Working closely with Showrunner Jason Katims, Production Designer Anu Schwartz, Director Fisher Stevens, and Producing Director David Boyd, Framestore’s New York-based team was responsible for major VFX across five of the 10 episodes, most notably the plane crash site in a Colorado field featured heavily in the first episode and throughout the season. The team was tasked with inspiring the sense of terror that the pilots felt as they flew blindly through an electrical storm, and supporting the desolation of the characters later sifting through the plane wreckage.  

The production team shot the scene covering an area between 50-100 feet with practical set pieces in a field within the Hudson Valley area of New York. A specialist was contracted to capture LiDAR scans of the partially dressed crash site, as well as aerial photogrammetry for the surrounding field.

Framestore’s VFX team took the existing footage and extended the wreckage, cutting up and isolating dozens of pieces of practical wreckage from the LiDAR scan and using these assets to build out the crash site. Having the practical scan as a base allowed the team to solve every production camera angle in a single world space, and negated the need to individually model and texture hundreds of pieces of CG, solving for any production camera position within the virtual wreckage.

Smoke and fire FX were simulated in Houdini and rendered in Arnold, helping to cover approximately 1,000 feet of the field. Augmentation to the environment was via DMP for the burned ground and distant mountains to double the New York location for Colorado, with all elements being combined in Nuke’s 2.5D space for final composite. 

Additional VFX throughout the season included de-aging of actors for flashback scenes using a combination of facial tracking and beauty work in Nuke. Storm clouds, lightning, rain and glass textures were added to pilot POV shots in the cockpit, and a CG plane and jetway were added to a scene set at an airport. Drone operator Brook Aitken was contracted to provide local Colorado footage, which was used to simulate the moments before the crash, as well as in scenes looking out from the cockpit and a passenger window. 

“We tried hard to ensure the creative decisions being made in VFX stayed true to the emotional needs of the story,” said Framestore VFX Supervisor, Steve Drew. “Initially, just to obtain some objective references, I spent a very sombre few hours watching as many real life plane crashes as I could find. The deep pit of despair I felt watching so many people lose their lives really stayed with me. I carried that feeling with me from being on set, through to the completion of the project. It helped guide some of the creative, but it also kept me grounded, and focussed on the terror and tragedy of such an event.”