Over the past year, we’ve been celebrating the talented team at Flipbook Studio with our INSIDE Flipbook editorial series, highlighting the incredible individuals that make our work possible. This year, we’ve decided to expand this series and feature some of our long-standing partners in film, VFX and more.
In this edition, we sat down with Sue Land, VFX Supervisor and Producer for the hugely popular kids TV series on BBC, The Worst Witch – this is a great read for any major fans of the series.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? When did you begin your career in VFX? What is your current role?
I started out as a Graphic Designer working for Thames TV in the early 80s and very quickly migrated onto visual effects, and with the introduction of computers into the industry, it meant there was suddenly a huge leap in what could be achieved for the small screen.
From there, I moved on to working in facilities in London, Wales and Manchester using Quantel kit and then Flame and worked on projects as diverse as Music promos, Natural History and Dramas. My current role is VFX Supervisor and Producer which I have been doing for a fair few years now and in that capacity have worked mainly on long-form dramas like Doctor Who and most recently Worst Witch.
Can you tell us about your experience working on the Worst Witch?
It was a four year rollercoaster of fun. So many creative and technical problems had to be solved and in a relatively short period of time. This included how the magic would look, how to get a cat ride on a broomstick, how to achieve the flying sequences and all within the very tight filming schedule that Children’s TV often has.
We were only able to do all this with the complete co-operation of every department and some really out of the box thinking, SFX worked with VFX, which worked with costume, which worked with production design etc. All to work our way through some very challenging scripts.
How did the TV adaptation of the series come about?
I’m not completely sure of what led to this iteration of Worst Witch. There had been a successful series on ITV and a film some years before. In this adaptation, the aim was to stick as closely to the books but also bring them up to date. Jill Murphy, the author of the books, was involved with this series which was an honour.
What was it like working with Flipbook Studio on The Worst Witch?
Choosing a VFX provider to work with the in-house VFX crew is a major decision and is important to the successful outcome of the series. Flipbook embraced the Worst Witch ethos and were incredibly flexible throughout their two series with us.
Are there any standout effects from the Worst Witch that you particularly liked?
That’s a really hard question to answer. As we did approximately 1600 effects per series there is a lot to choose from. Some were very adventurous sequences like the fight between the snake and the eagle in series 3, others were just a single shot, for example when Miss Cackle is shattered into a million pieces by Mildred – every witch has her off day.
My personal favourite is the flying sequences, particularly when Ethel is chasing Mildred at the start because she thinks she sees a dog in Mildred’s backpack, and of course, The Cackle Run.
How were practical and visual effects successfully merged together in the show?
Normally, the SFX is within the Art Department, however, right from the start, the decision was taken for the SFX to come under the VFX umbrella. This was outsourced to Quicksilver SFX, who, like Flipbook, entered the witching world with bags of enthusiasm and creativity. As much as possible was done in-camera with VFX taking over when required. So for example, flying tubes of paint were CG but when they squirted paint all over Mildred’s Mum, this was done practically with a special rig built to deliver simultaneously 5 jets of multicoloured paint directly at her. Broomstick flying rigs were also designed to behave in a way that matched the behaviour of the CG brooms and witches.
Do you have any advice for aspiring VFX professionals?
The simple answer is whatever you do, do it well, keep it simple and choose to do something you have a passion for. VFX like any profession is hard work but if, like me, it is also your hobby then you spend every day never feeling like you are working. This love and passion for your work will come across, and even though you are starting out in your career it will show possible employers your potential.