VFX specialists Golden Sq and production arm Disqo have carried out the production and VFX on a series of unusual idents for Viasat History as part of a multi-channel rebrand. The channel is shown across the Nordics, Central & Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Russia & CIS and Africa. The main focus is on European history, revealing the secrets of the past and how it defines us today.

With the strapline ‘Bringing History to Life,’ the idents feature different figures from famous paintings morphing into live action actors in modern day scenarios.

The creative brief - by Creative Director Simon Mitchell, Viasat Broadcasting and Simone Heineck, GFX Design, Viasat Broadcasting:

“We wanted a visual approach that links the past and the present, and makes the past relevant for our audience. With the rebrand, we are moving away from the purely graphical approach of our previous idents, to a warmer, more human, live action feel. We want the idents to feel that we are bringing history to life. The approach was influenced by the work of artist Dorothee Golz and photographer Leo Caillard.

We needed to find a VFX house and production company that could bring these paintings to life in a beautiful and visually rich way. As soon as Golden Sq sent us a test they had created for ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ we knew they were the right people for the job.”

The creative story behind the VFX:

Harry Jarman, VFX Lead, Golden Sq; “After being approached about the idea, initially for Girl with a Pearl Earring, I got a couple of our staff to strike the pose from the painting, then compared these images to the painting. After this I found an appropriate location in the office, and filmed one of our Production Assistants posing, then looking to camera, as per the painting. From this footage, we produced test transitions to show proof of concept. This gave the client the confidence to pursue the idea.

The look-alike actors that were chosen definitely made the post job more straightforward. We were able to seamlessly blend the portrait and contemporary characters together, creating a subtle transition that, in most cases, is barely noticeable.

The challenge was to take just the head from an old portrait into a wide screen TV format and still make them recognisable. To help with the process of transitioning from the original image to the real life scenario, we strategically positioned elements in our contemporary scenes that suggest similarities to the original paintings. In some cases, the painting is so recognisable, that just the face is enough to register, for example Girl with a Pearl Earring. We also subtly altered the grade and texture of the backgrounds, in order to make them more painterly.

By camera tracking 3D heads over the actor's faces, and then projecting the painted faces over the top, it allowed us to integrate the faces into the live action more effectively, ‘dimensionalising’ the painting. We manipulated the old paintings a fair amount, in particular adding matching eye movement, which was fun.”

Casting the actors:

Danny Vaia, Director, Disqo; “We worked closely with Viasat in the casting stages, to ensure that the actors closely resembled the respective historical figures, through to the hair, make-up and wardrobe stages (albeit with a more ‘modern’ style of appearance).”

Paul Evans, Senior Producer, Viasat Broadcasting; “Casting was obviously crucial – Fruitcake did a fantastic job in London, some of the likenesses are almost creepy! The transition from the painting to the actor had to be smooth, and we couldn’t have achieved it if the face shapes and bone structure hadn’t been right.”

Shooting in Croatia:

Dominic Bunjevac, Executive Producer, Disqo said; “The call to shoot in Croatia was made to accommodate certain aspects of the creative, i.e. relatively generic European architecture, and an availability of interiors that would look the part.”

Danny Vaia, Director, Disqo; “We were shooting vignettes really – taking these historic characters and putting them into slices of modern life. It is all about making those transitions work between the graphic image and the live action – and there’s a lot more storytelling in there than you first realise.”

Paul Evans, Senior Producer, Viasat Broadcasting; “The shoot was a really great experience for us. I’d never shot in Croatia but Zagreb’s a great town, our crew (most of whom had just finished shooting on location for Game of Thrones) was great, and Dominic and the Disqo team made the whole process very smooth.”

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