Framestore Provides Ethereal VFX for Amazon Studio’s The Aeronauts

Member News  |  17 December 2019

Framestore worked on VFX environments for The Aeronauts, the historical action-adventure directed by Tom Harper (Wild Rose, Peaky Blinders, War & Peace).

The Aeronauts still (Dir. Tom Harper). Image courtesy of Framestore.

Framestore was proud to deliver stunning VFX environments for Tom Harper’s action-adventure The Aeronauts, adding world-class sheen to a film that took stars Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne from the streets of London to vertiginous heights. 

Produced by Amazon Studios, The Aeronauts is a semi-biographical adventure that follows pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) as they find themselves in an epic fight for survival as they attempt to reach record altitudes. 

With the weather – and the science thereof – playing a major role in the storyline, a key challenge was to produce stunning cloudscapes that were unprecedented in terms of volume, precision, and art direction. The work began with Framestore’s in-house art department providing concept art for atmospheric cloudbanks and striking city environments which conveyed director Tom Harper’s vision.

“It had to be realistic, but it also required a subtle hint of the fantastic. It had to tell the story of this dangerous endeavor with beautiful imagery and believable cinematography.” 

Christian Kaestner, VFX Supervisor
The Aeronauts still (Dir. Tom Harper). Image courtesy of Framestore.

The film’s establishing shot features a CG set and full crowd extension admiring the pre-take off spectacle. Once the balloon lifts off the ground, the couple looks down onto 1862 London for some 1000 frames – a lingering sequence that required high levels of historical accuracy and extensive research. In doing so the team turned to theory, consulting a climatologist from McGill University.

“It was one of the most challenging shots we faced – If something didn’t look quite right, the audience would have had time to pick up on it. It’s a sequence that sets the tone for immersing the audience into the story.”

Britton Plewes, CG Supervisor

Clouds in all their forms surround the pair throughout the film – high up and close up, in thunderstorms and sunny weather, which proved to be a creative, technical and at times philosophical feat.

“We’ve all been looking at clouds our whole lives and have become accustomed to how intangible and ephemeral they are. But that poses a strange challenge when they form so much of the film’s environment – you instinctively know what looks real and what doesn’t when it comes to shape, pattern, movement and how the light travels through them. This meant we had to spend a lot of time working on believability.”

Christian Kaestner, VFX Supervisor

“In one sequence, we’re in a huge field of clouds that spreads over 30km. The very vastness of it meant there was nowhere to hide, and we were running some incredibly detailed simulations to generate random, organic cloud shapes and ensure the scattering and density of the light looked believable and natural.” 

Ben Magana, CG supervisor

A large part of the story lies in Amelia and James’ journey upwards (and – spoiler alert! – downwards), and the team had to creatively convey the sense of travel, distance and direction at high altitudes. Contextualizing the actor’s performances in freezing weather conditions also required some post-production magic.

“Condensing breath was a challenge that was solved by filming voice actors reading lines in a freezer truck. We then used facial tracking to place the breath elements at the right scale, perfectly matching Eddie and Felicity’s amazing performances.” 

Luigi Santoro, Compositing Supervisor

The balloon’s 40,000ft ascent required a similarly micro approach to VFX artistry, with Framestore’s Effects department filling the sky with floating ice crystals. It was important to director Tom Harper for the audience to have a sense of the direction in which the balloon was travelling. Snowflakes and tiny glittering ice particles became a great way to utilise visual effects for storytelling.

“At one point, the snowflakes fall at the exact same speed as the balloon, and it was challenging to make them appear as though they are still moving, without creating a ‘Matrix’ feel.”

Britton Plewes, CG Supervisor

Renowned for being an award-winning creative studio, Framestore relishes tackling creative, artistic and technical challenges, and The Aeronauts presented a truly distinct opportunity, allowing Framestore’s creatives to collaborate with a talented film-making team on an epic balloon flight which will see the audience at the edge of their seats. 

The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The Aeronauts is one of the seven films Framestore has worked on which have been included in the long list for the upcoming Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects. The film has also recently been nominated for the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards.

Read about Framestore’s work on the Aeronauts here

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