Pennyworth: Inside The VFX of "Martha Kane" & "Lady Penelope"

EPIX aired two episodes of their summer spy drama Pennyworth earlier this week, bringing more intrigue for Batman's future butler while at the same time creating new visual challenges for CoSA VFX to tackle.

For the episodes "Martha Kane" and "Lady Penelope," we spoke with Co-VFX Supervisor Nick Lund-Ulrich about some key sequences… starting with creating elements that make ordinary things look a bit more extraordinary.

"[Executive Producer] Danny Cannon had this idea of '13 Degrees of Weird' where we can put things in shots to make things just feel weird and different, and not quite the London that we know," Lund-Ulrich explained when talking about a shot with several added flourishes. "This [the image seen below] was a prime example. It's a standard establishing shot of a car going by, but we added the CG windmill, and then the CG scarecrow. When people are watching this, it is not immediately evident that something's off, but if they do notice that, they may kind of just wonder 'what's going on?' It's just kind of an odd thing to see, but I hope our work's good enough that there's no question that this stuff is real."

Scarecrows, of course, play an important role in Batman lore. CoSA Visual Effects Supervisor Tom Mahoney suggested the scarecrow — evocative of the famed Batman villain, and a perfect tie-in to the ravens and crows throughout the show - and the windmill was the brainchild of Danny Cannon.
And yes, things may get a bit weirder. "I think they just slowly ease people into this world, and then as it goes on, just more and more stuff are added," Nick recalled.

The biggest sequence in the show's third episode involves an airway — and as per usual, the Pennyworth team delivered on finding great locations… even though this particular location required some VFX magic.

"In Episode 3, there was a plane that is landing to try to rescue some scientists," Nick recalled. "We had to work with the on-set people as well as our internal group because they had did have a practical plane — a real plane — with a challenge: It couldn't land due to the conditions of the runway, [but] it could fly close to the ground. For landing, we had a different runway, so there were a lot of moving pieces in the sequence that we had to put all together, to essentially fuse two different runways."

Duplicating a plane wasn't the only challenge — for one shot, filmed in the day, it had to be turned into night, and the VFX team had to make it match the rest of the sequence.

"It was a real plane; however, the lights were all CG, and the fire was [mostly] CG, with a tiny bit  of real life. However, we had to make it interactive, so we built the plane so we could do the interactive lighting," Lund-Ulrich shared. "The team mixed and matched different elements to make it work, and in one sequence, it is entirely just a computer generated plane, and it is very integral that the audience cannot tell the difference. That's very important for this whole sequence, to really make it feel as seamless as possible," he continued. The team also had to replace the deep background to make the airfield seem more isolated and then "cheated" with fake "moonlight" for more visibility and brightness.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, one thing CoSA did not have a lot to do with in this sequence was the exploding truck near the end. While CoSA VFX did add some flourishes, that moment was mostly done practically.

"They shot a lot of stuff practically, and it looked great," Lund-Ulrich said, praising the Pennyworth production team. "They definitely did that. They actually had the truck. They blew the truck up. We didn't have to do anything with that, because it looked great. It was a practical explosion, and they did a great job. We just needed to fill in fire for continuity," he explained.


If you're not caught up on Pennyworth beware of SPOILERS below!

Another important sequence in Pennyworth Episode 3 includes Lord Harwood's nose… or lack thereof.

"After being left for dead in the very last shot of [the episode] you find out that Lord Harwood is still alive, and he has been horribly mutilated. Not only is his nose been removed, but we removed his feet as well," Nick explained. "Originally, he had tracking markers on his face and his nose was painted green. We don't necessarily need the nose painted green, but it helps to see the delineation."

For Harwood's new look, "it was really important that it looks really grotesque," Nick said. "The director, the client, and us internally, we wanted to make something that really is kind of skin-crawling. We looked at a lot of references of actual removed noses. We wanted it to feel like there is a hole in his face. Ultimately, it was a combination of getting the CG lighting to be correct inside the nose as well as the match-move to really get to feel that depth inside there."

Pennyworth airs Sundays on EPIX.


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
Publicist/Social Media Manager
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.