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Blow tide: Boat Story

Posted on Feb 16, 2024

A thrilling series likened to the works of modern Hollywood heavyweights, Boat Story showcases innovative narrative and stylistic elements, enhanced by Vine FX’s visual magic

Words Robert Shepherd

Seldom does a series achieve the level of praise synonymous with the cinematic brilliance of the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. However, Boat Story has precisely earned this accolade. The distinctive six-part thriller, produced for BBC One and Amazon Freevee by Two Brothers Pictures (known for The Missing and Fleabag), has entranced viewers with its seamless blend of playful irony and gripping intensity.

The narrative follows Janet and Samuel, both hard-up strangers, who stumble upon a huge amount of cocaine aboard a boat and agree to join forces in its sale. As they attempt to profit from their find, the pair become embroiled with law enforcement, masked assailants and a sophisticated gangster called The Tailor. The punchy cast features Daisy Haggard, Paterson Joseph, Tchéky Karyo, Joanna Scanlan, Craig Fairbrass and Phil Daniels. Two Brothers Pictures founders Harry and Jack Williams wrote and codirected the series.

This also marks the fifth time the production company has called on the services of Vine FX to work on one of its series, with the latter brought on board – pun intended – early in the process. “We were liaising with producer Matthew Bird, who we have worked with before, on how to tackle the CG ocean and boat shots to get the best out of VFX,” says Kaitlyn Beattie, VFX producer. “We provide solutions to clients, advising on what we would consider the best approach to execute their vision. Between creative director Michael [Illingworth] and on-set supervisor Sam [Highfield], we were able to attend shoots and ensure there was enough coverage of in-plate footage to not solely rely on CG recreation.”

ALL ABOARD | This shot gave the Vine FX team particular pride, seamlessly integrating VFX

PRACTICAL MAGIC

Beattie also explains the biggest technological and creative challenges the team faced – and how they were overcome. “The boat in Boat Story was a crucial element that was shot, for the most part, practically on a stage with a motion rig,” she continues. “The technique across shots varied – in three instances we needed to replace the entire studio set with a fully simulated ocean. In other shots, we used our CG ocean to create crashing waves and a tumultuous current, complementing the stormy movement of the rig.”

Beattie says that, for VFX artists, “a practical element is enormously helpful because it gives references for lighting and scale.” That meant when it came to creating the 3D geometry or interactions, the team had something realistic with which to work and react. “We built the boat in Maya and simulated the ocean itself in Houdini, all rendered using Arnold to give us full control of the crashing waves, speed of the ocean current and the movement of the boat – including how it interacts with the ocean simulation,” she adds.

“There’s always some give and take with creative work like visual effects. This is our fifth project with Two Brothers so they know how we work and trust our approach. It’s important to match the director’s vision, and by working closely with executive producers Jack and Harry, we were able to advise on how to get the best results with visual effects in order to achieve their goal. It’s always very important for us that the visual effects don’t detract from the storytelling but elevate the narrative where required; it’s great to know that Jack and Harry trusted us to do that.”

Vine relies on Nuke for its compositing needs, with a significant emphasis on 2D work within the company’s scope. Maya and Houdini are its primary tools when it comes to modelling and simulations. “We do bring in other software and tools when required on a per task/brief basis,” Beattie explains. “For hardware pipeline, we have a machine room on site that houses our storage servers and render farm.”

MONEY SHOT

Boat Story delights viewers with an array of visually stunning shots that captivate throughout – and one stands out as a source of pride for Beattie in particular. “There’s a top-down shot where you see two bodies on the deck of the boat, and the camera pulls back slowly to reveal the stormy ocean surrounding it,” she remarks.

“The original plate used a static camera, but the execs wanted a cinematic zoom out that revealed this small boat in a stormy sea. We replaced the boat with our CG model, keeping only the deck with the bodies. The camera then pulls out so far before a full CG takeover and post-production move. The team did a fantastic job at creating a seamless transition. It’s safe to say this is a showreel shot.”

Boat Story is now on BBC iPlayer

This article appears in our February issue. Read the full magazine here.

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