NOS4A2: Visualizing Christmasland

It's all been building to Christmasland.

Developed for AMC TV by Executive Producer Jami O'Brien (Hell on Wheels, Fear the Walking Dead), NOS4A2 is based on the novel of the same name by acclaimed author Joe Hill. The series follows Victoria "Vic" McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) who has a supernatural ability to track the seemingly immortal Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). Manx feeds off the souls of children and then leaves what remains of them into Christmasland — a twisted Christmas village of Manx’s imagination where every day is Christmas Day and unhappiness is against the law.

The seventh episode of NOS4A2 titled "Scissors for the Drifter" aired on July 14, and it featured the most expansive sequence that CoSA VFX worked on for the series' first season — the reveal of Christmasland itself. From Helter Bears to scary Santas, this environment had to be brought to visual life, and CoSA VFX is proud to have been a part of this major moment for the show.

Here's a look at the creation of Christmasland, with commentary from CoSA's VFX Supervisor for the series, Michael Adkisson, Environments Supervisor Mark Nazal, and CG Supervisor Ron Herbst.

Since the reveal of Christmasland was such a big deal, how many weeks of prep went into it before the episode was shot into the sequence?

MICHAEL: The NOS4A2 production designer started with preliminary concept art at this time last year. CoSA entered the process in late 2018 and then moved into more specific shot work in early January. We then continued to refine those elements through February and March when we executed the shots.

Can you talk about some of the elements that were designed specifically for this sequence and the people who designed them?

MARK: We did all of the extension carnival rides. It was a split responsibility between me and Ron. Some things, like the Helter Bears, were not part of the original Christmasland concept. We also redesigned Santa and the clown.

Designs for the clowns and other elements were worked on by our team of concept and environments artists including Josh Judd, Ruotian Zhang, Eric Prout, Pedro Colmenares, Catherine Widjaja, Charles Frail, and Jinfeng Li.

MICHAEL: The roller coaster is probably the most prominent feature in Christmasland, and it goes all throughout Christmasland. The layout of that was quite elaborate and very specific, and then we had individual features, like the Helter Skelters which are the giant bear slides. There is a fairly well defined layout to Christmasland and geography in the story, and even though we reveal Christmasland, we have not completely revealed Christmasland. It says it's a vast expansive area. So, we're only getting into the front of Christmasland; just the entrance area of Christmasland, and only revealing a small portion of it.

RON: [With the Gingerbread Village], I remember we had lots of discussions with their producer about how many kids live there, and so, how many houses did we have to build?

Since CoSA was not the only VFX vendor for NOS4A2, can you talk about what elements the company was specifically responsible for, and what parts were done elsewhere?

MICHAEL: For Episode 7, CoSA was primarily focused on Christmasland. Our two big areas of work for the season were the Shorter Way Bridge, and Christmasland, which is quite the big reveal for the second half of the season and required quite a development process to bring to life.


How pleased were you when you saw the finished product?

MARK: I think I was pleasantly surprised. It was one of those things where there were so many random elements that we just didn't know how it was going to look at the end of it, and I think we were very pleased with how it all looked. It ended up looking really cool.

MICHAEL: It's always hard to tell, working in VFX and post, not seeing editorial cuts as they evolve, or having the full idea of what the episode is going to play out as, but I think seeing our little piece of it, and the shots as they evolved, I'm quite happy with the way everything came out. I think it's going to lend a lot to [a potential] Season 2, and help give viewers a taste of Christmasland and what might be beyond the next hill going forward in the story.

RON: I would say my big takeaway from all of Christmasland is that, looking back on it, I could not have predicted how complicated and hard it would be to bring that all to life. So when my only task was the roller coaster, I found that frightening because a real roller coaster of any design is a very complicated engineering feat. You have the curves and the dips and hills, they are something that exist because of the forces involved in using gravity to get this car from point A to point B without killing the people inside. All of that had to look right, and it kept changing, so we had to keep re-composing based on the shots.

And then, all of that expanded into adding a ferris wheel and then putting in all of these rides.

MARK: It's a balancing act.

RON: It seemed like it exploded tenfold at that point, because every single ride has a lot of that factoring into it, you know, just the fact that scale is important. When you see an entire theme park, you're looking through layers and layers of complicated design. The viewer will have no idea how complicated it was to make all that stuff look like it was really sitting there, in a 3D space, or even a digital environment. I do think that there was more that went into it than you see in the finished product.

MARK: It was basically just details here and details there, and I think what was interesting about it was that originally, the idea was to do it as a matte painting and it eventually became more of like a 3D setup only because of how large the camera move was, and how many pieces needed to be moving, and just the parallax in general. It was a multi-departmental effort for sure.

RON: I've really never worked on something that complicated in that quick amount of time.

MICHAEL: I'm quite excited to see Episode 7. I've been following along weekly and keeping up with it. I'm actually a fan of the series, and I'm eager to see how things turn out in the final product.

New episodes of NOS4A2 air Sundays on the AMC cable network.


Founded in 2009, CoSA VFX has grown from a small boutique into a thriving visual effects studio with offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Vancouver. The CoSA VFX team has received Emmy nominations and wins for their work on TV series including Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Almost Human, Revolution, and Gotham, and currently provides visual effects for multiple studios, networks and streaming television services.



Craig Byrne
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