The Rig: All at sea

Posted on Jul 10, 2023

Supernatural thriller The Rig made waves on release early this year, but required a huge effects effort to provide its creepy edge. Primary VFX’s director knew the drill…

WORDS Robert Shepherd | IMAGES Amazon Studios & Primary VFX

Gritty northern and maritime dramas are in vogue right now. Late summer 2021, BBC One’s police procedural Vigil starring Suranne Jones – much set on a submarine – was released, after shooting in Glasgow and across Scotland. Then, stablemate and crime drama Happy Valley returned with a triumphant third series early this year, having filmed mostly in West Yorkshire. The broadcaster also recently acquired North Sea Connection, ‘a dark and brooding thriller’ that aired on RTÉ in Ireland and Swedish streaming service Viaplay.

Now, it’s time to talk about The Rig. As the name suggests, the six-part series for Amazon Prime Video – directed by John Strickland (Line of Duty) and Alex Holmes, as well as the platform’s first original to be filmed entirely in Scotland – follows a group of workers on a remote Scottish oil rig, who are set to return from the North Sea to the mainland. That’s until they become veiled in an enigmatic mist and otherworldly powers seize control.


Creating the unearthly spores that shroud the rig was a challenge handed to a number of companies. One of those was Bristol’s Primary Visual Effects, which having launched as recently as 2019 has already completed projects with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, with credits such as The Book of Boba Fett, The Witcher and Fate: The Winx Saga.

In fact, it was for its work with Jellyfish Pictures on the aforementioned Star Wars space western miniseries that the firm was rewarded with a role on The Rig.

“They needed a bunch of shots of the rig, so we jumped on the exteriors – things like the ocean and outside shots with the CG oil rig,” explains Steve Hawken, director at Primary Visual Effects. “This involved taking the actors already in the footage and replacing the background blue screens with new environments. We also worked with a company called Artisan, creating the view down a microscope. We produced all the 3D renders and Artisan did all the compositing for these shots.

“They’re quite abstract shots,” Hawken continues. “We had to get the focal ranges right and make sure it looked good – the shot was all CG, but needed to match the look and feel you’d get when viewing something through a microscope.”

NORTH OF THE BORDER | The Rig is the first original series from Amazon Prime Video to be filmed entirely in Scotland


The series was shot against a big blue-screen stage. “If you’re shooting people with a lot of hi-vis stuff, or if you know the cast is going to be wearing a certain colour, then you’d go for a colour you can key them out of,” Hawken explains. For The Rig, they had to build sets large enough to contain sections of an oil rig, and then have blue screens in the background large enough to cover all the camera angles. “Whether a production opts for blue or green screen, creating good edges is always part of the clean-up operation.” However, Hawken points out that Dune (2021), which scooped six Academy Awards last year, including for cinematography and visual effects, pioneering brown screens due to the intended landscape’s colour palette.

“Because they had lots of scenes in the desert with sand everywhere, to improve the edge work of the keys they would use brown screens,” he explains. “It means that, colour-wise, the edges of the foreground would integrate more closely with the CG background. The bulk of the work with blue- and green-screen shots is achieving natural edges that blend with the background as well as cleaning up the colour contamination from the background into the foreground. I think the work on Dune was fantastic.”

This article continues in the July 2023 issue of Definition. Read the full story here.

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