LONDON — Goodbye Kansas Studios (https://goodbyekansasstudios.com) delivered 82 shots and seven assets for the second season of Netflix’s supernatural horror drama, Locke and Key. Based on the comic-book series of the same name, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, the show follows three young children who discover mysterious keys that can be used to unlock various doors in magical ways. Goodbye Kansas Studios was one of the primary vendors for the production, with VFX supervisor Ditch Doy and VFX producer Paula Pope leading their team.
The show is known for its distinctive visual style and fantastical elements, so when the time came to start work on Season 2, the creative team wanted to invest more time in the concept designs behind the new characters and creatures. Having seen some of the visuals that the Goodbye Kansas Studios team had created previously, they were approached by the Locke and Key team to create concept art across a variety of sequences in Season 2, some being horror-related visuals.
“In the second season, the concept art played a huge part in the decision making,” explains Paula Pope, VFX producer at Goodbye Kansas Studios. “We were first approached by the production team, where they asked if we could assist them in developing the look of some key sequences quite early in the process. This was to enable them to inform the work on some of their larger asset builds. We really enjoyed working with them to create some fantastic visuals, such as a demon character. There was a fair bit of back and forth at this stage to get everything just how they wanted it, but this then developed further into us being asked to work on a sequence based on one of these concepts.”
After completing a range of demonic concept art, the Goodbye Kansas Studios team were invited to work on a horror sequence featuring a number of nightmarish mannequins. The studio had created the initial concept art for these mannequins, and in this sequence, several characters are forced to traverse a haunted department store inside the mind of another character. It’s during this sequence that these faceless mannequins come to life and attack, developing menacing features as the scene evolves.
“Because we were involved from the beginning of the process, we essentially got to help design these mannequins and develop the sequence to better inform the actual filming,” explains Ditch Doy. “The VFX supervisor, Wojciech Zelinski, liked to involve us and would make sure he checked what we needed from the shoot to create the visuals. When it came to shooting the scene, rather than opting for full CG mannequins, they decided to bring in dancers on the set to perform the body moves required, and we were then tasked with replacing their heads. Our mannequin head rigs were tailored to connect to our body tracks, making it easier for our animators to work on their individual performances.”
Getting the correct look and movement for the mannequins in this sequence was important to the team, and the concept changed several times as it was being worked on. There were initially several face scans taken of the actress who played the character, Eden, as the mannequins were all supposed to have her likeness. However, as the sequence evolved, the team decided that it would be creepier if they didn’t have any faces at all.
“The mannequins went from being a sort of photographic replica of the actress, to these faceless automata, which had a much more sinister feel to them,” says Doy. “Again, another great element that developed due to our ongoing early relationship with the project.”
“The reference for our mannequins came from early horror films,” Doy continues. “We were then able to create the jerky head movements to help give the mannequins some creepy and quite unnerving movements. To achieve this, we created our own mini shoot of different head movements, and these initial plates were used as a base to further augment the behaviour. Having that underlying, real-human motion and then adding secondary animation really worked well for us. However, we did need to toe the line between fantasy and horror since the show is aimed at a younger audience.”
Another key aspect of Goodbye Kansas Studio’s work on this season of Locke and Key was centered around flames and fire. As the team was working on the mannequin sequence, it was decided that they should be set on fire towards the climax of the scene. As they had already built the mannequins, it only stood to reason that they should be the ones to destroy them as well.
“Burning the mannequins was quite fun,” admits Doy. “We used Houdini to simulate the fire onto the actor who was wearing two tube lights, one on her chest and another on her back, in order to cast natural light into the scene. This worked out quite well, and as a result, we were awarded the majority of the fire scenes for the series.”
One of the magic keys, referred to as the Matchstick Key, possesses the ability to create and ignite fires. The Goodbye Kansas Studios team worked on two big scenes that involved the flames created by this key – one of which takes place in a greenhouse. This particular fire, however, was never meant to be a destructive force, but rather a more playful fire that danced across the space.
“The direction we were given for this fire was ‘romantic’, but questions arose as to what constitutes a romantic fire and how best to go about creating it,” says Paula Pope. “Our goal was to make it feel slower and more magical, as opposed to fast and ferocious. The fire had to travel up a fountain and move slowly across some flower pots to help create the look and feel of a warm, well-lit, cosy environment. If the fire was too big or stayed too long on surfaces, the viewer would get the feeling that it could cause the place to burn down. So we made sure to extinguish the fire quickly as it moved across the surface and kept the flame length short to reduce the threat of danger. It was very tricky but it ended up looking pretty awesome by the end.”
A scene in Episode 10 also required flames, but this time in the style of a blow torch being used on a steel vault. Part of the team’s work on the scene required the building of the vault and the effects of the beam as it melted its door.
“We had to create a plasma torch effect, essentially, which took a bit of back and forth to get the right level of sparks,” recalls Doy. “Since this one key has so many different applications, we couldn’t just reuse the same fires again and again. This was the reasoning behind the romantic fire for the greenhouse scene, an angry wall of flame in Episode 8 and the welding effect from Episode 10. Each one had its own set of challenges and a different look for each, which was quite fun.”
Locke and Key’s second season began airing on Netflix on October 22nd.