CG bugs are just one of the effects we created for Too Close, ITV’s three-part psychological drama. It’s a story of Connie (Denise Gough), a young mother struggling with psychosis and her relationship with Dr Robertson (Emily Watson) a psychotherapist in crisis, tasked with assessing the high-profile client dubbed ‘The Yummy Mummy Monster’. The scope of work, among other things, was to bring these delusional episodes to life in a way that felt realistic but also disturbing enough to pack a visual and emotive response to aid the narrative. Here we detail how we brought the cockroaches to life. 

Read the overview of our work on the show, here.

One of the first delusions Connie experiences is a swarm of bugs crawling over her legs and body. Given the abstract nature of the effect, we first opted to generate style frames for the creative team during the preproduction phase. This was a quick and iterative process using traditional illustration techniques to quickly give the director an idea of how the effect might look and also aid both the production and Lexhag on how to capture the effect on the day. After a few rounds of collaboration with the director, we settled on a style frame like the one below.

Watch the VFX breakdowns here.

Pre-visualisation cockroaches on the an actors legs for ITV's Too Close developed as a concept before creating the CG bugs.

Informed largely by the concept phase of production, the director opted to use a head-mounted POV camera strapped to Denise’ head to push the fact that this delusion was all in Connie’s mind.

Head-mounted POV camera strapped to the lead actor to capture the delusions from the actors position.

Combined with a wide lens, this produced a POV-style shot as below, conveying to the audience that what we are seeing on screen is from her perspective. 

POV style show conveying what the lead character can see of her legs.

For us to combine the camera footage, and our CG bugs, we needed to ‘reverse engineer’ the camera type, lens, and movement. Once that was complete, we employed a process called rotomation. This involves matching up proxy CG geometry of Connie’s body to match their in-shot counterparts when viewed through the camera. 

Once this tracking process was complete we were then able to add CG bugs into the shots which would line up perfectly with real legs/arms for the final shots. This step was a two-stage process. First, the bugs were modelled and then handed off to the animation department to start animating the crawl movements in and around Connie’s legs. Once complete, these animation passes were then presented to the client without any textures on them (known as greyscales) to sign off for overall movement and positioning. Greyscales are used at this stage as they eliminate the need to render out fully lit and textured assets, reducing the time between iterations considerably and speeding up the creative process.

VFX Greyscales or animation passes of the lead character's legs to demonstrate overall movement and positioning for final sign off before final renders are produced.

At the same time the animations were being generated and approved, the CG bugs were also being textured and lit. Reference was taken from cockroach species native to the UK and matched to on the CG bugs. An HDR (high dynamic range) image was captured on set at the time of shooting which meant we could light the CG with a sympathetic setup. This process means the reflections, tone and light-source positions match the actual room Connie was in.

Passes of animated CG bugs complete with texturing and lighting.

Once the animation passes had been signed off, the CG dept was then able to generate CG passes of the animated bugs complete with texturing and lighting. These were supplied to the comp dept as multipass EXR sequences meaning that each EXR frame had multiple lighting passes (diffuse, specular, ambient occlusion) that the comp team then manipulated, all from the same file, increasing both speed and freeing up storage space.

See more examples of CG bugs we’ve created, here.

In order to bed the CG into the shot and create a realistic effect, elements such as motion blur and shadowing tweaks were added to the final shot. Along with rotoscoping Connie’s fingers/hand moving over the bugs to make it look like they were crawling on her leg and arms. After completing the above tasks for each shot, a full sequence was then delivered to the client which, along with sound design elements added later in post, produced a disturbing sequence that pulled the viewer further into the world of Connie’s psychosis.

See more examples of the visual effects we created for ITV’s Too Close, here.

Final VFX comp of the cockroach scene in ITV's Too Close which show CG bugs moving all over the lead character's body.