Milk created visual effects for Class  BBC Three’s eight-episode sci-fi spin-off from the world of Doctor Who. Written by acclaimed author Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls) the drama series centres around Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, which is part of the Doctor Who Universe.

Class premiered in October 2016 on BBC3 and was subsequently broadcast on BBC One in January 2017.

Watch the official Trailer

Milk created an extensive range of effects to support the story across eight episodes; from CG creatures with smoke simulations to environments and extensive 2D compositing work.

Shadow Kin creature and Shadow Kin realm-

Milk was tasked with creating the CG Shadow Kin, shadow creatures which exist in three iterations and which can be injured or killed by any light source.

The Shadow Kin’s first iteration is a flat digital 2D shadow, which it uses to move through ‘our world’. It was a challenge to find a simple shadow image that worked effectively and achieved the brief of a “scary, flat shadow”. Each shot needed a slightly different approach to convey suspense, terror or drama, effectively.

The stage two Shadow Kin is a seven-foot CG creature made of smoke, rock and lava using smoke simulations with extensive compositing work. We first see a full CG version as it emerges from one of our 2D shadows. During Milk’s concept and look development phase we assessed the size and speed of the Shadow Kin, considered how it moved and the look of the smoke – how smoky and fiery it needed to be, as well as the addition of embers.

The lighting of the environment for these scenes was a key consideration as we developed our shooting methodology. Throughout the shoot, we LIDAR and photo-scanned every set to assess the geometry and lighting and ensure its accuracy.

The interaction of CG creatures with actors is key to the believability of the story. We began on set with an actor wearing a green suit playing the stage two fiery Shadow Kin creature so that the other actors could interact with him. We then ‘roto-animated’ the actor in order to achieve as accurate an animation as possible.

Achieving the smoke effects look of the Shadow Kin was a challenge, as we needed to create smoke simulations that would work effectively for both stationery and fast moving creatures. In addition, lighting the smoke with the lava on the creature’s body was very render intensive. Our effects team spent time in R&D creating an efficient workflow resulting in an automated effects set-up when the final animation was imported. From there, individual changes could be made if necessary.

We also knew we had to be able to render the effects simulations, sometimes with hundreds of Shadow Kin in frame. In order to give us multiple variations, we ensured the creature was made up of a procedural network of shaders and noise maps built inside Maya, so that we could change the look and overall impression of the surface texture. This saved us having to paint numerous unique textures and helped keep the scenes light. Keeping the shader network procedural also meant that we could increase or decrease the detail of the creatures texture depending how near or far it came to camera.

The Shadow Kin realm

The look of the Shadow Kin realm is established in episode one. Like the Shadow Kin characters it is composed of smoke, rock and lava. It is always a challenge to create this kind of pure sci-fi alien landscape and evoke a sense of scale.

The alien landscape and environment of the planet of Rhodia, the home of the deceased Rhodian Souls is established in episode one. We created the landscape using references of The White desert in Egypt.

Gun extension and tendril wraps around hands-

We were tasked with animating a gun, which activates tendrils from its handle and wraps them around the wrists of the person holding it. We needed a tight match-move to allow us to wrap it around the holder’s wrists in animation and added warping on the sleeves to help integration.

The Tear in Space/Time –

We were briefed to establish a bespoke look for the Tear in Space and Time in episode one. We experimented extensively with fabric and cloth movements. Later in the series we had to develop the tear into an opening.

Ram’s Alien Leg

Our compositing and lighting & modeling teams worked together to develop a hybrid solution. We used 3D geometry to project many of the different pieces of the leg and combine them with the renders that lighting provided us. We are proud of the hi-tech final look of the synthetic leg

The tattoo Dragon
Our 3D team created the animated tattoo dragon design which our compositing team blended with the human skin. The most realistic looking way to achieve this was with projections and brand new warping techniques to ‘stick’ the tattoos
to the natural movements of the human muscles.

3D Dragon
The dragon was bought to life by our 3D team and the compositing team combined it with the live-action plates, including crashing through glass doors. One of the biggest challenges was that the dragon emitted light himself, so we worked to make those lights affect the environment with a combination of 2d/3d techniques.

The tendrils
With the help of Geoscan we built London’s Shoreditch and filled it with tendrils.
Our effects team turned people into these tendrils, and the compositing team combined their simulations with the live action plate to make them look as creepy as possible.

The challenge was to ensure the audience sees that the petals feed on
blood, thus our animation showed how they filled up and depleted before they replicated, and worked to seamlessly combine it with the real action footage.

The Living Shadow
One of the biggest challenges of the series for us: The Living Shadow needed to be threatening, evil and made of a non-solid substance, but we needed to differentiate them from the Shadow Kin. We used the shape of the Shadow Kin as a starting point and then broke it up, warped it and adapted it to the surface they were projected on to get a different stage of the creature.

  • Directors
    Edward Bazalgette, Philippa Langdale, Wayne Yip & Julian Holmes
  • Producers
    Brian Minchin, Steven Moffat, Patrick Ness & Derek Ritchie
  • Production Company
    BBC Studios
  • Distributor
  • Milk VFX Supervisor
    Salvador Zalvidea
  • Milk VFX Producer
    Jenna Powell
  • Release Date
    22 October 2016