All Aboard the Dystopia Express: Encore Vancouver Completes Color and VFX For TNT’s Futuristic Snowpiercer

July 29, 2020 Jul. 29, 2020

Before Bong Joon Ho swept the Oscars with the incisive and powerful Parasite, his 2013 Snowpiercer helped establish the director as an international creative force. As with the new Snowpiercer series on TNT, the story is set in a world in which a climate catastrophe has rendered the earth uninhabitable except for a small collection of people perpetually traversing the frozen wasteland that is the earth inside a gigantic train in which riders are stratified based on their wealth. The richest ride in the decadent opulence of the front cars, the poor relegated to the cramped, uninviting back. The series, created by Graeme Manson and Josh Friedman and overseen by show runner Ben Rosenblatt, stars Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Mickey Sumner and develops entirely new storylines.

Posted at Encore Vancouver, colorist Thor Roos handled grading duties and the company’s VFX shop created a significant number of the visual effects. With the post work coming together within the same space, Roos, producers, VFX and cinematographers (John Grillo, who completed grading first two episodes before moving on to Westworld, and Tom Burstyn) could collaborate closely as the series took shape.

Roos recalls that the creatives decided early on that they didn’t want a look identical to the film but instead preferred to create a new template for the series. “We wanted to treat the train as a class system and each car a class,” Roos explains of the approach the filmmakers took to the look. “The ‘tails’ — the back for the train — has a really gritty look. It’s dark. Colors rarely stand out. The images are slightly grainy. First class is rich and beautiful with pleasant, pastels, beautiful skin tones and an overall richness. While we added noise for the tails, we used noise reduction for this class.

“A lot of the work from a color grading standpoint,” Roos adds, “was about making sure to direct the viewer’s eye to Jennifer or to beautiful elements of the set as dictated by the story. So when scenes from different cars are edited together, the overall effect reflects the opulence vs. the despair depending on where you are on the train.”

Encore VFX assigned approximately 100 artists to the production and this team created all the exteriors of the giant all-CGI train at the center of the story, as well as frozen environments, mesas, cities and jungles along with a large number of “invisible” effects, such as window replacements and digital snow.

Key creatives, including the series VFX Supervisor, Geoff Scott, watched dailies, often together, at the facility and were able to discuss every element of the work at these sessions in order to coordinate and finetune the integration of all effects into the episodes.

Encore maintained all ten episodes for the season live its SAN throughout the entire post process. Roos notes, “We could go back and forth from episode to episode. Clients could see shots in the context of the entire season and we could then go back to make subtle refinements, which is a luxury you don’t always have when working on a series.”

Roos graded in Dolby Vision (for 1000 nits deliverable) first and then performed trims on the SDR pass. The camera original material, shot using Red Epic (Dragon sensor), “gave us a great deal to refine. Both cinematographers shot a full ‘negative’ that allowed us to refine things as the episodes took shape through editing and with the addition of the visual effects.”