“The Boys” (from Amazon Prime Video) broadened its subversive superhero appeal in Season 2, coming away with hard-won Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. However, its first Emmy nod for Special Visual Effects was practically undeniable, given the cringe-inducing effectiveness of its grotesque spectacle.
While Episode 3’s speedboat chase through a gigantic whale (with CG courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic) has gained the most attention, the most challenging and hideous VFX can be found in Episode 6 (“The Bloody Doors Off”). That’s where Frenchie (Tomer Capone), M.M. (Laz Alonso), and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) infiltrate the Vought-run mental institution, Sage Grove, and discover that the inmates are being pumped with Compound V to fix their defective superpowers.
Stephan Fleet, the VFX supervisor, was given carte blanche for designing the superpowers of all the inmates, which was both a curse and a blessing since, for realism’s sake, he had to go through all the same pains of R&D that were demanded for Homelander’s (Antony Starr) laser blast and Stormfront’s (Aya Cash) charged plasma powers in Season 2.
“There was a series of events that led up to this [being the most challenging episode],” Fleet said. “First, schedule wise, it was shortly after we filmed the whale [episode]. So it was in the shadow of the whale, so to speak. Second, the location [of the institution] was near London, Ontario, about three hours away from Toronto. So it was a physical beast to get there. Third, and most important, it’s an episode with a bunch of one-off super powers and VFX gags. All the supes in their cells: Lamplighter’s [Shawn Ashmore] first fire blast, Cindy, the Squeezer, Love Sausage, Acid Man, the guy that blasts the van…”
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They used an actual mental institution to serve as Sage Grove, and Fleet was tasked with pitching concepts to showrunner Eric Kripke and director Sarah Boyd. There were nearly two dozen, of which about 10 made the final cut. One of the rejects was a guy who regurgitates his intestines. Fleet then served as second unit director in charge of shooting the array of prisoners in cells on display in the surveillance room. Those were shot back and forth between two cells for about 12 hours with a GoPro.
“And then, of course, we had to do the visual effects on a lot of these shots,” he said. “We wanted to go for the scares and the pain that they’re in. One of the coolest was a girl who glitches out the monitor when her eyes glow.”
Definitely the most disgusting effect was Acid Man. The special effects team crafted fake vomit out of a vegan jell. “So we ran a tube up to the guy’s mouth and he shoots fake vomit on this fake sandwich,” said Fleet. When the power is unleashed on others, the CG enhanced acid effect becomes deadly.
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For the Squeezer, who blows up a guy like a squeezed toothpaste container, they also used a combination of effects. The special effects team created a “blood lollipop,” which splatters fake blood at 360 degrees that they photograph. “She’s on a green screen and we have a stunt guy who does some action and falls to the ground,” said Fleet. “We scan him in CG to manipulate his performance and they explode the ‘blood lollipop’ on the wall blended with some CG blood.”
But the centerpiece was Love Sausage, the 15-foot tentacle-like penis that nearly strangles M.M. To set it up, they stuck a tube in his pants with some CG enhancement when he first wakes up. “It’s legibility,” Fleet said. “You need to know what it is, but it also needs to be believable.” For the full effect, the CG penis (made by Rhythm & Hues) crashes through the glass, wraps around M.M.’s neck, and slides up the supe’s leg. “There’s only one shot at the very end that is not CG, when it is sliding up his leg [requiring a special rig for pulling a string].”
“It’s inanimate and we needed to create this thing that was aggressive,” Fleet said. “We needed to have details of male anatomy and it was gross, monstrous. Skin is one of the most uncanny valley situations, and we needed a lot of camera shakes to help sell the gag. It was definitely the most difficult piece to do. It’s a giant dick monster, but, while shooting it, you have to treat it like an actual monster. As far as I know, it’s something that has never been done in visual effects.”