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November 21
2023

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

GENERATING A WHIRLWIND OF WILD EFFECTS FOR BRASH, BRAZEN GEN V

By CHRIS McGOWAN

Images courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios and Sony Pictures Television Studios.

Emma can go tiny or giant. In this scene, big Emma fills an entire swimming pool by herself.

Emma can go tiny or giant. In this scene, big Emma fills an entire swimming pool by herself.

Emma can go tiny or giant. In this scene, big Emma fills an entire swimming pool by herself.

The satirical superhero show The Boys is an unabashedly raunchy and gory streaming hit that has a fourth season on the way. It has spun off another series, Gen V, which doubles down on the outrageous elements of The Boys and is set in the same fictional reality – a present-day world in which some individuals have acquired superpowers from being given “compound V” as children and infants by the Vought Corporation. And for super-powered students who want to learn how to be superheroes, there is Vought’s Godolkin University, where Gen V focuses on a group of hard-partying, sex-seeking students who – while obsessing over their Godolkin rankings – find themselves embroiled in a deadly conspiracy.

Foul-mouth Soldier Boy is struck by lightning in a cameo appearance in Gen V. The spin-off series of The Boys features around 1,350 VFX shots.

Foul-mouth Soldier Boy is struck by lightning in a cameo appearance in Gen V. The spin-off series of The Boys features around 1,350 VFX shots.

Foul-mouth Soldier Boy is struck by lightning in a cameo appearance in Gen V. The spin-off series of The Boys features around 1,350 VFX shots.

The series – from Amazon MGM Studios and Sony Pictures Television Studios – was developed by Craig Rosenberg, Evan Goldberg and Eric Kripke. The cast includes Jaz Sinclair (as Marie Moreau), Chance Perdomo (Andre Anderson), Lizze Broadway (Emma Meyer), Maddie Phillips (Cate Dunlap), Asa Germann (Sam Riordan), Clancy Brown (Richard “Brink” Brinkerhoff) and Patrick Schwarzenegger (Golden Boy). To flesh out the varying superpowers of Gen V’s young superheroes, Visual Effects Supervisor Karen Heston called upon super-talented  visual effects artists from across the globe.

“The stunt and fight team coordinated great choreographic elaborate fight scenes that involved wire work to give the extra oomph. All of that work is practical, and the stunt team did all the flying around in tandem with our talented and adventurous actors and actresses!”

—Karen Heston, Visual Effects Supervisor

Ghost VFX created movements of the eye glasses and hat to make the invisible Maverick come alive.

Ghost VFX created movements of the eye glasses and hat to make the invisible Maverick come alive.

Ghost VFX created movements of the eye glasses and hat to make the invisible Maverick come alive.

“We didn’t have one primary vendor for the show but rather paired a vendor per superpower,” Heston says. “So, Golden Boy [who can set his body on fire] was led by DNEG, Marie’s blood powers were with Rocket Science and Tiny Emma was split between Zoic and Pixomondo.”

“[Sam’s hallucination of battling Muppet-like puppets] was practical and in tandem with knowing that VFX would remove the wires, so they would be free to express themselves to make the puppets act out the scene. VFX had their back to ensure they were taken care of, so they had the freedom to do what they needed. We supported that scene only by adding more glitter [the puppets’ “blood”] to what was already there, because in the world of The Boys [including Gen V] you can never have enough blood, even if it is glitter blood!”

—Karen Heston, Visual Effects Supervisor

Heston continues, “Luma took over some hard-surface vehicle shots that play into Andre’s powers, such as the ambulance sequence and the helicopter sequence. RISE was a part of Cate’s Dream Sequence – another creatively fun challenge to tackle with the disintegrating house and trees – emulating Cate’s deteriorating mental state. RISE did a great job!” In addition, she praises Ghost VFX in Copenhagen for giving a personality to Maverick, who has the power of invisibility.

Size-adjusting Emma, here with roommate Marie, was featured in different shots from normal size to tiny to gigantic. Zoic Studios and Pixomondo shared the VFX.

Size-adjusting Emma, here with roommate Marie, was featured in different shots from normal size to tiny to gigantic. Zoic Studios and Pixomondo shared the VFX.

Size-adjusting Emma, here with roommate Marie, was featured in different shots from normal size to tiny to gigantic. Zoic Studios and Pixomondo shared the VFX.

Gen V has some 1,350 VFX shots. Crafty Apes, Ingenuity Studios and Playfight VFX were among the other contributing vendors. A volume stage was not used, and greenscreen work was employed selectively as a last resort. “We leaned into as much practical as possible. The set design was fantastic!” Heston remarks. For a sex scene with a miniaturized Emma interacting with a normal-sized lover and a scene of her killing a guard by entering his ear and head, outlandish props and prosthetics were required. “Production built a giant ear, for example, for Emma, and even a giant [five-foot] penis!” Heston adds.

Throughout the series, there were many bodies and/or objects hurled through the air that required stunts and special effects. “Oh yeah,” Heston enthuses. “The stunt and fight team coordinated great choreographic elaborate fight scenes that involved wire work to give the extra oomph. All of that work is practical, and the stunt team did all the flying around in tandem with our talented and adventurous actors and actresses!”

Sam’s hallucination of battling Muppet-like puppets “was practical and in tandem with knowing that VFX would remove the wires, so they would be free to express themselves to make the puppets act out the scene,” Heston explains. “VFX had their back to ensure they were taken care of, so they had the freedom to do what they needed. We supported that scene only by adding more glitter [the puppets’ “blood”] to what was already there, because in the world of The Boys [including Gen V] you can never have enough blood, even if it is glitter blood!”

Finding the look and feel of Marie's blood powers, which included wielding her own blood as a deadly weapon, was driven by her personal journey and character arc established from The Boys. Rocket Science VFX developed Marie’s blood powers.

Finding the look and feel of Marie's blood powers, which included wielding her own blood as a deadly weapon, was driven by her personal journey and character arc established from The Boys. Rocket Science VFX developed Marie’s blood powers.

Finding the look and feel of Marie’s blood powers, which included wielding her own blood as a deadly weapon, was driven by her personal journey and character arc established from The Boys. Rocket Science VFX developed Marie’s blood powers.

Marie can weaponize her own blood, such as by wielding it as a deadly tendril. Rocket Science VFX’s work on Marie’s blood powers “went through many different iterations and creative arcs,” Heston notes. “After much exploration, we went with what is always most successful – leaning into the story. For VFX artists in general, and The Boys universe specifically, story is the main driver for the need for enhanced visual effects. So, with Marie, finding the look and feel of her blood powers was driven by her story. Her personal journey and character arc were emulated in how her blood powers throughout the show come about.”

In Episode 101, as Marie is still learning her powers and getting her footing in the show, “we see her show up in the messy blood splatter that flies off the tendrils,” says Heston, who adds, “Later, as she finds more confidence and more footing in her journey, the [tendrils] become cleaner and more powerful, leading to our final sequence where she can yield the blood shards. So, we wanted them to have their arc as she finds herself. FX and CG artists led by Adam Jewett at Rocket Science were directed to pull this work off for Marie, and it turned into an eerily beautiful effect once we were done with it.”

“We see [Marie] show up in the messy blood splatter that flies off the tendrils. Later, as she finds more confidence and more footing in her journey, the [tendrils] become cleaner and more powerful, leading to our final sequence where she can yield the blood shards. So, we wanted them to have their arc as she finds herself. FX and CG artists led by Adam Jewett at Rocket Science were directed to pull this work off for Marie, and it turned into an eerily beautiful effect once we were done with it.”

—Karen Heston, Visual Effects Supervisor

“Like Marie, Golden Boy had his own creative journey to land his powers. For the initial intro to his powers, he is fighting confidently with Incredible Steve [played by Warren Scherer], so for that fire we wanted it to be a little more upbeat, and we laid into the bright solar flares and played that up,” Heston explains. “Then, as he becomes unstable and is coming off the killing of Brink and about to kill himself, his flames become more chaotic, and we introduce the contrast of black smoke more in these following sequences.”

Heston continues, “The FX sims in the hallway and leading up to his explosion were all by design supporting his character arc and his story. This was in collaboration with the creative direction of Andrew Simmonds [VFX Supervisor] at DNEG. He was my partner in crime at DNEG to get this high-level work looking not only consistent, but rad! It was Stephan Fleet’s and [my] goal to deliver a fresh new take to the ‘fire guy’ we have all seen before in the likes of Extremis and Flash, and I think we did that!” Fleet was VFX Supervisor for The Boys and Co-Producer of Gen V.

To introduce Golden Boy, who can set his body on fire, bright solar flares were used to evoke an upbeat entrance. As he becomes unstable, his flames become more chaotic. DNEG created the fire effects.

To introduce Golden Boy, who can set his body on fire, bright solar flares were used to evoke an upbeat entrance. As he becomes unstable, his flames become more chaotic. DNEG created the fire effects.

To introduce Golden Boy, who can set his body on fire, bright solar flares were used to evoke an upbeat entrance. As he becomes unstable, his flames become more chaotic. DNEG created the fire effects.

The invisibility-powered Maverick (Nicholas Hamilton) was an entertaining character to work on, according to Heston. Ghost VFX “took that on as their own and had their animators put in the extra sauce” that made Maverick into an individual, Heston says. “Being that Maverick is just a hat and glasses, I decided to add more personality to the animation passes. We decided to play up the facial gestures such as scrunching your nose or subtle glasses adjustments, wiggling to the hat, etc.” These typically subtle gestures were given a lot more movement than usual so that one can ‘see’ that it’s Maverick.

Emma, with her shrinking/growing powers, was featured in many different types of shots, from normal in size to tiny to gigantic. “The Emma penis scene [where she is diminutive] was one of those moments where you’re both amazed and chuckling at the same time. Pixomondo absolutely nailed it!” Heston says.

Production built a giant ear for Emma to enter a guard’s head and exit out the other side.

Production built a giant ear for Emma to enter a guard’s head and exit out the other side.

Production built a giant ear for Emma to enter a guard’s head and exit out the other side.

“The main ingredient that made tiny Emma shine and feel “big” early on were some lessons learned from The Boys,” Heston reveals. “This was a particular instance where it was beneficial to have Stephen Fleet come on to shed light on his experience on keeping the tone of The Boys universe in our show. Any The Boys fan can guess I am talking about lessons from the beloved Termite [Brett Geddes]. So right away, we knew some key VFX ingredients would be the need for some dust particulates as well as some defocus used selectively as well.” Some other specific The Boys tricks of the trade that made Termite shine in The Boys were applied to both Tiny and Big Emma.

“Like Marie, Golden Boy had his own creative journey to land his powers. For the initial intro to his powers, he is fighting confidently with Incredible Steve [played by Warren Scherer], so for that fire we wanted it to be a little more upbeat, and we laid into the bright solar flares and played that up. Then, as he becomes unstable and is coming off the killing of Brink and about to kill himself, his flames become more chaotic, and we introduce the contrast of black smoke more in these following sequences.”

—Karen Heston, Visual Effects Supervisor

It was a big job to lead a team of artists across many vendors around the world, according to Heston. “That challenge was met with grace amongst our VFX producing team, including Sean Tompkins and Rebecca Burnett, who helped to drive the series home. It is difficult to unify such a large team across many time zones, but I couldn’t have asked for better partners to keep the positive vibes high during crunch time. I couldn’t have done it without them and all of the VFX artists and talent in our rather big Emma-sized Gen V VFX team.”

On her experience with the series, which has been renewed for a second season, Heston says, “When I got the call for Gen V, I was already a huge fan of The Boys. Let’s just say it’s not a show you watch with your squeamish friends, right? To sum it all up, working on Gen V was a whirlwind of creativity, challenges and much fun.”


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