Union VFX - Swallows and Amazons

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Union VFX Add Drama to Swallows & Amazons

As sole VFX vendor, Union were involved on Swallows and Amazons from storyboard to screen. The team worked closely with director, Philippa Lowthorpe and the production team to come up with creative solutions that allowed the more ambitious elements of the plot to be achieved in a believable way.

Simon Hughes and the Union team were brilliant to work with. Their creativity, technical skill and care of the project were superb. Philippa Lowthorpe, Director.

The story follows Mrs Walker, who is taking her boisterous four children away for a summer holiday in the idyllic Lakeland fells while her husband, an officer in the Royal Navy, is away in the far east. 

On the way, the mysterious Mr Flint blusters into their train compartment while evading two sinister looking men.  After using the children as cover, he climbs out through the window and proceeds to hang off the outside of the moving train.

This was one of the main stunt and visual effects sequences and involved a green screen shoot where Rafe Spall hung from a rocking train carriage as he was blown by wind machines to add additional motion.

Union had to key the shot then composite and track the footage onto moving, live action footage create a seamless, realistic shot.

When the family arrive at their cottage the children beg to be allowed to sail to an island in the middle of the lake and camp there on their own, but soon discover they are not alone…

A high-spirited battle commences, complicated by the unlikely danger they are in from the adult world of espionage.

There are lots of ‘invisible’ effects on the film (92 shots in total) requiring set extensions and the compositing of outside scenery into the windows of train and seaplane journeys whose interiors were filmed on greenscreen stages. 

The film’s climax sees both groups of children combining forces to try to prevent a sea plane from taking off and this was by far the most challenging visual effects sequence on the project.

To capture the live action elements, the team headed to Derwent Water in the Lake District where the children were pulled in their boats by a specially designed camera boat built with a camera platform on top in order to create the same overall footprint of the seaplane. 

The seaplane itself was shot landing on a loch in Scotland as it was not allowed to land in Keswick.

The Union team then had to remove the camera boat and replace it with the seaplane footage to create one seamless, believable sequence.  They also had to add CG ropes to attach the boats to the plane - no mean feat in a shot with lots of water moving that fast - and passengers into the seaplane itself.

Speed restrictions on the lake meant the footage also needed to be augmented to add the excitement and danger demanded by the plot.

Producer, Nick Barton said: This was our first project with Union and we were impressed by their truly collaborative, problem solving approach.  Simon and the team found creative ways to make our key scenes work despite restrictions placed on us by our locations.

VFX Supervisor, Simon Hughes adds: It was a pleasure to work on a British production steeped in the heritage of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s novels.  The cast, crew and stunning locations all joined forces to do it justice and bring the story to a new generation of children.

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