The Cinesite team, led by VFX production Supervisor Simon Stanley-Clamp, created an otherworldly mix of creatures, environments and other effects for Fate: The Winx Saga series now screening on Netflix. The fairy-filled fantasy was produced by Archery Pictures in association with Rainbow.
“The magic in the series is intrinsically elemental, with the key characters taking their powers from water, fire, earth and air,” explains Stanley-Clamp. “We were always mindful that everything should be linked to the real world, from colour palettes to looks for the more supernatural effects like creatures and forcefields.”
Fate: The Winx Saga is a teen suspense drama made for Netflix, a story about five fairies attending Alfea, a magical boarding school in the Otherworld where they are learning to master their powers, all while navigating post-pubescent dramas, and the monsters that threaten their very existence. This is like Harry Potter, mixed perhaps with Hanna Montana. The effects alone are what make this series a special treat to watch. From the creator of The Vampire Diaries, Fate: The Winx Saga is a live-action re-creation of the Italian cartoon Winx Club in 2004 from Iginio Straffi. But enough about the storyline.
Wider school exteriors were shot on location at Kilruddery House outside Dublin and Luggala House in Co. Wicklow. A detailed lidar scan and photogrammetry of the former location was used and combined with aspects of the Luggala architecture to create the school’s distinctive building and grounds. Interior sets were constructed and filmed at Ardmore Studios in Bray.
One of the least visible effects is the forcefield. The school is covered by an invisible dome which isn’t visible until touched by someone from the magical realm, when it appears as a bright organic net in a blue-magenta colour palette. There are initial sparkling effects in the blue, electric barrier.
“Originally the barriers were built up as a honeycomb effect with tessellations,” Stanley-Clamp explains, “but that was too geometric, so a more floral, organic look was applied. Ultimately, there’s a light gossamer smoky effect around hands as people touch the barrier. It was all generated as a bespoke Houdini effect.”
In the first episode, there is a portal which allows Bloom to instantly go home from Alfea to California. The look of this was based on burning steel wool, reproduced as a Houdini effect.
THE SANCTUM LATTICE
The key design aspect to the Sanctum Lattice effect was to create a delicate, organic structure made up of a seemingly infinite number of layers that would obscure whatever was inside.
“This effect was created entirely in Houdini,” says adds CG Supervisor Samir Ansari. “We began by scattering tens of millions of points in a cylindrical tube and connected the adjacent points to their neighbours to make a complex web of strands that branched off in all directions. We then projected many layers of procedurally generated evolving noise patterns at different frequencies to add depth and richness to the strands.
The Sanctum Lattice is a prison where Rosalind is kept in stasis until her fate has been decided. A practical lighting element was filmed around the actress (loosely referred to as a shower curtain!), with broken glass at the actress’s feet which the practical lighting bounced off. Again, the Sanctum Lattice barrier effect was created using Houdini.
The ethereal magic forcefield surrounding the Alfea Grounds features prevalently in the series and serves several story points. “Our brief was to create an ethereal curtain that was almost invisible to the eye until it is touched or interacted with,” says Ansari. “The effect centres around a detailed cloth simulation wrapped in several layers of particle simulation. Although the effect was always described as an ethereal entity, the show’s creator also wanted to maintain a physical quality to it. We achieved this through rendering refractive and iridescent layers that interacted with each other in a physical sense.”
“In addition to this we generated self-illuminating particles that would light up and wrap around the actors whenever they were touched. This posed many challenges, requiring very accurate rotomation and close attention to detail,” says Ansari.
Bloom’s ability with fire is at the heart of the series. In an early sequence, she’s standing in a stone circle and summoning flames from her hands. The Cinesite compositors had to be careful not to let it look like she’s simply on fire. “It had to be clear that she’s controlling her powers, and that was quite a tricky balance,” explains Ansari.
“In the final battle, where Bloom finally comes to grips with her powers and tendrils and flames seem to lick around her body, we had to find a balance between adding the right amount of flame and getting the best distance from her body to make the combustion seem controlled and intentional,” Ansari continues. “We found that a distance of about three inches away from her body worked best and we specifically choreographed the flames to mould to her body’s geometry.”
Bloom goes through a final transformation, which is the only way she can become powerful enough to take on the Burned Ones. Aisha shrouds her in a curtain of water, sucking water from a nearby fountain and creating a cocoon-like wall around her to protect her as she rises up and experiences a butterfly-like transformation. Over a sequence of about 40 shots Bloom floats up into the air, flames covering her body and she ultimately releases an enormous pair of flaming wings. This taps into the look of the original series and the Manga style transformation.
Having sprouted the wings, Bloom comes back down to Earth to take on the Burned Ones, her wings shrinking to a more battle-ready size and she renews the battle with greater energy and power. Now at the peak of strength, Bloom has two powers, a dragon flame with which she can blast creatures to keep them away and a cinder beam which allows her to pluck out their souls from their chests. The latter was handled similarly to the Callum disintegration, with forms breaking down into particles using Houdini.
Bloom destroys the Burned Ones with her new powers. The corkscrew of plasma energy for the dragon flame was created using Houdini FX, with fire at its core encircled by a neon-like plasma beam.
The shot count of the transformation, and final battle sequence environment was definitely challenging for the Cinesite crew. “Editorial had a technique of using whip pans to take the audience between action sequences in the fight,” says Ansari. “We created CG environments to carry the shots through the wipes. The choreography of these whip pans was difficult to get right; we’re coming off CG into live action, then moving back into CG. Constantly mixing up different cameras, environments and settings.”