Filmmakers Use Special Effects To Bring Back Ice Age Animals
Filmmakers Use Special Effects To Bring Back Ice Age Animals
By Robin Bicknell, Director  

The Nature of Things documentary, Ice Bridge tells the story of an ancient people, known as the Solutreans, who lived 20,000 years ago and the scientists who believe these ancient people made an epic journey western Eurasia (now called Europe) from across the icy north Atlantic to the east coast of North America.

During the most recent Ice Age, the world looked utterly different.  The landscapes of Ancient Europe and North America were engulfed in ice and inhabited by giant beasts that no longer exist. In Ice Bridge we wanted to bring this ancient Ice Age world alive by digitally recreating some of the incredible animals that roamed North America during the time.

Ice Bridge
From Dire Wolves to Giant Bears: Meet The North American Animals of the Ice Age

First, we had to decide which creatures we should bring back to life on film.  After consulting with vertebrate palaeontology and archaeology specialists, we decided to recreate ancient beasts not normally depicted in films or television.  From the large selection of avian and megafauna, we settled on: the Arctodus simus (North American Short Faced Bear), the Megalonyx jeffersonii (North American Jefferson Ground Sloth), the Panthera leo atrox (American Cave Lion) and the Pinguinus impennis (Great Auk).

Creating the storyboards

The first step was to create storyboards that depicted the action scenes between our actors and the ancient beasts. We worked with experts to learn how these animals would have looked and how they might have behaved in the wild. Each scene was approved by Dr. Russell Graham, a vertebrate palaeontologist from Pennsylvania State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Dr. Dennis Stanford from the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History in Washington to be accurate according to archeological records.

animal storyboards

Once the animal storyboard scenes were approved, internationally renowned paleofauna 3D modelling specialist, Massimo Righi, jumped at the opportunity to digitally recreate for the first time, four of North America’s unique megafauna. Working from academic literature, under the direction from our experts and using behavioural and structural examples from current descendent animal cousins, this meticulous process took over two months to ensure an authentic virtual representation of these majestic beasts.

Filming the live action scenes

In late March of 2017, the team filmed the backgrounds that these animals would exist in.  The dramatic recreations were filmed in the Bruce Peninsula, with VFX supervisor, Cash B. Lim, who ensured that the proper lighting conditions, camera equipment,  and atmospheric conditions were recorded.  The actors did an amazing job of reacting animals they have never seen, imagined, and that were not in the scene. Great care was taken to ensure that their eye lines were correct and allowed for the correct height of the beasts. This further enhanced the realistic feel of the film that we worked hard to achieve.

The Bruce Peninsula was selected as our live-action filming location because of the sparse exposed rock, the cold and the expansive rugged shoreline that was used to double for the Atlantic Ice Bridge. 

recreated animals

Stitching it together in the edit suite

Over the next five months, a dedicated team of VFX animators, lighters, compositors, technical directors and editors worked diligently to integrate the megafauna into the super high-resolution backdrops that were filmed. Great care and effort were taken to ensure that the very complex 3D assets were integrated within the scenes, whether on their own or with our live action actors.

Here’s What We Know About The Solutreans, Early Ice Age Humans

The amazing work of the VFX team helps bring to life a world that has been lost to time. It was a unique opportunity to bring to life four very special beasts!