One Strange Rock

Outpost VFX teamed up with Framestore to work on Nutopia and Nat Geo’s astonishing look at planet Earth and everything that makes it unique.

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Outpost VFX Producer

Josh Sykes

Outpost VFX Supervisor

Dave Sadler-Coppard


Working closely with the team at Framestore in London and their overall VFX Supervisor Neil Scholes, we recently delivered a diverse selection of VFX shots for the Will Smith-narrated documentary series, One Strange Rock.

Produced by Nutopia for National Geographic, One Strange Rock chronicles the origins of Earth right through to the present day.

Internal VFX Supervisor at Outpost, Dave Sadler-Coppard, oversaw our 2D and 3D teams as they worked across a selection of fascinating sequences.

“We worked on several big fully-CG shots and used visual effects to illustrate the impossible things that happen day to day,” he explains. “Everything from tiny chemical processes such as photosynthesis on a really microscopic level all the way to giant planets and the formation of Earth over 4.5 billion years ago.”

Two of the most challenging sequences featured a camera move through cells down to a level where we see starch crystals involved in photosynthesis, and a virtual camera move across the body of a CG fly to reveal the minuscule bacteria living on its body.

“The fly was a challenge because we didn’t have any photography of what a fly looks like that close,” Dave reveals, “so we had to work from images generated by electron microscopes.”

As well as ambitious 3D sequences, our 2D team was kept busy adding nuanced camera effects to deep-space shots to achieve an epic, cinematic style.

“It was all about layering dust and scratches, flares, aberrations and things like that just to give it that warm, photographic feel,” continues Dave.

“Neil had a very clear vision in mind for how it should look and helped push us into a photographic style. Initially we would add a layer of effects to everything and he would say that the whole shot is about the ‘evolution of a lens flare’ and the planet is almost secondary to that.

“There were almost bi-weekly reviews of the work we were doing to ensure we were on one brief throughout, because it’s very easy with these very creative jobs to go down your own path a bit.”

Delivering this kind of work always requires a careful, organised approach, especially when working with fully-CG shots that last close to a minute each. As Dave explains, our internal Production Coordinators were a vital part of the team.

“Our internal coordination team at Outpost was top notch and we were able to divide tasks very quickly and keep track of what everyone was doing. We do frequent dailies sessions here to peer-review people’s work and assess the direction in which it’s going.

“I’m really proud of the entire team and all the shots we managed to deliver,” he concludes.

“I’m really stoked with what we managed to achieve – there’s such a vast array of topics and sequences in One Strange Rock and we really managed to nail each one.”

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