Oscar nominated visual effect studio The Embassy has reunited with Netflix to provide full VFX – from concept design to on-set supervision – for the streaming platform’s new fantasy drama series 'Warrior Nun'. Based on the eponymous comic series by Ben Dunn, the 10-episode show follows Ava, a young woman who wakes up in a morgue with inexplicable powers and gets caught up in a battle between good and evil.
The Embassy had previously worked with Netflix on sci-fi series Lost in Space, successfully demonstrating how their extensive experience in film and commercials could be applied to the high quality of visual effects expected from Netflix. Known for their work on sci-fi and action projects (including Iron Man, District 9, and Cowboys & Aliens), The Embassy tackled a new challenge in bringing to life a whole host of magical elements for Warrior Nun. With 17 years’ experience working with all kinds of sci-fi tech however, pivoting to fantasy and creature VFX was the next logical step for the team, who worked closely with show-runner Simon Barry (founder and partner of production company RDF alongside Stephen Hegyes) and Netflix to establish the perfect look for the show.
To achieve this, The Embassy took advantage of joining production right from the start to front-load the development of the characters and magic seen in the show. Winston Helgason, Embassy EP, travelled to Spain for pre-production in February last year to decide which aspects of the show required VFX and which could be achieved practically. Concept design was completed before principal photography, enabling The Embassy’s artists to hit the ground running once they received the first edits. This allowed their artists to maximise their time, finalising each shot to the platform’s high standard.
The Embassy completed almost 700 VFX shots across the series, spending a full five months in Spain with on-set supervisor Neil Impey and on the ground production company Fresco Films (Game of Thrones). Shooting locations included Antequera (known for its multiple churches), Marbella, Malaga, Cordoba, and Seville. They also employed legendary concept artist Carlos Huante (Men in Black, Prometheus, It) to develop the fantastical creatures seen in the show, and collaborated with production designer Barbara Perez-Solero (Spider-Man: Far From Home, Jack Ryan). In addition to the VFX work, The Embassy also completed the show’s main title sequence under the supervision of creative director David Casey and CG supervisor Paul Copeland.
Speaking of what audiences might expect from the show, VFX supervisor Michael Blackbourn comments: “Our work on 'Warrior Nun' spanned every kind of effect. Demons? Check. Ghosts? Check. Mysterious smoke tendrils? Also check. We healed wounds magically and also inflicted wounds using a myriad of medieval weapons and instruments. Along the way we created a 3D St. Peter’s Square, zoomed into microscopic life, put a camera inside a solid rock, and sent Ava phasing through just about every surface imaginable.”
Showrunner Simon Barry adds: “The Embassy were not just a vendor but a creative partner, working on creature design and VFX that was crucial not only to the storytelling, but also the larger mythology of 'Warrior Nun'. Winston, Michael, and the whole team are storytellers who love what they do and were fully committed to making the show better. That’s all I could ask for in a creative partnership.”
Unsurprisingly, post production on the show was impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, hitting the world as the team were wrapping up work on the final episodes. In order to keep their artists safe and still deliver on schedule, The Embassy invested in remote hardware terminals and a new secure firewall to enable the company’s 50 employees to work remotely and finish in time. The team finalised the last 100 shots from the show remotely, successfully tackling the challenge of distributed working – something they will be carrying forward as an optional capability in the future.
Looking to the future, The Embassy will be reuniting once more with Netflix for the second season of Warrior Nun, as well as some new top-secret shows and great new commercial work in-house.