From the mysterious rain people to the menacing and colossal Crooked Man, Cinesite’s Montreal team created major supernatural effects for the Netflix series Raising Dion, working alongside VFX producer Helen Jen and VFX supervisor William Powloski.
The series follows widow Nicole who is raising her son Dion alone. As he begins to develop superpowers she struggles to keep his gifts secret whilst searching for the truth about the circumstances of her weather-enthusiast husband’s death.
The rain people, including Dion’s father Mark, appear mysteriously to Dion and his mother, warning them about the danger which is approaching. The souls of people who have been consumed by storms, they appear like diaphanous, mist-like specters.
LIDAR scans of the actors were projected onto fluid simulations, with density disturbed using a custom velocity field made out of curl noise from the actors’ performances. This ensured that the actors’ performances were retained in the finished shots. A dissipating effect on the figures’ trailing edges was added so they appear to be blowing away in the wind.
The Crooked Man ultimately appears, as warned by the rain people. An ominous 100-metre high figure spanning from ground to supercell, he has the ability to manipulate the weather patterns which increase in intensity as his fury grows. As he appears, skies darken and clouds roll in.
The clouds were created using Houdini combined with live-action photography, projection, and animated matte painting techniques. His form is made from tornado-like clouds, with his outline highlighted by intermittent lightning bolts forming a shifting human shape. The cloud volume defines his limbs and torso, with smaller lightning flashes outlining his extremities. When we first see him, his human form is more subtly silhouetted, but over the course of the series and as he consumes more people, he becomes more defined.
The larger strikes, which were largely hand-animated, are cloud to ground lightning bolts which form the larger features of his outline as they travel to the Earth. Branching, smaller bolts provided the definition and more detail for the Crooked Man’s hands. We aimed to follow the rules of physics and nature as far as possible, however with real lightning bolts lasting for fractions of seconds, a degree of re-interpretation of natural phenomena was required to create a readable form for the character.
Many shots were filmed at night with rain onset, but there was also a requirement for the rain to be added to several shots. In some instances, 2D rain elements were used for wider and more distant shots where no interaction was required with the foreground. Where the rain is bouncing off the cast or Crooked Man, FX simulations, outline animations, and rote motions were used to create and give impact for the rain particles off the solid forms.
The main challenge for Cinesite’s visual effects team was in creating believability of the natural phenomena, whilst hitting the brief in terms of characterization and the needs of the story. Whilst fantastical, there always needed to be a convincing sense of scale and danger to support the audience’s suspension of disbelief.