Today the city of Nottingham is a busy metropolitan centre, but it’s also known as the fictional home of Robin Hood, one of the world’s most famous outlaws. When the filmmakers behind 2018’s Robin Hood looked to recreate the fictional city, they needed to build it from scratch with the help of London’s Cinesite Studio.
Working closely with VFX supervisor Simon Stanley-Clamp and director Otto Bathurst, Cinesite created a handful of the film’s settings, starting with a digital model of Nottingham, which was built to scale. With its modern look and feel, contemporary Nottingham wouldn’t do, so the team used Dubrovnik, Croatia as a template. The city, which fans may recognise as Game of Thrones’ Kings Landing, is a popular location for historical fiction, thanks to its vast stone walls and medieval structures.
“Robin’s Nottingham is a teeming industrial city dominated by global influences, politics and religion. It’s also full of posh grandeur, but populated by soot-choked mines and sprawling slums reflecting the gap between haves and have-nots, and we needed to establish that at a glance for audiences,” says Cinesite’s head of assets, Tim Potter. “With so many buildings making up the city, the Substance Suite allowed us to achieve the many variations and looks that were required for the large city of Nottingham in a very quick and easy manner.”
After using Maya for the builds and ZBrush for sculpting and displacement, the VFX team then relied on Allegorithmic’s Substance Designer to customise the city, creating detailed materials that would give life and personality to the wood and stone structures. Dirt, dust and grime, were added to RGB channels over the textures to add wear and tear to the environment. Once the models and layouts were finalised, Cinesite added even more intricate details using Substance Painter.
At its peak, Cinesite had around 145 artists working on the project, including a team of ten dedicated to texturing and lookdev. Six months were spent creating the reimagined Nottingham, with an extra three months for additional scenes. Although the city of Dubrovnik inspired many of the design choices, a massive cathedral had to be created from scratch for a pivotal point in the story. For this Cinesite took inspiration from several churches around the world to create something with a unique brutalist feel.
The team was also responsible for Robin’s childhood home of Loxley Manor, which was loosely based on a real structure in Završje, Croatia. Two versions of the manor were created, one showing the Loxley family in better times, and another after years of neglect. Cinesite helped to create one of the film’s most integral and complex sequences in the action-packed wagon chase through Nottingham. The scene was too dangerous for real animals, meaning Cinesite had to create the textures of the horse and its groom, along with the CFX and rigging.
As Substance Painter and Designer have continued to evolve Cinesite’s use of it has steadily increased. Using various layers, the Substance Suite gives artists the ability to make changes to models or UVs without having to constantly refine textures, while keeping the maps live and unbaked.
“To create the world that the filmmakers wanted, we started by going through the process of understanding the story. From there we saw what the production had filmed and where the action needed to take place within the city, then we went about creating something unique,” says Potter. “The scale was massive, but the end result is a realistic world that will feel somewhat familiar, and yet still offer plenty of surprises.”
Robin Hood was released on home media on 19th February, 2019.