BBC Three’s I Survived A Zombie Apocalypse is a reality game show which was filmed in an abandoned shopping centre in West Calder, Scotland. The Production Company, Tiger Aspect contracted Glasgow based post-production facilities to polish off the 8-part series. Central Station got in touch with ISO, Serious and Savalas to find out more…
Serious Facilities, established in 1998 are a TV Post Production Facility based in FilmCity Glasgow. They on-set data managed, edited and worked on the final post on this series for Tiger Aspect and BBC Three.
How did you come up with the colour palette for the series?
We were given a few references, it was to be as cinematic as possible, the exec loved the look of Utopia so we tried to give it a strong and defined look and feel.
What did you enjoy most about working on the zombie series?
It was a hugely ambitious and challenging show. They had cameras running 24hrs a day and the sheer volume of footage required a very rigid and well thought out management plan. The editing process worked really well as we utilised our new Interplay system, this allowed edit producers access to stream all rushes from our server via an internet browser both when in the facility and externally as well as all the loggers and execs. What was really great was to see a show like this being made in Scotland and for a very large group of talented individuals join to form an amazing team and produce something really quite epic.
What are you working on now?
We are in post with Iain Banks’s Stonemouth for BBC Scotland and Slate Films.
Content Design and development studio, ISO create digital media, interactive software and immersive installations. They are responsible for the show’s opening title sequence and in-programme graphics.
The titles use a wide variety of techniques, how did the design evolve.
The zombie genre is a well trodden path with multiple films, TV series, books, comics and games out there. We looked at a broad cross section identifying five or six approaches or themes from the different genres, things like infection, backstory, survival techniques or game graphics. For the pitch, we worked up three or four thematic ideas into sequences. The treatments covered a wide rage of visual techniques from animation, live action, graphics and CGI. Tiger and the BBC wanted to explore a couple of the approaches we suggested and they liked the idea of wrapping the titles and the backstory into one sequence in keeping with classic films of this genre. So the final title design was a combination of treatments mixed with specially shot BBC news room footage, animated newspaper headlines, old news archive, fake science experts and social media streams.
Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘ZombieVision’ you created?
Tiger Aspect commissioned a writer to come up with a backstory to the zombie outbreak; everything from how the infection started, to the gestation period of a zombie and how the pandemic infected the nation. This was used as the bible for the directors and producers when making the programme. We built up our ‘ZombieVision’ from elements within the backstory. The infection or mutation was unique for the zombie genre as it was caused by a digital signal rather than biological infection. We represented this by filming the zombies using the RGB+D depth kit which combines a 5D SLR camera calibrated with an infrared sensor form a kinect games console. When combined, it maps the moving image into the depth data from the kinect sensor and the results look like a mutated video signal. In the final composite the data was combined with various other effects in After Effects.
The tongue-in-cheek ’public service broadcasts’ contrast well with the 3D kinect images. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
As well as supplying titles and in-programme graphics, we were also commissioned to make twelve one to two minute stand alone films. These were made to look and feel like public service information films, with a dash of added humour. Stylistically we wanted them to feel quite simple and functional, a bit of an antidote to the polished digital look of the titles. The final films were a combination of green screen filmed zombies and animated illustrations.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
We’re just finishing some animated period reconstructions for a prison museum in Lincoln, as well as a series of short films for Ikea.
Savalas is Scotland’s largest audio post-production facility, with the UK’s first Dolby Premier mix theatre. They created the chilling sound design for the show.
Did you listen to anything in particular for inspiration or reference as a starting point before creating the sound design and effects?
Zombies have been popular in film and TV recently so there has been a wealth of styles to listen to and take inspiration from. The Walking Dead has been our main reference point in terms of recording the zombie vocal performance; creating that guttural, back of the throat sound that’s deeply disturbing but is still identifiable as human.
Video games such as The Last of Us and Dead Space have made particularly good use of vocal processing effects and they’re steeped in gory detail. These references have been good to listen to when the show calls for something a little more twisted.
What kind of instruments,electronics and/or objects did you use?
Before the show was filmed we took a trip to the set and recorded a lot of effects such as chains, scrapes and fence rattling. This also allowed us to record some zombie vocals within the spaces which we could add in later to build up the zombie horde.
We captured the reverbs of the spaces using an impulse response technique. This involves setting up a microphone and speaker in each location, then playing a long sweeping tone through the speaker that we record in the space. A computer program then decodes the data from that recording when we return to the studio. The captured reverb can then be used to make the zombies we add in sound like they’re in that room or in the distant streets.
For the titles and graphics in the show we used digital instruments such as Native Instruments’ Reaktor and Absynth. These allowed for the creation of interesting whooshes and electronic effects. The public service announcements throughout the show all have elements digitally created through the use of these instruments.
The sounds can become pretty dramatic at times. How do you balance these out, keeping the individual tracks audible?
The zombie groups can become chaotic and while we wanted them to feel overwhelming, the key is to spotlight each individual zombie closeup to make them feel threatening. To achieve this we created zombie crowd sounds which work as a background effect. From there we can focus in on the close up zombies and add more expressive detail to their attacks and groans.
The show is mixed to the R128 loudness standard which means that we can allow the big moments to jump out at the viewer. Use of dynamic range is particularly important in horror; it allows suspense building through the quiet scenes and makes the big events more impactful.
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