Stag - The Crown Season 4

Year: 2020

Client:  Netflix

VFX Studio: Framestore

I was responsible for creating the grooming and doing the creature fx of the full-CG stag from the second episode of Season 4 of The Crown. 

The stag fur took approximately 7 weeks to be fully created and it has around 15 million hairs over his body - almost 200 million segments.

It was a complex groom where each little detail was manually placed to help bring realism on it. His most distinguishing feature is his massive mane around the neck, and it was the area that I worked more time on. The word we aimed for during his design was "majestic", and his mane is one of the key elements to achieve this status. It needed to feel gorgeous but at the same time reflects an animal that lives in the wild, so it couldn't be too perfect either. The weather on the shot was windy and humid, so the fur should look damped. I created two versions of the fur, one dry and the other wet, and they blended in specific areas to achieve this feel. Water droplets were also added to the fur to enhance this effect. There were also mud sections around his lower body and little pieces of grass and moss attached to his hairs.

The groom was made entirely on Houdini with a combination of a toolset that I and our RnD created. Fur textures were made using Probabilistic Maps instead of conventional textures, as we've been using for some time on our creatures. Instead of painting colours, we paint the probability of hair in that area to be born black or white (or any other colour), replicating the way nature does the fur colour blending on animals. We also have geometry generators to easily attach water droplets, mud and moss on the fur. In the more technical field, to be able to manage and render efficiently the number of hairs we had on him, we used a system that renders the groom in pieces, merging all together at render time. It also has another custom toolset called Hair Deformer, that instead of re-generating hairs on each frame, it would deform rest hairs to follow simulated curves. Those features allow us to gain a lot of performance and save a huge amount of memory. For this stag, we had to write a new version of our deformer to support the tight clumps from the wet hair to be preserved during the frenetic movement of the wind. It uses a brand new algorithm to detect complex clump shapes and keeps them together while retaining the full movement of the guides. The hair simulation was done using Houdini's vellum system, allied with a custom wind setup I created especially for this show. It generates on real-time a wind field similar to a wind tunnel, taking the volume of the stag body into account to dictates the direction the flow should go.

It was a wonderful project to be part of and I'm very proud of what our team was able to produce.