Vine FX delivered 133 shots for the BBC’s new six-part thriller

Cambridge-based Vine FX delivered 133 shots for the BBC’s six-part thriller, Boat Story, produced and written by Two Brothers Productions (The Tourist, Baptiste).

Featuring Daisy Haggard, Paterson Joseph, and Tchéky Karyo, Boat Story follows Joseph and Haggard’s characters as they discover an illegal drug haul on a shipwreck. Quickly deciding to sell it on, they’re soon stalked by Karyo’s gangster, The Tailor.

“When you’re dealing with anything set on a body of water there’s always a good deal of simulation work to be done,” says Vine FX CG supervisor Pedrom Dadgostar. “On this project, we had to simulate an entire body of ocean water for some of the wide shots, where we also needed to recreate the boat itself in CG.”

Boat Story’s titular boat was a practical prop fixed onto a rig to enable a rocking simulation that emulated the movement of a stormy sea. “We needed to put that movement in the context of the ocean – adding waves, spray, and so on in close ups and wides. Our CG model provided the correct properties and proportions, along with an object for the water simulations to collide with,” continues Dadgostar. “But then you’re not only simulating the water and modelling the boat – you’re simulating the boat as well, making it rock on the rendered waves. Which adds a layer of complexity.”

The Vine FX team was asked to extend camera moves in a number of shots, often leading to the replacement of almost the entire plate. “There’s a top down shot where the director wanted to zoom out into an aerial view,” explains Dadgostar. “You can see two bodies on the deck, which we left in, but we rebuilt the boat in CG around them. Then switched to a fully rendered shot as the camera pulls out to reveal the vessel in isolation on the dark and stormy ocean.”

The most technically demanding aspect of Vine FX’s work on Boat Story was a CG yellow cardinal bird – a key motif of the show that the directors included across pivotal moments.

Feathers provide a different set of requirements for groom artists than fur or hair. The system of movement is unique, with layers and structure in each component. Vine FX then added a layer of simulation on top of the bird animation and the feathers themselves to give them a sense of life and realism, colliding and interacting on a small scale as they would on a real bird.

Integrating with the real

The ocean-borne sequences needed the touch of visual effects to make them realistic. Plates shot on the deck of a real boat against black had backgrounds added, along with crashing waves battering the vessel and its crew. Which meant some clever compositing.

“Pulling keys for this project needed careful work,” says lead compositor, Pan Vafeiadis. “The production used water spray during filming to give us some practical elements, but we needed to remove most of that to get a good key. Normally we start work on scenes by applying a denoiser so we have full control of the grain later – for this we overcranked that effect to remove the rain droplets and then pulled the originals back in with renoising later.”

“For the blood – and there was a lot of blood – we used mostly 2D elements tracked into the plates. There’s plenty of behind the scenes work that goes into these shots, too. Stunt equipment like wires and prop walls need removing or replacing, and everything has to match what was there on the day.”

“Two Brothers have a unique genre and vision for the show. It plays on tropes of dark comedy, but with a lot of realism. The blood is a story point, but very gruesome. Which is fun. It has shock factor while illustrating the narrative.”