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Three Netflix VFX Breakdowns With Lessons For Your Next Short

Three Netflix VFX Breakdowns With Lessons For Your Next Short

Take a few pointers from these breakdowns to bring your next short film to a whole new level.

We’ve truly entered the next stage of filmmaking. As massive budget franchise films fill the silver screen, entirely new formats of media consumption have exploded seemingly overnight.

Where the aptly named HBO once dominated grand productions viewed from the home, now any platform which delivers content is also fueling their own original properties. Beyond the obvious Netflix, Hulu, and now Disney+, even platforms such as Youtube and Facebook have put serious dollars behind their own original series.
The best part? More VFX! With a boom in sci-fi and fantasy on these services especially, we’ve been treated to some of the best VFX ever seen outside of a movie theater in the last few years.

In some cases, the budgets look to rival Hollywood films across a whole season, but the smaller scale format brings some indie film-like insights to the incredible work being produced. These breakdowns from different Netflix shows offer a quick glimpse and some lessons for your next project. 

LOST IN SPACE - Image Engine

This breakdown from Image Engine on their work for the Netflix Original 
Lost in Space starts with a very detailed look at a scene in the woods. This scene is a great glimpse at some of the range of techniques used throughout the series. 

With a great reliance on set extensions and “filling” out the world through compositing, the artists are able to take a simple forest location and push it into the world of Lost in Space

Of course, there's a lot of CG and fully rebuilt portions of the scene, especially when involving the digital robot character, but what stands out for small budget work is the meticulous use of stock assets to fill out each scene. At the 1:14 mark, this is front and center as we see the way embers, smoke, fire, and atmospheric assets are all used in unison to transform the forest into a scene of chaos. 

There are some finishing touches here as well: rack focus and even some glare on the lens that pulls it all together and really integrates the asset with the world captured in the footage. 

MINDHUNTER - Artemple Hollywood

David Fincher is truly a master of modern filmmaking. One look at his IMDB page and you’ll come to realize just how many of your favorite films the man has been a part of. He’s obsessed with the details and keeps every shot tight and dense with information. This approach leads into VFX for his best works, even on the original Netflix series 

In this breakdown, it’s all about what you don’t notice. This approach to “invisible” effects is one of my personal favorite aspects of the industry. On one side of the coin, you have semi-trucks doing flips through the air and smashing through buildings, and on the other, you have something as simple as a TV screen replacement in a hospital shot.

Artemple’s breakdown shows this on a massive scale. In the opening shot, we see how literally the grass on the lawn is being adjusted to present a certain picture from Fincher’s mind. This detailed approach to world-building is, on one hand, a bottomless pit of potential work, but on the other a guaranteed way to fill your scene and truly immerse the audience.

The lesson here is to not leave a stone unturned. If you need a blue sky to tell the story you want to tell: make it blue


Stranger Things season three brought the small town of Hawkins to a whole new level with a primary focus on the Mind Flayer, the series biggest monster to date. With this came a new level of destruction and chaos. Again, digital set extension continues to be a primary storytelling tool, turning normal on-set locations into frozen mountain ranges or secret labs. 

The before and afters here offer a great look at some of the reference and shortcut techniques used to either aid the VFX artists or save them time. Something as simple as a beach ball can be used to place a CG monster properly in the frame and also give the actors something to play off of. One of the smartest things you’ll see throughout that you can incorporate yourself is a focus on practical lighting gags. 

During the hospital sequence especially, the production designers did an excellent job of keeping the flickering and cutting lights to an in-camera effect.

This lays out the environment perfectly for the artists and prevents the need for greater work in post. When incorporated with stock assets such as sparks or flames, these simple practical light tricks can make a world of difference for your finished product. 

Online streaming services are here to stay, and with bigger and bigger budgets, we’re starting to see a whole new pocket of creativity for the VFX industry.
With Disney+ taking off and series on the horizon such as The Wither and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings, you can rest assured there’s plenty more VFX greatness coming down the line.

First time here? ActionVFX creates action stock footage for visual effects and filmmaking. (We also have some great free stuff!)

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