World Building Lessons from Three Iconic VFX Climates

World Building Lessons from Three Iconic VFX Climates

July 20, 2021
Logan Leavitt

Immerse your audience into your story better with these incredible examples of VFX world-building.

Explosions, spaceships, monsters—these are just a few of the cliches often aligned to the art of VFX in film and television. 

Though the blockbuster checklists are a big part of the job (and very fun at that), one area where VFX can truly transform a piece outside of them is in the world-building happening on the edge of every frame. 

Often called invisible effects, these more subtle, yet powerful adjustments to the environment of a scene promote immersion but also bring world-building opportunities to new heights.
A dragon in snowy and misty mountains, an example of world-building.
From sign replacement to basic set extensions, we simply wouldn’t be transported to the same places we are now through the silver screen without this visual pursuit. 

One of the strongest, but sometimes overlooked elements of building a world through VFX is the very literal expression of the environment through weather and climate. 

Some spaces are informed by their buildings or people, but others, especially in sci-fi and fantasy, present a classic man vs. nature dilemma that can add a whole new layer to an already intriguing setting. These are some of the most iconic climates made possible by VFX.

The North - Game of Thrones 

Surely it was in some of your heads after the above paragraph. There is perhaps no more iconic and understood climate-to-world relationship than The North of Westeros and HBO’s Game of Thrones. 

This bone-chilling, frozen wasteland presents an ever-present danger and achieves such significance in the plot of the show that the very land becomes a character in and of itself. 

The North has it all. Its obvious feature is the home of the show’s fundamental evil, the white walkers. This is a perfect climate-to-character tie-in, with icy blues all around and the ghostly chill following the ranks of undead as they march South towards the kingdoms of men. A testament of this climate’s significance is the famous tagline: Winter is Coming

For me, the most impressive thing that the northern climate sets up, however, is a cultural disconnect between the different people of Westeros. The brilliance of GoT is how it always comes back to the characters and The North is no different. 

With its harsh and cruel environment, the people of Winterfell and its surrounding areas form a more community-based, yet hardened lifestyle, while the warmer Ocean-side climate of King’s Landing fosters a lackadaisical and ritzy lifestyle from its more fortunate inhabitants. This is a shining example of how even environment VFX can set up and strengthen character dynamics that are crucial to a work’s plot. 

Try it yourself: Snow, Cold Breath, Atmospheric Fog 

The Wasteland - Mad Max Fury Road

Flipping to the exact opposite of The North, The Wasteland of Mad Max is the foundation of the entire film and is as crucial as worlds get to a story’s plot. The beauty here is truly in simplicity. It’s a post-apocalyptic desert called The Wasteland, where society revolves around water as the most valuable resource. 

It’s so on the nose and yet so perfect in serving the story both in theme and plot, but also in aesthetics. The rugged sandy grunge found in every corner of the film is simply iconic and carries notes of its Australian roots straight to the screen.

For Mad Max, there’s truly a feeling one gets when they watch. The rusty almost eye-straining matte paintings, the layers upon layers of dust and debris, and more. All of these components serve to make you feel hot, exhausted, and most importantly unwanted by the very world of the film. It’s treacherous and brutally effective! 

Los Angeles - Blade Runner 2049

How could I not? The ever-present rain of the Blade Runner series is as known as the iconic cityscape itself, and as an Angeleno, I’m immediately entranced by the contrast this brings to the real-world thing. 

For the sequel 2049, this effect is turned to eleven as we find a number of astoundingly distinct environments throughout the film and an intimate portrait of gloomy Los Angeles. 

The effect here is artsy-to-the-max, with the rain serving as an enhancer to some of the film’s most emotional scenes. Namely is a moment that our main character shares with his AI girlfriend, as she projects herself into the world. 

Not only is the backdrop an obvious choice for the sadness of the moment, but it serves to highlight a contrast of humanity, as Agent K’s hologram companion is completely detached from his tactile experience under the harsh weather. 

The rain is constant and overwhelming in Blade Runner, making itself completely undetachable from the setting of the film. One lesson to take here is to simply push the level of nuance. Plain skies and standard weather are naturally overplaid. Once you have a scene, start with some simple questions about climate fit. 

If you’re working through a level of emotional depth similar to 2049, chances are anything from a soft sprinkle to a torrential downpour could bring things up a notch. If you happen to snag Ryan Gosling for your leading role, you’re set with a veteran of emotional moments in the rain. 

Try it yourself: Storm Clouds, Rain, Atmospheric Fog

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