Reimagining Lost in Space for Netflix

VFX project page

The brief

Lost in Space crashlanded back onto television screens across the globe in 2018, courtesy of Netflix. The reboot features a wealth of visual effects, from flaming extraterrestrial forest fires to an intense robot head-to-head space battle. We crafted a story about how Image Engine contributed to these spectacular visuals, and more besides…

The story

Lost In Space is Netflix’s slick, 4K reboot of the classic 1960s TV show. A twist on the time-honoured tale The Swiss Family Robinson, this modern-day update again follows a family of pioneering space colonists tasked with exploring the cosmos in 2046.

When the Robinsons’ spaceship, Jupiter 2, veers off course towards an unknown planet, the family finds they must battle the elements to survive. Things go from bad to worse as the Robinsons become entangled in a death-defying race against time, hopping from one hazardous extraterrestrial environment to another – environments that Image Engine had to create.

Image Engine’s visual effects take centre stage for 266 shots across five stunning episodes. Among other augmentations the studio was responsible for enhancing a lush woodland, creating a raging wildfire, directing a colossal crash, and, of course, building some extraordinary robots.

For VFX Supervisor Joao Sita, the opportunity to refresh the retro sci-fi feel of the original Lost In Space was a dream come true. “It involved a lot of concept art, a lot of shot development, and a lot of fun,” says Sita. “The client was really open to taking feedback and guidance based on our expertise in sci-fi concepts. We were able to be really creatively flexible, which is a dream brief on a show like Lost In Space.”

One of the team’s first jobs was to simulate a beautiful forest. And then burn it to the ground.

“We were able to be really creatively flexible, which is a dream brief on a show like Lost In Space”

Seeing both the forest and the trees

With experience on shows like Jurassic World, Image Engine is no stranger to interactive digital forestry. Lost In Space required the studio to once again bring these skills to the fore, building an alien forest that scaled from individual detail to an overall sense of depth and atmosphere.

Image Engine artists built the full forest in CG. They received on-set plates and LiDAR scans from the production, which provided a rough idea of the size and growth of the trees surrounding the two main characters. The team was then able to replicate this in the dizzying array of digital forestry required for the scene.

“These elements helped to create a digital environment that would be completely seamless with the plate,” says FX TD Michael Billette. “We built on top of that foundation using SideFX’s Houdini – not just the layout, but a lot of the modelling, too.”

The FX team first ascertained the general distribution of trees and bushes. They then simulated branches, positioned logs, and established patterns of growth to match what the audience would see in the plates. The resulting procedural layout was then used to create an optimized render setup. This enabled more unique geometry to be rendered than possible on previous shows.

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