Recently, Movistar+ has broken viewing records with Spanish-produced period drama La Peste (The Plague), which was binged by one-in-five viewers over a matter of days, has sold all over the world, and clocked in as the most expensive TV series ever made in Spain. Building a believable digital world around the 16th century story was up to Madrid-based studio Twin Pines, which created more than 500 VFX shots over 10 months with a team of 35 artists. You can watch a breakdown of Twin Pines’ work here.
The biggest challenge was digitally recreating the city of 1500s Seville with the same historical seriousness as a documentary. Throughout the production process, Twin Pines worked alongside a slew of historical advisors, documentarians and an art director for VFX. The exhaustive development of visual layers and the creation of 3D elements by computer relied heavily on maps, etchings and paintings from the period.
“The job of reconstructing the city was formidable given that there is practically nothing existing today of 16th century Seville,” explained Juanma Nogales, VFX supervisor at Twin Pines. “It required a painstaking process combining historical seriousness with aesthetic taste. And that’s where the collaboration between all the different teams came in: art (Pepe Domínguez), make-up (Yolanda Piña), photography (Pau Esteve), VFX (Juan Ventura, Juanma Nogales), postproduction (José Moyano, Iván Benjumea)… Unless everybody is on the same page, working in the same direction, such an ambitious production as The Plague would not have been possible. And the results are there for everyone to see.”
Twin Pines started working on the project a long time before shooting began. First, there was an initial phase of contextualisation, which was then followed by execution, and this took up to 10 months of work.
“One of the biggest technical problems we came across was that, unlike other productions we had done before, we didn’t work in fields but in different sets in which the cameras moved freely in 360 degrees. Using immersive techniques, we had to insert the computer-generated elements,” recalled Nogales.
One of the most complex parts to replicate was the port of Seville, which was the most important in the world at that time. Twin Pines solved the problem by recording several images of the Guadalquivir river around the area of the Isleta en Coria del Río, which was then digitally mastered to achieve an end result faithful to history. The team at Twin Pines also had to model the ships and galleons in the port in 3D, which were then integrated into the different scenes.
At the beginning of the first episode, the main character appears on horseback looking down on Seville from a distance — the only real thing in this scene was the horse. In fact, the character was on a hill overlooking a motorway and, using a greenscreen, 16th century Seville was reconstructed using computer-generated 3D elements.
Twin Pines also did some heavy lifting when it came to creating crowds. For instance, in one episode, a filmed sequence with just 100 extras as turned into a space packed with around 15,000 people, with the help of a greenscreen and a lot of individuals recreated digitally after scanning the extras and their clothing in 3D.
Similarly, many of the buildings and monuments that feature in the series were conjured up digitally. The team did used similar buildings as references, many of which were photographed and rebuilt in 3D; such as the cathedral, the city walls, the poor quarters, the city gates and St George’s Castle. Today, these buildings or areas are completely different — or, the existing monuments are now surrounded by a different landscape.
In addition, the visual effects in The Plague included major work on digital set extensions, the reconstruction of natural spaces, the integration of backdrops, and much more. The whole process generated a volume of VFX data of around 50 terabytes and over 19,500 hours of rendering. Nuke Studio software from Foundry played an instrumental role in the project by enabling VFX, editing and finishing with one single application.
Juanma Nogales is taking part in a talk on FMX in Stuttgart on Wed., April 25 at 17:00, to discuss the use of Nuke Studio in The Plague. (fmx.de)
Created by Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos, the first season of The Plague, (6 x 50’) can be seen on Movistar+, and has already been confirmed for a second season in 2019.
With a budget of 10 million euros, around 200 actors, over 2,000 extras and 400 technical experts were involved in this superproduction. The Plague was the first TV series included in the official section of an A-list international film festival, as was the case in the San Sebastián Festival. With a January 12 premiere, the show became the best premiere of a series in Movistar+ in 2018. The Spanish telco recently launched a drama channel across Latin America called Movistar Series, with 12 original series to debut throughout 2018, including The Plague.