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Moonraker VFX contributes to new natural history series Nova’s ‘Ancient Earth’ on PBS

New five-part series Ancient Earth from the PBS science series Nova, tells the story of our planet’s four and a half billion-year history with stunning photoreal computer-generated effects. The first episode airs in the US on 4 October at 9 pm ET/8C on PBS. 

Viewers are taken on a journey through Earth’s most compelling moments from the first seconds of the planet’s existence to the modern day.

Each episode encapsulates a distinct and dramatic period of Earth’s evolution, the development of our atmosphere, a global cooling event, the evolution of plant and animal life from single-celled organisms, cataclysmic global events such as huge volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts and finally the arrival of humans and the effect we are having on the planet.

The Ancient Earth series (5×60) is a BBC Studios production with Nova and GBH for PBS and the BBC. Moonraker VFX contributed to around 30 per cent of the final footage—97 minutes, a feature film’s worth—and represents one of the studio’s largest-ever television projects.

Scientific accuracy was the highest priority in the development of the series and the producers of Ancient Earth worked in partnership with The Open University. Over 200 scientists and researchers were consulted on the project. 

Moonraker worked very closely with these scientific advisers who provided guidance on everything from palaeontology and geology to climate.

“This project was challenging. Our VFX work was placed at the heart of the storytelling and needed to be both visually stunning and carry the drama of the narrative, as well as fit seamlessly with the editorial,” said Moonraker co-founder and creative director Simon Clarke.

He shared that they thought a lot about how to convincingly place the audience on a version of Earth, from earlier in its history, that may feel very familiar but look completely different from how it does now. The visual evolution of these landscapes took a lot of hard work and consideration to make sure we got every detail right.

“We contributed to some really demanding shots, like time-lapse scenes of geological events spanning many millions of years, which required huge attention to detail and asset creation.There were also a few firsts. We visualised ancient flora and fauna that had never been imagined in 3D before, paying particular attention to textural details and placing them in their natural habitats. The scientists were astounded with what we came up with,” he added.

It was a phenomenal project and fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the talent and creativity at Moonraker VFX. It was certainly a team effort and they are very grateful to the production teams as well as the scientific advisers who made Ancient Earth possible.