Shadow and Bone’s “Grishaverse” created by Leigh Bardugo is a supreme pizza of YA fantasy elements. Three magical factions each have powers to manipulate water, fire, air (the Etherialki), wood, metal, glass, and chemicals (the Materialki), or make jigsaw pieces of the human body (the Corporalki).
So what this entire universe is saying is that everybody who exists in it wields the capabilities of a VFX artist.
Maintaining a darkened shadow world that also felt brooding and alive required a savvy CG presence, one that ended up producing 1,700 VFX shots in the series’ first eight episodes. You don’t have to be someone who writes Shadow and Bone fan fiction to appreciate a well-built fantasy playground, and one can anticipate that showrunner Eric Heisserer will only aspire to escalate the visual wizardry.
Here’s what we might appreciate from the Shadow and Bone VFX in Season Two.
The atmospheric CG-built environments to look for (and to not) based on Leigh Bardugo’s source material
The privateer Sturmhond gives off Russell Crowe in Master and Commander vibes.
Photo credit: Shadow and Bone Twitter
In Season One, the glow-lit, Londonesque city of Ketterdam was established as the haven of the criminal underworld in Shadow and Bone. Ketterdam is like Jack the Ripper’s fantasy island ran up against the Peaky Blinders. In this world, the criminal faction is the suave, steampunk street gang known as the Six of Crows.
Season Two will heavily draw from the second book of the trilogy, “Siege and Storm”, the third book, “Ruin and Rising”, and the Crows companion series, “The Six of Crows Duology”. For the viewer with no background in the book universe, the “Six of Crows Duology” provides a prominent storyline thread that follows the Ketterdam backstories of the magic misfits that make up the Crows. For Season Two, this also means a heavy dose of Wylan the demolitions expert/bomb fiend and the backstory of gang leader Kaz. What will not premiere in this season is the fan-adored piece of espionage that follows the Crows infiltrating the Ice Court.
The Ice Court is both a military stronghold, a prison, and a treasury. What makes it special from a worldbuilding standpoint is that according to the Shadow and Bone fan wiki, is built from “marble so white it almost glowed blue…It was impossible to tell what might be glass or ice or stone.” I imagine the aesthetic translation is like the composition of a White Walker in Game of Thrones but extrapolated out into a moat-surrounded fortress that resembles a magical Norway.
Now, showrunner Eric Heisserer told EW that they will not enact the Six of Crows heist plot in Season Two. But from an environmental viewpoint, there should be a lot to appreciate in the contrasted settings of Season Two. In “Ruin and Rising”, Mal and Alina travel across the True Sea to hide out amidst the coastal/agricultural landscape of Novyi Zem. This will interweave with the amber-hued back alley lamplight feel of the underground of Ketterdam, and then the primary Alina/The Darkling conflict: Alina and Mal are captured by The Darkling and impressed aboard a pirate ship driven by Sturmhond the privateer/hidden heir to Ravka.
Interweaving these storylines will take the viewer on a ride through a series of starkly contrasted ecosystems – Novyi Zem to Ketterdam to the sea-cruising privateer life – each of which has the opportunity to be filled with wonder, or as Shawn Levy put it in a Netflix behind-the-scenes clip:
“Much in the same way that Stranger Things is always character-anchored storytelling against a backdrop of genre, Shadow and Bone is rooted against a backdrop of wonder and adventure and magic and scope.”
The Shadow and Bone Season Two VFX will need to build on an already over-the-top precedent
Photo credit: Shadow and Bone Twitter
“I’d love for it to feel like live-action anime.”
In the same VFX Voice interview, Rae commented on developing a style that had no precedent, and had space to be completely visually outlandish:
The Black Heretic’s creation of The Fold in Episode 107 is probably the most anime effect in the whole season. I’d been wanting to try something visually over-the-top grand and aesthetically ballsy for a while. That three-shot sequence was finally an opportunity to design something outlandishly difficult to sell as convincing.
So, they got to do it up big. It earned strong reviews. Now we arrive at Season Two, and how can Shadow and Bone grow from an aesthetic that has already been established as hyperbolic?
In an interview with Gold Derby, Rae commented on what they might visually expect for Season Two:
My takeaway is that Season 2 is definitely not going to get any smaller. It’s only going to get larger and more spectacular, he says of where the show is headed. I would say if you thought there were some big shots in Season 1, wait until you see Season 2. There is going to be some massive stuff happening.
Vague, sure. So, where might they get more bombastic specifically? The storyline of Season Two will commence with Alina the Sun Summoner embarking on an adventure to find two creatures (“amplifiers”) who can help her destroy The Darkling and bring down the Shadow Fold. According to Collider, The Darkling is supported by a “terrifying new army of seemingly indestructible shadow monsters and fearsome new Grisha recruits”.
So, if they established a grandiose baseline of CG magic in Season One – the doom-glorious rift of the Shadow Fold, the magic fireballs, the seeping tendrils of darkness – Season Two would seem to present a great opportunity to enhance their creature game.
The creatures to look for in Shadow and Bone Season Two
General Kirigan AKA The Darkling (Ben Barnes) with his new battle scars.
Photo credit: Shadow and Bone Twitter
When The Darkling emerges from the Shadow Fold in the Season Two trailer, he brings with him a shadow army known as the nichevo’ya. So immediately, you know there’s going to be a lot of visual playfulness in the fluid, tendril-like movements of these seemingly indestructible shadow creatures.
But part of The Darkling’s storyline is that he’s searching for a power amplifier called The Sea Whip (known as Rusalye in the story lore). In Season One, Ted Rae spoke of how much meticulous detail they had to pour into the amplifier known as The Stag. The Sea Whip, like The Stag, will need to be viscerally impactful – it will be like if your conspiracy theorist neighbor went up to a Scottish lake and got actual live underwater footage of the Loch Ness Monster. Except this monster has universe-altering powers and is” covered with iridescent, shimmering scales with seven golden scales on his forehead” (Siege and Storm” Chapter 3).
DNEG VFX breakdown – Shadow and Bone
From a practical showrunner standpoint, it would make sense for Season Two to end with Alina finding the second amplifier (the Sea Whip). We can speculate that the third season would then drive towards the amplifier creature of The Firebird.
Who’s behind the VFX for Shadow and Bone Season Two and when to watch
While close to a dozen studios worked to conjure the aesthetic for Shadow and Bone in Season One, this season brings in a new fold of talents.
DNEG, the studio that heavily influenced the creation of The Stag in Season One, did not return to contribute to Season Two. The two recurring studios are El Ranchito and Scanline VFX. Bot VFX, Vast, and Crafty Apes have all contributed as vendors in Season Two.
Stream Season Two of Shadow and Bone on Netflix starting at midnight on March 16th.