Framestore CFC make an Ocean Odyssey

Framestore CFC created over 420 underwater digital visual effects shots for Ocean Odyssey, the BBC's new documentary. This groundbreaking television programme is being broadcast in two one-hour episodes on BBC1. An Impossible Pictures production for the BBC and the Discovery Channel, Ocean Odyssey was produced by Ceri Barnes and directed by Dave Allen.

Following on from the BBC's successful collaboration with Framestore CFC for the 'Walking With…' prehistoric documentaries, executive producer Tim Haines and his Impossible Pictures team set out to show what it truly looks like at the bottom of the sea. In truth we know very little of how the underwater seascape might appear, and there are two main reasons for this: it's incredibly hostile to humankind – freezing temperatures and lung-crushing pressure; and it's extremely dark. In Ocean Odyssey, the viewer's guide is a sperm whale whom we follow through his life, from calf to veteran bull. And, through the collaborative vision of director Dave Allen and the digital effects team at Framestore CFC, viewers are able to follow this whale's adventures in impossibly clear conditions, with beautiful, long-ranging shots and spectacular views, as if all the oceans had been fitted with floodlights. Visual effects above the surface, as well as some beautiful graphic elements, were handled by Red Vision.

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VFX supervisor for the project was Tim Greenwood. "We started to do some initial tests for an underwater project immediately after we finished Space Odyssey," he recalls, "Although at first it was planned to be an imaginary voyage in a submarine." 
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But by the time that shooting started in the summer of 2005, the idea had evolved to its final state, with Framestore CFC

Greenwood attended all of the shoots, but he is quick to point out that the backplate shoots, which formed such a crucial part in the process of creating the acclaimed 'Walking With…' prehistoric documentaries, played a much lesser role this time around. "Although we shot for a couple of weeks in the Azores," he says, "As well as a similar time in Greenford Studios in West London, the greatest part of the 'shoot' took place inside the computers at Framestore CFC."

Ocean Odyssey often required the team to create the environments themselves – backgrounds, foregrounds, the water itself, as well as designing and implementing the moves of the virtual cameras which shot the scenes. Estimates Co-Lead TD, Theo Facey, "The shot-building time doubled, on average. And that doesn't include the occasions on which, having created these environments, we had - in effect - to scout them, too. It was important that we provided interesting looking places for the action to take place in."

It took a core team of around 40 artists and technicians some seven months to create the 422 shots that Framestore CFC delivered. As well as the whale himself, the team animated seven other hero creatures, as well as larger group shots of whale schools and fish shoals. Peter Clayton headed the team of animators that brought the creatures to life.

With such a relatively small amount of live action footage shot, digital matte paintings played a crucial role in the success of the project. They helped to create environments that varied from the depths of the Mariana Trench (a sort of sub-aqua Grand Canyon) to dramatic volcanic stacks and ridges. A four-strong team led by Jason Horley were involved from the earliest, conceptual stages of Ocean Odyssey, creating hundreds of images that were used in both 2D and '2.5'D – where a 2D painting is mapped onto 3D geometry.

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