How do you adapt something that for years was considered impossible to adapt?
The long-awaited adaptation of Foundation, Isaac Asimov’s influential sci-fi saga, premiered in late September 2021. After many attempts from various filmmakers to bring the story to our screens, David S. Goyer was able to finally wrangle Foundation’s multiple plotlines spanning multiple centuries into a streaming series for Apple TV+.
“Foundation presented us with a broad range of creative challenges, from simple de-aging comps, full CG environments, character animation and complex FX simulations.”
Outpost VFX Supervisor, Illia Afanasiev, details just some of the work required to breathe life into the visually stunning and complex universe within which Foundation takes place.
“Our key focus was expansive CG environments, notably the Maiden Moon’s Salt Palace and surrounding landscape, the Surah planetary satellite system and the Cleon palace hallway.”
The plot of Foundation follows Dr Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), a mathematician and psychologist, who spends his career developing a psychohistory theory that can predict the future of humankind.
When Seldon prophesises the fall of the Galactic Empire, he and a team of scientists and engineers must fight the chaos that follows, preserving science and knowledge for future generations.
While Goyer remains true to many story points in the original material, the showrunner has added some new elements to the story, making it more relatable to today’s audience. This sprawling, multifaceted storyline takes place across the galaxy, making for visually breath-taking intergalactic environments.
“Perhaps our biggest environment was the Maiden Moon; a barren salt desert landscape with an isolated ancient palace called the Salt Palace” says Afanasiev.
“For the Salt Palace and surrounding environment, we filmed on location at Fort Manoel in Malta and used references from an archaeological site in Petra, Jordan and in Egypt.”
“In some shots we used set extensions to build the palace, and in the wider establishers we used a full CG version of the Salt Palace set within its desert landscape,” adds VFX Producer Tom Barber.
“The salt desert environment itself was a combination of a CG build with DMP enhancements, kept alive with FX dust trails, a lot of 2D atmosphere and cloud gobo lighting. The landscape was often populated with religious pilgrims which required crowd extensions, CG simulation for wide shots and the use of 2D green screen elements for close ups,” Afanasiev recalls.
“It was extremely important to us and the client that we created believable and realistic VFX that would bring the Foundation universe to life.
“When we were building and designing Surah – the huge gas giant that Maiden orbits – as well as its additional orbiting moons, we had calls with a very helpful scientist from the JPL at NASA to maintain scientific accuracy. We used Jupiter and its moons as a reference point and went from there.”
Barber details some of the CG asset work the team delivered for Foundation: “We had several full CG sequences with spaceships too. For example, the Emperor’s ship – the Rubicon – arriving and departing from the Salt Palace, the Foundation when it arrives at Terminus as well as the Foundation Tower as it lands on the surface of the planet and the larger Deliverance ship as it crash-lands nearby.”
The team also had to work on the Demerzel character augmentation. Afanasiev says: “the gruesome character work of Demerzel was a challenge, but the end result looked great on delivery.” That’s all we’ll say on that front for now…
Outpost were awarded a little over 250 shots which were delivered across all studios. With season 2 already in motion, we can’t wait to see what the adaptation of the novels continues to bring.