PFW VFX Breakdown for Byzantium

An interesting and elegant alternative to the recent run of vampire films exemplified by the Twilight saga, Neil Jordan’s latest movie offers a twist on the gender dynamic in most of these films by focusing on what initially seems to be a mother / daughter relationship between two mysterious females. Prime Focus World has delivered atmospheric VFX work for Byzantium, which stars Gemma Arterton, Jonny Lee Miller and Saoirse Ronan.

The majority of PFW’s work on the movie focused around the creation of huge flocks of birds that inhabit the vampire’s secret island hideaway. Prime Focus World developed a bespoke flocking system for the Massive crowd sim software that could handle the task and delivered completed shots in less than 5 weeks, on the back of 3 weeks R&D work, in August 2012.

“We needed to create a murmuration effect that would appear random yet remain totally under our control,” said Tim Keene, Head of VFX Production for PFW. “With between 6,000 and 12,000 birds in each shot, the birds couldn’t just follow pre-determined paths: they had to have some randomness to their direction to sell the effect. Essentially, each bird had to act as an individual. The solution centred on the development of something we called ‘The Brain’ - a ‘bird leader’ that the other birds in the crowd would follow with some randomness to create a system of organised chaos.”

The team also completed a number of foreground animation shots, with CG birds scattering and flying past the lens and off-screen as the protagonists burst in.

"Prime Focus did extraordinary work for me on Byzantium, to deliver murmurations of starlings behind a series of pivotal scenes,” commented director Neil Jordan. “They wrote a series of programmes that mimicked the random movements of thousands of birds in an entirely natural way. It was a challenging commission which they executed with supreme artistry and invention."

Based on Moira Buffini's play "A Vampire Story", the story follows Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), centuries-old vampires on the run who seek refuge in a run-down coastal resort. Clara meets lonely Noel, who provides shelter in his deserted guesthouse, Byzantium. Schoolgirl Eleanor befriends Frank and tells him their lethal secret - they were born 200 years ago and survive on human blood. As knowledge of their secret spreads, their past catches up on them with deadly consequences.


RELEASE: May 31, 2013

Director: Neil Jordan
Producers: Sam Englebardt, William D. Johnson, Elizabeth Karlsen, Mark C. Manuel, Alan Moloney, Stephen Woolley
Studio / Distributor: StudioCanal

PFW Supervisor: Michael Eames
PFW Producer: Tim Keene
PFW Scope of Work: VFX and Animation, 24 shots
PFW Lead Facility: London



 PFW Byzantium Brochure

PFW Byzantium Brochure