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‘The Boys’: Building a Down-to-Earth World for Outrageous Superhero Antics

Watch how costumes, stunts and visual effects shape the authenticity in the gritty, dark and sometimes deranged series.

Karl Urban in The Boys

courtesy of Prime Video

The Boys” is undeniably captivating — the Prime Video adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s satirical superhero comic can be filthy, violent, irreverent and hilarious all at once. But the ongoing conflict between the show’s titular vigilantes and the “Supes” backed by malevolent conglomerate Vought International also keeps viewers transfixed with a layered narrative grounded in a relatable reality. It’s enough to make you forget that these flawed characters are wearing capes — even in the midst of all the kickass superhero action.

The challenge of “The Boys” is in creating an elaborate world that infuses its shock and awe with swirling drama and honest character motivation. In the videos below, visual effects supervisor Stephan Fleet, stunt coordinator John Koyama, and costume designers Laura Jean Shannon and Michael Ground describe how a world with endless possibilities is better off when its dildo brawls, hallucinated pizza parlor mascots, and explosive sex acts are rooted in authenticity.

The VFX Of “The Boys”

With each season, the spectacle of “The Boys” has grown to new shocking levels. Visual effects supervisor Stephan Fleet and his team created a myriad of eye-opening moments in Season 3, none more jaw-dropping than a scene where an Ant-Man-like Supe named Termite (Brett Geddes) inadvertently explodes out of his lover’s (Bruce Langley) penis. “Weirdly, that scene has the most amount of research both creatively and technically for me,” Fleet told IndieWire. “I didn’t want to mess up the miniature shooting and scaling of it, so I researched the crap out of it.” The scene begins when Termite’s boyfriend says “I want you inside me.” But in perfect “The Boys” fashion, it takes a left turn and Termite shrinks down small enough to arouse the man from inside his genitalia. As he makes his way in, Termite sneezes, causing him to revert to normal size — reducing his partner to a bloody mess.

A detailed previs was required to pull the sequence off, and Fleet scanned the location using the Polycam app to determine the proper size and scale of the props — cigarettes, cocaine, and poppers among them. Fleet devised a number of complex maps and charts to accurately mimic the miniature environment, and through his research, he found using a shallow depth of field during those moments would be accurate and real. “We made the right artistic choice at the sacrifice of some of the details but the details are there and that’s what’s important,” he said. To produce the exploding boyfriend, plate work was combined with locked-off shots and a number of prosthetic body doubles crafted by prosthetics coordinator Zane Knisely. An exploding blood bag laid the groundwork for the fountain of blood visual effects later embellished. “It’s a little fantastical but every time we showed it, it got a big laugh and it works,” he said. “It was a real collaboration between prosthetics, stunts, special effects, visual effects, set decoration and props.” Watch the video above to see how this and other awe-inspiring effects sequences — like Soldier Boy’s (Jensen Ackles) radioactive energy blasts and Black Noir’s (Nathan Mitchell) animated backstory — were created.

The Stunts Of “The Boys”

Stunt coordinator John Koyama told IndieWire that research, development, and previs are the key ingredients to the viciously prodigious and wildly entertaining action sequences in “The Boys.” But so are story and character, which are the guiding lights for fight scene choreography that’s tailored to each character, their emotional journey, and the abilities of the actor playing them. Take the dildo fight sequence in “Glorious Five Year Plan,” for example, in which Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) nonchalantly eliminates her enemies one by one in a ballet of precision hand-to-hand-to-sex toy combat. The camera catches her begrudging yet calm demeanor while revealing each kill with maximum visceral and comic flavor – a signature visual aesthetic in the series. Koyama said he considered “what she’s going through, what she’s been through and what she’s about to go through” in creating the merciless moment. “Our goal is to never compromise when it comes to an important [emotional] beat or storytelling moment,” he said.

The mantra bleeds into every facet of the stunts. In “Herogasm,” Homelander (Antony Starr) forgoes his usual laser-vision tactics to fight Billy (Karl Urban), Hughie (Jack Quaid), and newcomer Soldier Boy with his fists. This was a first for the series, and it took 14 revisions to properly balance the characters’ varying levels of strength and a story arc that reveals Billy has been taking Vought’s superpower-inducing Compound V. For the climactic battle of Season 3, Koyama coordinated a number of wire stunts — the most intense involving Starlight (Erin Moriarty) being thrown across the room and into a glass window — without losing sight of the characters or story. In the video above, watch how Koyama and his team developed action scenes that support the narrative and, in doing so, create moments that connect, deepen and enrich the storytelling of “The Boys.”

The Costumes Of “The Boys”

Every fabric supersuit designer Laura Jean Shannon uses for “The Boys” has some sort of customization to it. Whether it’s high density screen printing, laser cutting, or dimension added by textile artists, you won’t find anything off-the-rack in Shannon’s designs. She told IndieWire that the show’s infinite canvas allows the costume department to construct unique design philosophies and color palettes for each Supe. In Season 3, Soldier Boy was reinvented from the ground up: a 1950s suit for the flashback scenes and a modern day costume touting a military-esque aesthetic. For the latter, a rugged silhouette was created based on battle dress uniform, with a loose fitting jacket, scarf and pants, adding to his macho “Marlboro Man meets superhero” persona. Greens and tomato reds were texturized with darker tones which added a luminescent quality to the fabrics while screen printing and sculpted elements provided depth. Finishing the look is a helmet made from a life cast mold of Ackles head and original weapons that includes an eagle-encrusted shield. “In the Vought Cinematic Universe, the only thing that’s superhuman is the actual superhuman abilities,” Shannon said. “Everything else is created in a reality that should feel steeped in the one we live in.”

Her colleague, costume designer Michael Ground, worked outside the realm of the Supes for his first season of “The Boys,” designing Kimiko’s sequined dress for combat and subtlety shifting Ashley’s (Colby Minifie) appearance as she becomes a devilish mini-Homelander. As seen in the video above, Billy’s Season 3 journey could also be traced through his clothes, with his downward spiral taking its toll on the signature piece of his wardrobe. “He always had a new Hawaiian shirt, but we started repeating stuff from throughout the seasons and — slowly, slowly, slowly — dipping them into muddier, darker colors,” Ground said. “It’s like the cleanliness and the upkeep is falling apart as his health falls apart.”—Daron James

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