Image courtesy of Image Engine.

Netflix’s Lost in Space: How VFX modernized a classic franchise

By Visual Effects Supervisor, Joao Sita

Last modification: 7 Jun, 2019
Duration
6 mins

It's no easy feat to update an existing film or TV series for a modern-day audience, particularly when approaching a franchise that was successful the first time around. Finding the balance of honoring the original while making the new take feel modern and of this era is a difficult challenge. This was definitely true with Netflix's reboot of Lost in Space, which took the premise of the beloved 1960s sci-fi saga and reimagined it for today while holding on to enduring concepts like the Robinson family, Will's iconic robot companion, and the imaginative, deeply varied alien worlds they encounter along the way.

 

It's thanks to the power, and remarkable malleability of visual effects work that a series as familiar as Lost in Space can be given new life today, and that creators can successfully reimagine 50-year-old concepts and stories for the modern era.

 


Starting from success

At Image Engine, we were thrilled to land the show. We knew that we would be playing in a world that our parents had grown up with and recalled fondly. I also loved that Lost in Space was a family-oriented show; VFX-laden shows are often targeted at older audiences and may have stronger violence or more bite. Like the original show, Lost in Space takes viewers to dazzling new worlds and encounters with colorful, unique aliens, but doesn't lose its heart—or younger viewers—along the way.



 

Most excitingly, it was a property that already had a positive connotation. Sure, the original series is from half a century ago, but strong ideas can be reshaped and refreshed—and it was obvious that Lost in Space had a successful premise to start from.

 

Finding the balance of honoring the original while making the new take feel modern and of this era is a difficult challenge.

 

However, we knew it would be a challenge to approach updating the source material not only for existing fans but also a new generation of viewers. Expectations are naturally heightened with reboots, and you're working against the positive memories of fans who have potentially loved the series for decades. We needed to respect that, but also find ways to make the show look and feel current.




If it feels like a relic or a retread, then we've failed in our mission. But it's safe to say that the new Lost in Space did anything but rest on its laurels, and it's thanks to a strong collaboration with the client and also internally within Image Engine that we were able to bring a fresh touch to such a hallowed story.

Reimagining the robot

Lost in Space's famed robot saw a complete transformation for the new series. The original robot reflected the design aesthetic and technological capabilities of its era, but the clunky, slow-moving character wouldn't have the same kind of impact now. Today, with the immense muscle and flexibility of visual effects artistry, we're not limited by the bounds of practical effects.

 

The producers wanted a much more dynamic robot—one that would transform and become something that humans could more easily relate to, even with an alien touch to it. Our mandate was to create that connection and dynamism via animation, lighting, and other flourishes. We ingested the new robot model built by Rhythm & Hues and began working to bring it to life. The robot needed to be able to convey a wide gamut of emotions, from menacing and angry early on to later falling into more of a neutral mode, as well as showcasing what it looks like when a humanoid robot struggles for its life and is losing energy.

 



We began with broad strokes direction from the client, and then I let the artists play with it. I like to let them experiment and apply their touches early on, which only helps lend a natural personality to a clearly inhuman creation. I supplied a wide array of references, whether they were things I like or things I'd shown the client that they connected with, all to try and help the artists find real-world analogs for these imaginative creations.

 

Today, with the immense muscle and flexibility of visual effects artistry, we're not limited by the bounds of practical effects. 

 

For the first episode, in a scene in which the robot struggles amidst a vast wildfire and is losing energy, we studied reference footage of human exhaustion: laborious movement, jittery hands, etc. The goal isn't to make a 1:1 match, but rather to inspire the artists—and help audiences make a connection with the character. The new Lost in Space's robot may not closely resemble the original show's robot but grounding it with real-life inspiration helps keep it approachable.

 


Galactic, yet grounded

Helping to craft the environments of Lost in Space was likewise a unique challenge, and it's one that speaks to the potential of VFX artistry. Back in the 1960s, the series was shot against painted backdrops, which allowed the Robinsons to explore different kinds of alien environments—and viewers bought into that. The times and expectations have changed, but technology allows us to keep up that magical sensation and believability, albeit on a whole new level.

 

When working on the backdrops now, we start with something real—actual filmed footage of real-world terrain. In this case, it was our native Vancouver surroundings. It was very inspiring to have that natural beauty provided for us to play with and to be able to transport it into the show.




 

The times and expectations have changed, but technology allows us to keep up that magical sensation and believability, albeit on a whole new level.  

 

Of course, we take that pristine footage and augment it to give it a unique, out-of-this-world character. By playing with CG, exaggerated colors, and other effects, we can transform what's essentially our backyard into a believable alien world—yet it still has that photographic realism that helps ground the setting in this day and age. While some action films and shows shoot for hyper-realism, we strived to keep that balance of lifelike terrain amidst alien augmentations.

 

 
 

Modernized magic

Between defining the new robot's distinctive mannerisms and movement and helping to build these stunning, out-there environments, our goal with Lost in Space was always to maintain the essence of the source material while charting a new path forward via VFX artistry. You look back to what happened in the past, of course, but then you have to do it the way you think it makes sense given all of the change and evolution seen over the past 50 years.




In the end, if you can keep what captivated people in the first place but update and elevate it so that anyone—be it hardened fan or fresh-faced newcomer—can love and appreciate it, then you've done the job right. We believe we accomplished that task with our work on Lost in Space.


For an infographic on Image Engine's work on Lost in Space, see

How to make an Epic VFX Robot Battle.

 

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Tags
  • Arnold
  • Maya
  • Film/TV/Post
  • Film & VFX
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