, due to the complexity of the sequences, called for it to be shot in many different locations. To make it look as though the fishing trawler was out in the North Sea, it was filmed in various positions including in a bay and in a stationary dock. A lot of our work involved removing external scenery, creating the illusion that it was nowhere near land,” he explained. Some underwater scenes with actors were also filmed at the Pinewood Studios water tank, which involved having to remove the external scenery in the edit and create VFX surroundings of a lake in the Scottish Highlands.

Managing Director of Goodbye Kansas Studios in London, James Prosser, heralded Vigil as one of the most successful productions to date for the team. “The entire team continues to constantly surprise me with their skills and artistic vision.”

Vigil is on BBC One at 9pm on Sundays and available to catch up on BBC iPlayer.

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