The North Water

Gritty drama The North Water, released in September 2021, takes viewers on a rousing and bloody Arctic adventure.  

The plot follows Patrick Sumner, a disgraced ex-army surgeon who signs up as ship’s doctor on a whaling expedition to the Arctic. On board he meets Henry Drax, the harpooner, a brutish killer whose amorality has been shaped to fit the harshness of his world. Hoping to escape the horrors of his past, Sumner finds himself on an ill-fated journey with a murderous psychopath. In search of redemption, his story becomes a harsh struggle for survival in the Arctic wasteland.  

Work on The North Water was led by the Cinesite Montreal studio and VFX Supervisor, John Lockwood. Filming began in October 2019 with shooting taking place in the Arctic- the furthest point north any television drama has ever been filmed, requiring the VFX Supervisor to live on set on a boat during filming.

John Lockwood explains, “It was an amazing experience. You were totally isolated with no phone coverage. The people on the boat were the only people that you had contact with. All the boats would go up next to each other. It became a kind of little village with a gangplank between the boats so that people could go from one to the other. It was like a little mini city tied up to the ice in the middle of nowhere.”


Cinesite’s main body of work involved the addition of icebergs and snowy landscapes to Arctic sceneries, gruesome blood work to showcase the ill-fated journey of the characters, a shipwreck sequence as well as creature work involving a seal and whale hunt. Research was conducted in terms of what kind of vessels were used during the 19th century.  With the lack of photographic references available to them, the studio had to use paintings and drawings as reference points.

The most technically challenging of the sequences involved the unusual frame length of the shots. On average the typical frames per shot in productions vary between 100 and 200 whereas the longest shot on The North Water was around 2000 frames per shot; 10 times longer than the norm. This required multiple departments to come together and seamlessly integrate their work. Furthermore, the studio worked on adding snow and water in CG as live action plates were shot up in the Arctic and matte painting was used to tie the shots all together. 

The studio also did creature work on a Greenland whale which was specifically hunted during expeditions due to its slow pace and ease of catch.  The water surrounding the whale during the sequence was shot in a green screen tank in studio which had very high lighting contrasts. Our team had to seamlessly blend this element from the plate into CG which was quite a challenging task. To achieve the final look, the team stitched an environment out of photos to cover the area around the whale. 

The series and VFX work perfectly  achieved the Director’s goal of wanting  to show what a harsh grueling experience that lifestyle was. 

Released on July 15th, 2021, The North Water from AMC – starring Colin Farrell and Jack O’Connell is based on the book of the same name by Ian McGuire.