Mr. X Cuts Out Hours Instead of Trees using SpeedTree® in “Vikings”

Toronto-based visual effects studio Mr. X has faced some distinctive challenges working on the second season of the acclaimed hit drama series Vikings.  The producers of the History Channel’s Canadian-Irish hit series required a number of complicated shots, blending on-location plates filmed in Ireland with 13th century digital assets―all on a tight TV production schedule.  Normally, this would have required the Mr. X rotoscope team to cut around trees in the mid-ground so that they could insert 3D assets and set extensions behind them.

Scene from Vikings

With the help of SpeedTree® Cinema, Mr. X was able to take a very different approach and save a significant amount of time.  As Paul Wishart, Assets/Environments Artist at Mr. X, recently shared with us:

“Between the motion blur on the plates and the nature of rotoing out something as complicated as a tree or plant, these shots would have been impossible, within the quick turnaround time of TV, without the aid of SpeedTree. We were able to replicate the trees and plants from the plate in a fraction of the time that it would have taken our roto team to cut it out, and often were able to add more variety and realism than the practical set offered.”

Vikings TV Series

In certain instances, the directors required elements to match the plate exactly and SpeedTree delivered the precision editing tools that the Mr. X team needed to accomplish this efficiently, according to Wishart:

“Using SpeedTree’s split window layout, we were able to bring the camera and plate into one screen and model from the other, similar to a modeling package like Maya.  Enabling SpeedTree’s edit mode gave us infinite control to match the branch structure of the plate exactly before populating the tree with leaves and twigs. The result was a seamless integration of the CG trees with the plate.”

SpeedTree was also used by Mr. X to great extent on the recent epic Pompeii, creating over 120 unique plants and trees to form and then destroy the ancient landscapes, and is now using the toolkit for The Hundred-Foot Journey to “spruce up” wide shots of the rustic French countryside.

Mr. X was recently recognized for their innovative VFX work on Vikings with a 2014 Canadian Screen Award for “Best Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series.”