Whether you want a stream running gently over pebbles or a flood to cover a whole city, Grid-VFX is the place to go for digital water effects.
Grid’s first big water project was the animated feature Ooops! Noah Is Gone, about the animals who did not make it onto the Ark. “From then on, we got a lot of requests to work on the water for other projects,” says Mark Mertens, the company’s general manager. One was Deep, a 3D animated movie full of water, following a group of undersea creatures on a quest to save their community. Then for the forthcoming feature Captain Morten and the Spider Queen the challenge was to match digital water with stop-motion characters.
“Every time we start a new movie there is some research and development that needs to be done,” Mertens says. Another example is Hedgehog Latte, a 3D tale of forest folk, where a new way has been found to model a stream running over small stones.
AFTER THE FLOOD
In parallel with this animation work, Grid has been bringing water effects to live-action films and series. For the series In Flanders Fields it reconstructed the moment in the First World War when battlefields in Belgium were flooded to stop the German advance.
This lead to Grid being asked to provide water effects on The Swell, a Dutch-Belgian series about the threat of extreme climate change. “It’s about a flood that drowns half of Flanders and Holland,” co-founder Jan Goossen says. “Of course, none of that can happen in reality, so we needed to create the water.”
While the underlying techniques for bringing digital water to live action and animation are similar, liveaction makes greater demands for realism, for example when digital water encounters real objects such as buildings or vehicles. The biggest challenge in achieving this is computing power.
“The more detail you can put in, the more realistically the water behaves, but then the greater thecosts,” Goossen explains. “It takes a massive amount of data and memory to get the job done.” That said, there are tricks to help you get there. “It’s a combination of evolving technology and trying to be clever with the resources you have.”
THE HIGH SEAS
Grid also has a growing body of experience working with ships, thanks to an ongoing collaboration with Dutch director Roel Reiné. It began with The Admiral, a movie about the 17th Century Dutch sea captain Michiel De Ruyter, which was full of naval battles. And when Reiné was asked to contribute to the US series Black Sails, a prequel to the events in pirate classic Treasure Island, he asked Grid to provide the effects.
That season of Black Sails went on to win the Hollywood Professional Association award for outstanding visual effects on television. Now Grid is working with Reiné on Redbad, an epic feature film set in the Middle Ages. “There we have a huge amount of water shots, for example with ships coming ashore while battles go on at the same time, and also massive crowd simulations for the armies fighting one another.”
While Grid’s ingenuity can be seen on the screen in all these projects, the most important innovation is behind the scenes, with a project pipeline that allows creative people to collaborate flexibly and efficiently from locations around the world. “The puzzle that we are trying to solve is how to globalise craftsmanship,” says Mertens.
GRID TAKES THE LEAD
Grid set up its animation outfit in 2011, rapidly winning recognition at Cartoon Forum 2013 as producer of the year. In 2016, it shared the same honour at Cartoon Movie with its partners in Ooops! Noah Is Gone. “That really put us on the map,” says Mark Mertens. “Together with the quality of the intellectual property that we were developing, it put us on a tidal wave that pushed us forwards.”
Initially a partner in coproductions, Grid soon stepped up to take the lead. “Today it’s our catalogue and the way we feel European co-productions need to be established that makes us who we are,” says Mertens.
An important part of that approach is the Tinker Group, a partnership of European producers, animation and VFX studios who share Grid’s vision. “Instead of finding partners on a project by project basis, we wanted to turn that around and set up a steady relationship and keep control over those projects,” Goossen explains. “Over the past years that has turned into something bigger, and it is still evolving.”
Grid is also busy with liveaction, developing properties for the international market through Grid Labs. The most advanced is Stryx, an adaptation of French comic book ‘Le Chants des Stryges’, about a disgraced American secret agent who teams up with a mysterious mercenary to clear his name.
“It’s a production primarily oriented towards the American domestic market, although we also hope it will be picked up in Europe.” Mertens says. Stryx is being developed with Element 8 in Los Angeles, and was recently picked up by US distributor Dynamic TV. “That is a really big step for us.”
Grid VFX *
- 2018 Redbad
- 2017 FC De Kampioenen 3: Forever
- 2017 Captain Morten and the Spider Queen
- 2016 Black Sails (TV series)
- 2016 Cargo
- 2016 Deep
- 2016 In My Fathers Garden
- 2016 The Swell (TV series)
- 2015 The Admiral
- 2015 Ooops! Noah Is Gone
- 2014 In Flanders Fields
- 2014 Wiplala
* selected filmography