Herne Hill creates VFX for Guillermo del Toro's <I>Cabinet of Curiosities</I>
June 22, 2023

Herne Hill creates VFX for Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

For Netflix’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Academy Award-winning filmmaker, creator, executive producer and co-showrunner Guillermo del Toro curated a collection of genre-defining stories meant to challenge the traditional notion of horror. From macabre to magical, gothic to grotesque or classically creepy, these eight tales were brought to life by a team of writers and directors personally chosen by the filmmaker.

Academy Award-winner J. Miles Dale (The Shape of Water; Sex/Life) served as executive producer and co-showrunner, with Del Toro also acting as host.

Toronto’s Herne Hill (https://hernehill.com) provided visual effects services for the show, which play a critical role in bringing Del Toro's unique visions to life. According to VFX supervisor Mark Hammond, ZBrush was the studio’s go-to solution for creature sculpting, allowing for the creation of intricate and lifelike forms. 

“Enhancing these creations with a sense of depth and authenticity, Mari and Substance Painter were employed for texturing,” he explains. “The Groombear plug-in in Houdini lent a hand in achieving realistic hair and fur simulations for our creatures.” 

For hard-surface modeling, the Herne Hill called on Autodesk’s Maya. 

“Maya further proved its utility in rigging and animation, contributing structure and lifelike movement to our characters,” Hammond adds. “Houdini had a dual purpose in our pipeline, being indispensable for grooming in simulations, as well as serving as our primary tool for lighting and rendering with the Redshift renderer. We used a specially-designed atoms crowd solver, which enabled the creation of dynamic crowds and mesmerizing [flocks] of birds, breathing extra life into our scenes.” 

The art department at Herne Hill leaned on Photoshop for digital matte paintings and extensions. 

“When it came to 3D, they tend to use a lot of different packages, depending on the artist,” Hammond explains. “Blender, Daz and KeyShot were all used for crafting detailed models and swift renders. Unreal Engine made some big contributions on later episodes, when we used it all the way from concept to final renders.

“3DE was used as the starting point of the pipeline to make sure all of our 3D tracks were pixel perfect, and Nuke was the final stage, used to adeptly blend all of these elements through compositing. By leveraging these tools, we transformed the Cabinet of Curiosities into a vibrant visual spectacle, presenting a compelling and immersive viewing experience.