Using visual effects to set the scene is an important technique used by many productions; it was absolutely essential for Tribes of Europa. The German, dystopian sci-fi series is set in the year 2074, in a Europe fractured into several warring Tribes, all fighting for control over the continent. Many of the visual effects evoke this futuristic state with sweeping, overgrown city panoramas.
The six-part Netflix series, directed by Philip Koch and Florian Baxmeyer, was supervised by Rick Sander and Thomas Tannenberger. It released on 19th February, 2021.
The production scouted abandoned and overgrown locations including ancient forests, pre-war industrial facilities, even cities which had been ravaged by the Yugoslav civil war, filming across Eastern Europe for 90 days and finishing in South Africa just before the pandemic hit the US. Production designer Julian Wagner also provided reference artwork which was also a great starting point for the look of the environments.
With the action set 70 years in the future, the look the production wanted was of cities reclaimed by nature; beautiful, clean buildings overgrown with trees and foliage, not the dark, decayed post-apocalyptic feel more typically seen in film and TV.
Cinesite’s team enhanced, extended or recreated a dozen locations. During his local lockdown, VFX supervisor Rick Sander found and photographed architecture in Montreal around the Old Port and in nearby parks; 8-storey high, centuries old structures overgrown with trees but with clean brick surfaces. In many cases. these buildings were added directly into matte paintings using a variety of projection techniques, combined with CG and LiDAR scans from the filmed locations. The vegetation was created using a combination of SpeedTree, Houdini and digital matte painting, combined with the photographic reference.
In one striking panorama we see a group of travellers walking towards a distant city lit by golden evening light.
Supervisor Rick Sander explains the origins of the scene. “A lot of my work is inspired by personal photography. That cityscape started with a photo I shot 12 years ago of Downtown LA and we applied the look to real Berlin and added the extensive forested elements. The foreground buildings were shot in Zagreb and the near ground greenery was designed in Houdini.”
The cube is another important aspect of the visual effects, an object which holds the key to the most mysterious plot point throughout the series. Kiano, one of the series’ lead characters, comes into possession of it and he gradually discovers its significance as the series progresses.
At various points, the cube, which is initially badly damaged, opens up, radiating holographic projections across the environments where it is being examined. As the device is progressively repaired, the projections become clearer, offering tantalising glimpses and clues about the device’s true purpose.
Lidar scanning and other techniques were used to capture the actors and environments, ensuring the projections could be convincingly integrated into the relit locations as the cube flies through the air.
The holographic projections show a mysterious man in a protective suit in the middle of a storm. The storm and all of the contents of the projection were simulated in CG.
Many other invisible enhancements were also created by Cinesite’s team to support the narrative, including skin tattoos, blood and wounds, CG vehicles and several other environment enhancements.