visual effects studio BREAK+ENTER served as a key visual effects provider on the second season of Russian doll, the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series starring Natasha Lyonne and co-created by Lyonne, Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler. The studio delivered nearly 150 visual effects shots for the eight-episode season.
Led by VFX supervisor Gabe Regentin, BREAK+ENTER teamed up with Lyonne, her production team, cinematographer Ula Pontikos and LED lighting specialist 4Wall Entertainment to recreate much of New York’s subway system. York. Using groundbreaking virtual production technology, Lyonne says Regentin “has made a tremendous contribution to this season”, adding that “his endless creativity, obsession with precision and meticulous attention to detail has made for a very special and inspired”.
Russian dollThe second season of is set four years after the events of its 2019 debut, where Lyonne’s character, Nadia Vulvokov, was caught in a time loop that led her to repeatedly relive the day of her death in a circulation accident. The new episodes take the story in a different, temporal direction, as Nadia finds herself traveling through time and space in a subway car. He uses this premise as a springboard, to continue exploring “existential themes through an often humorous, sci-fi lens.”
Although subway travel is frequent in Season 2, shooting a running subway train proved impractical. “It would have been extremely expensive and live trains would have been difficult to control,” Pontikos notes. “We knew we had to build a scene and explore green screen options, but ultimately rejected them. In the end, we came up with the idea of using a cart on a platform and surrounding it with large LED screens. The actors would sit or stand inside the car as animation, and CG backgrounds were displayed on the LED panels outside the windows to simulate movement.
BREAK+ENTER was responsible for creating these background images. Artists built photorealistic 3D replicas of New York’s subway system, including stations, tunnels and other details. “BREAK+ENTER worked with the show’s art department to develop the CG assets,” Pontikos notes. “They did trial and error to get the height right, figure out the right color space and work out other details. Part of the challenge was that we weren’t always inside the car. We also had need external shots to add texture to footage[, and] it required a whole other approach.
The CG models not only had to be very realistic, but also easy to control to give the production team the flexibility they needed when filming. “We built the tunnel system procedurally,” says Regentin. “This allowed us to generate platforms and tunnel segments on the fly as needed. We created the 360 degree environment so it can be projected onto the LED volume from any angle. Everywhere you looked it felt like you were in a subway tunnel.
The subway set was built on a stage in Brooklyn. New Jersey-based 4Wall Entertainment designed and built the LED walls and disguise playback system used to display the pre-rendered CG backgrounds. “We finished the CG tunnel about a month before shooting and spent two weeks testing the system,” Regentin recalls. “Everything had to line up, including the lighting and the color. We also experimented with different render speeds to render the animation properly with the right amount of motion blur. There were all kinds of variables.
The careful preparation paid off.
“On the day of production, I sat with an iPad next to the technicians driving the video footage and gave them the direction. It worked so well that we were able to shoot normally,” Pontikos observes. was just a matter of getting the correct exposure and making sure the speed was correct, we also had to make sure the direction of the train was correct and the timing of its arrival at the station was correct. perfectly real.
Series director and executive producer Alex Buono was impressed. “All we had to say was ‘Start the subway,’ and the seamless illusion of a moving car appeared,” Buono recalls. “We could choose the speed of the car, the platforms we crossed and when the other cars would pass. Trying to do that with a real metro would have been crazy.
Buono adds that the illusion benefited the actors’ performances. “It was a very organic experience for them,” he notes. “It’s a lot to ask actors to be ‘in the moment’ when they’re on a green stage, surrounded by false surfaces. But in this LED world, it was easy for them to believe they were in a moving car.
BREAK+ENTER also created many invisible effects for scenes set in the past. The series features a subplot set in underground sections of Cold War Berlin that were filmed in Budapest, site of continental Europe’s oldest electrified underground railway system. Artists changed signage, removed modern elements, and did other detailed work to make the environment look like subterranean parts of the former East German capital.
Regentin was on set in New York and Budapest, overseeing the execution of the visual effects shots. “We shot for a month in Budapest and went to some amazing places that you won’t find anywhere else,” he recalls. “We were in tunnels deep underground and in cisterns with water up to our waists. In post, we used visual effects to enhance the unique aesthetic of these locations, adding lighting to give them an otherworldly feel.
Throughout the project, BREAK+ENTER worked hand-in-hand with Lyonne, Buono and other members of the production team to find ways to add to the show’s comedic trippy atmosphere. “Natasha and Alex were amazing partners,” says Regentin. “They looked into the visual effects process and included us in the conversation.”
Buono says that given the high concept of the new season, a close relationship with the visual effects provider was crucial. “Time travel is a big part of the narrative, and the visual effects were key to creating that illusion in a convincing way,” he says. “BREAK+ENTER worked with us as partners to figure out how to make this happen. They helped us turn back time on Astor Pace and back to the 1980s.”
Max Weinstein is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. He is the editor of “Dread Central” and former editorial director of “MovieMaker”. His work has been featured in “Cineaste”, “Fangoria”, “Playboy”, “Vice” and “The Week”.