Building the ship
One of the most demanding tasks facing the Lexhag team on Poldark was the creation of a pre-1800s galleon, seen braving the violent Atlantic waves before suffering a catastrophic shipwreck. While the shot itself was a composite – the background and water elements being shot in camera on a particularly stormy day off the coast of Cornwall – the boat itself was fully CG.
When it comes to period drama, authenticity is key. That meant a great deal of research into the way older ships were constructed in order to sell the four shots to the audience.
"We did a lot of research into 18th century ships," remembers Marbrook. "How much rigging would they have? Where would the sales be? Did it have a keel? This would all have an influence the movement of the ship and alter the way it behaved when on water."
"A lot of time was invested into how ships work and why they crash and sink," adds Haggar. "We also watched windy ropes, a lot."
Creating a shipwreck sequence in the middle of a Cornish summer was a challenge. "Fortunately the production were lucky enough to commission a local cinematographer who managed to photograph a handful of shots during the crazy storms of Jan-Feb 2014," Haggar continues.
"A load of these plates were magically comped together to create our background plates, depicting a very rough seascape. Our ship was animated and rendered in multiple parts, hull, sails, rigging, etc. and slipped into the plates. We spent a lot of time getting the details right.
"For example, at one point the deck looked empty, which it was. We made a little 2.5D water card which added a bit of water interaction and then we popped to blokes on the deck.
"Look closely and the little fellas don't look like they're going to crash into a rock – thats because they weren't. We had a library of period SA's against green that we shot thought he shoot for crowd rep and population shots. We managed to find a couple of cards that looked like these people could be on a boat, plopped them on board, graded their faces down, bringing the ship to life.
"The ship itself was entirely CG, modelled using the a practical Galleon as reference. All the 3D work, including the sail and rigging sims were completed in 3DS and comped in Blackmagic's Fusion."
Lexhag used ftrack to follow all of the different tasks that would need to be completed to build the boat, including the modelling, the animation, the composition and the render time.
"It's really important that you structure those out as separate tasks, because when it comes to full-CG shots they take an awful lot of render power. It takes time to process all of that," explains Marbrook.
"Also, there are lots of different artists working on different aspects of that build: someone will be doing the animation, another artist doing the model, and another doing research on the simulations and the way the sails would interact with the wind.
"As a producer I was able to track all of those different tasks, and when certain elements of the asset were ready. I could then plan for compositing the asset to a finished standard and then have that ready to render and be delivered over the client. It just made everything that much faster and easier."
Next page: getting client sign-off...