If the lies don't kill you, the truth will
“Outpost’s work on Silo was mostly contained in two large-scale environments: the generator room, and the hidden excavator and surrounding environment right at the bottom of the silo,” Outpost VFX Supervisor, Ian Fellows explains.
Set in a dystopian future, Silo – an adaptation of Hugh Howey’s popular sci-fi series, Wool – shows humanity living in a subterranean silo that remains on a post-apocalyptic Earth, designed to protect civilisation from the toxic surface.
We follow Juliette (Rebecca Ferguson) on a journey to uncover the truth about the silo and the laws that supposedly keep them safe.
“These were two very distinct environments, both equally integral to the narrative: one was a very functional environment that powered the silo, and the other was a hidden relic of the past that unveils some interesting truths about the ‘Before Times’. Both brought about their own unique creative challenges.”
“To kick off the process, we worked closely with Daniel Rauchwerger, the client-side VFX Supervisor, who gave us great direction and reference material to begin creating the environments,” Outpost 2D Supervisor, Reno Cicero adds.
Perhaps the most creatively challenging environment the Outpost team undertook was the void, a key environment which leads Juliette and George further towards uncovering the long-concealed secrets of their reality.
“The void environment was a much bigger space that ended up being around 550 foot in diameter. There were a couple of small practical platforms that the actors were standing on, but Outpost was responsible for the rest of the environment and the excavator machine, so it was almost entirely CG,” Fellows explains.
“The photography we received showed some really big sweeping camera moves, and the lead characters go through quite a journey from the top of the void to the bottom, so we started to think about layout and asset arrangement; how to optimise the void machine asset to work on such a large scale,” Fellows says. “It needed to be hold up when we’re super up close, but also when we’re out wide too.”
Building on concept imagery provided by the client, the creative process for this asset involved developing and building the central core pipework and wiring detail around the circumference of the central column of the machine and the drill struts. The team looked at heavy drilling machinery for inspiration.
“Making the asset read big enough was a creative challenge we faced; we needed to break some of the original geometry and rebuild parts of it to make it feel the right scale. Then to complicate that further, you come in from the roof of that space and descend right down to the very bottom, so you have to be able to sell the scale of the void from all these different perspectives,” Fellows explains.
“What we wanted to avoid was having an independent layout for every single shot; that would have been too time consuming and problematic, opening us up to continuity issues,” Fellows recalls. “So we spent a lot of time looking at our big hero angles to identify what parts of the asset that would be seen the most and which angles would expose everything. We spend time making sure we got the best result out of those parts of the asset from those angles.
“Then for the other shots, we went in one by one and manipulated the asset wherever we needed, moving arms higher or lower as necessary, giving us greater control over the look of the asset in those run of angles. But a lot of effort went into reconciling it as a space and an asset that worked from as many different viewpoints as possible without having to go in and cheat every single placement.”
“Lighting the void provided its own set of unique challenges,” Outpost Senior Lighting Artist, Raywel Hyland says. “Being set in a dimly lit environment, my approach was to tease out as much shape from the environment assets – the platform, drill and generator – as possible, without over-lighting the scene.”
“With such a dark environment which was full-CG, we were able to work directly with Lighting to figure out how to work with negative space to make the void feel vast and deep, while also paying attention to how light will interact with the different surfaces,” Reno adds.
“Once we knew where the asset was going to sit within the space, we used haze and adjusted our black levels to get the asset that feeling of depth. We also adjusted the level of lights between the haze throughout the shots, allowing us to add that scope and pockets of light within the environment,” Reno concludes.
For the creation of the generator environment, the team had a good starting point in practical set that the production team had built for the actors to perform on. “If you imagine a circle, the production team had built a slice of pie, if you like, so we had a number of degrees of the generator room that had been built with a practical set, the rest was bluescreen which we had to rebuild in CG,” Fellows says.
“Practically, there were limits on how high they could film in the studio,” he continues, “so what they had done was build the control room and the platforms up to the base of the generator and then everything that went higher than that was built by us.”
Taking direction from the practical set, the team set to work extending the surrounding environment, including the inner silo walls, ceiling, pipes and hanging chains and hooks. This was all created with a worn, dilapidated look and feel to serve the narrative and show that humanity had been surviving in these silos for hundreds of years.
The 3D team were then tasked with building the generator asset itself. After conversations with the client where they shared some initial designs, Outpost Art Director, Steve Molloy, began concepting the generator asset, using elements of large-scale machinery, industrial turbines, and military bunker doors as reference for the overall look of the generator. “Steve helped us to define exactly what certain elements would look like: the detailing, colour, and condition of those elements. We showed a number of iterations to the clients, allowing them to shape it the way they wanted to,” Fellows continues.
During one episode the generator is opened meaning the team needed to design the inner workings of the generator too. “The client told us that the interior of the generator was similar to a jet engine with its spinning blades” Fellows explains. “They had also partially built some of the internals for the actors to interact with when they are working on it, so we were able to take reference from those elements and create the inner workings of the generator that you see in the series.”
Watch Outpost’s work on Silo today – all episodes are available to stream now.