Fans of Netflix cult series Black Mirror will be deep into the dark depths of Season 4 by now, if not already finished after some binge watching over the Christmas break. If you haven’t started yet, then maybe stop reading now to avoid any spoilers.
Whether you love the series or you’re outright terrified by it, there’s no arguing over its stunning aesthetics. Charlie Brooker's popular sci-fi anthology started its fourth season with the episode 'USS Callister', and leading VFX house Framestore’s television department brought the 60s-inspired initial concepts to life.
Watch the trailer below.
After Framestore worked on Season 3’s 'Playtest' episode, director of 'USS Callister' Toby Haynes handed it the opportunity to create 4K assets and CG sequences throughout the 74-minute long, retro-inspired space spectacle.
The narrative arc of the stylised episode demanded a number of environments, including outer space, the USS Callister spaceship itself, the CG Arachnajax creature (which caused nightmares, we presume), and a number of other VFX, matte paintings and graphic replacements.
Most of the episode takes place on board the spaceship USS Callister. Framestore was provided with the initial concept and indication of the model’s aesthetic, of which it developed further. The ship’s fluid, flowing lines drew on a full pack of references, including retro cars, historical spacecraft architecture, trends from the 60s and extensive texturing and shading work that would survive the detailed 4K close-ups.
Framestore artists designed and matte-painted multiple space environments for the episode. The team took creative license, using a red, stormy, nebulous background when protagonist Jesse Plemons flies into range, for example, or using a cool, muted atmosphere to reflect gameplay stasis.
In the final sequences of the episode, amongst a labyrinth of asteroids, Framestore wanted to pay homage to the feel of a first person video game chase.
Framestore created the monster in Season 3’s 'Playtest' episode, and once again found itself rendering another ugly creature – the Arachnajax.
The initial sculpt was created by the show’s art department Painting Practice, and Framestore added to this to create a "writhing, multi-tentacled CG beast." This involved extensive rigging, colour and texture seem mostly in the gravelly, rock-simulated landscape.
The creature also needed to demonstrate personality and emotion too, so it gave the Framestore team a chance to "riff incorporating ideas and eccentricities from across the board."