VFX Pros Share Secrets Behind 'Jack Ryan' Explosions, 'Good Omens' Scary Dogs and More

11:30 AM 6/18/2019

by Carolyn Giardina

The visual effects supervisors on 'The Umbrella Academy' and 'Star Trek: Discovery' also reveal the work that went into key scenes.

From left: 'Good Omens,' 'The Umbrella Academy' and 'Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan'
From left: 'Good Omens,' 'The Umbrella Academy' and 'Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan'
Courtesy of Networks

  • 'Good Omens'

    Courtesy of Amazon

    For Amazon's six-part miniseries that follows an angel (Michael Sheen) and demon (David Tennant) who join forces to prevent the coming of the apocalypse, London-based VFX house Milk created 650 VFX shots.

    Character work included the creation of a vicious hellhound that started with photographing a carefully selected Great Dane then replacing the head and neck in CG. "To really get the level of muscle movement, we want to keep it real, and we matched the movement of the neck," says VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara, a co-founder of Milk. "We really emphasized the teeth and the eyes and a lot of scarring and pointed ears. But we wanted to still keep it feeling like a real dog."

    Once they had the performance of the dog, they shot another background plate and scaled it up to make the hellhound larger. The filmmakers also wanted to play up the comedy, and so "from an animation point of view, we animated the hound reacting to what the boy [Adam] is saying."

  • 'Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan'

    Courtesy of Amazon

    Amazon's Jack Ryan, which stars John Krasinski as a CIA analyst who's pulled into the field, has plenty of action that required the help of top VFX experts.

    For this shot in the Tom Clancy thriller, Hanin (Dina Shihabi) is escaping an assault when a Hellfire missile strike kills her attacker. "The actress was filmed running toward camera while the special effects team led by Pau Costa detonated a small dust bomb," explains senior VFX supervisor Erik Henry. "This helped the actress' timing as well as signaling the stunt team to fire their pull rig, lifting the stuntman into the air as if blown off his feet from the missile strike."

    Henry reveals that the scene got some additional work: "We weren't quite happy with that stunt action after reviewing it later, so we brought the stunt team back to a motion-capture stage, greatly improving the shot's believability."

    Separately, the special effects team detonated a gasoline bomb "to help give the proper fireball associated with the Hellfire missile."

    The shot was completed with digital visual effects at Madrid-based VFX house El Ranchito, including the creation of the incoming CG missile as well as additional explosion dust, debris and expanding shock waves.

  • 'The Umbrella Academy'

    Courtesy of Weta Digital

    Netflix's series centers on a family of adopted sibling superheroes who are attempting to solve the mystery of their father's death. Helping them is Dr. Phinneus Pogo, a CG-advanced chimpanzee. "He had to be a very believable character and hold his own with live-action actors," says VFX supervisor Everett Burrell of the suit-wearing ape.

    On set, actor Ken Hall wore a tracking suit and delivered a body performance while actor Adam Godley did facial capture and provided Pogo's voice. "His eyes were more human than a chimpanzee, which created its own challenges," says Burrell.

    Weta Digital created the 150 shots of Pogo, and its VFX supervisor Chris White notes that much attention went to the delicate facial performance as well as a fluid body performance that included "making him appear more human with some allowances for his posture. We didn't use direct body capture. It was so important that the body capture and the head be in sync."

    White says that in creating Pogo, Weta also took advantage of software developed for its Oscar-nominated Planet of the Apes work, including fur, lighting and texturing. For Pogo's costume, Weta used a new fabric software dubbed "woven cloth" to make the textures of his CG wardrobe extra realistic.

  • 'Star Trek: Discovery'

    Courtesy of CBS All Access

    In the second-season finale of CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery, Leland (Alan van Sprang) finds the nanobots (microscopic robotic devices) he'd injected into his body making their way out. It was a scene that VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman knew would be especially challenging. "In earlier episodes, we see them injected into the back of his neck, and on a couple of occasions they repair his wounds," he says. "We knew we would work toward [this exit] for the finale."

    Up front, they had to make sure the nanobots were large enough to see the individual pieces and not look like fluid in wide shots. The VFX team also was tasked with giving them their behavior. "It was an opportunity, especially seen outside that body, to show their aggression, their coordination and hopefully add a little personality to the bots," says Zimmerman. They "match moved" van Sprang's body then applied the simulation to his movement. "This basically means animating a digital double of the actor to exactly match the movement of the actual actor in the shot, then using that to generate hundreds or even thousands of particles," Zimmerman says. "These particles have specific physics applied to them that allow them to react to other objects."

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.