On The Crown's ‘invisible’ visual effects and the making of good trailers

On The Crown's ‘invisible’ visual effects and the making of good trailers

Wednesday, 3rd April 2024
The cast of The Crown on the balcony at Buckingham Palace
The Crown: Buckingham Palace (credit: Netflix)
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The Crown’s visual effects and, below, TV trailers come under the RTS London microscope. Matthew Bell reports

RTS London heard how the visual effects were created for The Crown over six series of the landmark Netflix drama – everything from recreating Buckingham Palace to real-life incidents such as the death of Princess Diana in Paris, the Aberfan disaster and the fire at Windsor Castle.

“[As] a historical drama, there are things that we have to… recreate, so we needed visual effects to be able to bring those stories to life,” explained Reece Ewing, VFX (visual effects) producer and post-production supervisor, who joined the drama in series three.

With no access to royal buildings such as Buckingham Palace, these had to be recreated using VFX wizardry. “There isn’t anywhere to hide,” said visual effects supervisor Ben Turner, “everyone knows what it looks like.”

Turner, who worked on the show from its 2016 debut, said that his work started in pre-production, when he received the scripts for the series: “When the 10 episodes land in your inbox, you learn your fate for the next year and a half.

“It’s always an interesting moment when you turn the page of a script and it describes a squadron of bombers flying overhead, a huge coal tip collapsing or a castle bursting into flames. You think, ‘Oh, that might be on our [VFX] list.’”

Ewing and Turner – plus VFX supervisors Ollie Bersey from Framestore and Joe Cork (Rumble VFX) – used clips from The Crown to explain how they added effects.

“It’s a real career highlight for me,” said Bersey. “I get a real kick out of seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they [discover] that there are VFX in The Crown.”

Cork was proud of “the sheer quantity of invisible work.… We did close to 300 VFX” shots in series six, running to 37 minutes – “almost an entire episode”.

‘The Crown: VFX masterclass’ was held at Kings Cross Everyman on 29 February, chaired by Broadcast’s Rebecca Cooney and produced by Phil Barnes.

Building a buzz

Two award-winning trailer makers discussed their work at a second RTS London event looking at a specialist TV craft.

The process, explained Jonathan Truin, a creative at ITV, starts with a brief and then moves on to ‘ideation, which is mostly staring at a wall, thinking you’re not very good at your job…. I then try to craft an insight or truth about the show… Eventually, I add the sound and effects and let it out the door.’

Briefs, added Lawrence Ching, Creative Director at marketing agency Ignition Creative, can be truly brief; as brief as: ‘Make a good trailer.’

He added: ‘Being able to put yourselves into the shoes of the people we’re trying to target is so key…. What appeals to them [may] be so beyond your personal taste.’

The hardest part comes as the finishing line approaches, said Ching. ‘When you’re working very closely with showrunners and film-makers, they are very close to their project. It’s their baby and no one knows that title like they do.

‘But, sometimes, they may not be seeing it from a marketing perspective and so we have to be the annoying ones and go, “We appreciate this piece of art but… we do have to market it and give it to the masses.”’

Truin said: ‘My previous creative director described [making trailers] as [like] “pulling a giant ice cube through the desert” – you just hope that, when you get to the end, you’ve still got enough ice left to be proud of what you’ve done.’

Ching added: ‘We can’t objectively say this is a good or bad trailer. Everyone has different tastes. [When we discuss] whether a trailer feels good to put out into the world, there’s always going to be friction.’

Big budgets are good but, said Truin, ‘an idea doesn’t have to be really expensive to be good… and budgets are going down; there’s less money, especially in original content, which means we have to get better at being creative.’

‘Building a buzz: Trailers unveiled’ was held at the Everyman Kings Cross on 18 March, chaired by Lettija Lee and produced by Jon-Jon Jones.

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