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Entertainment Weekly

Best of 2017 (Behind the Scenes): Creating The Young Pope's kangaroo

Gianni Fiorito/HBO

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HBO’s The Young Pope wasn’t just notable for sparking a series of memes — the drama, starring Jude Law as the title character, included a bevy of wacky features, including a resident kangaroo. Here, EW finds out how that marsupial was made.

Click here for more Best of 2017 (Behind the Scenes) stories. 

Looking back, there were so many strange things about The Young Pope that it almost feels like it couldn’t have possibly ever existed and that instead we all just had the same dream simultaneously. There was a giant tower of babies, a fake mole, and a lot of Coke Zero. There was a scene where the Pope just dropped a newborn infant right on its head. And then there was a kangaroo.

Originally introduced as a gift from Australia to the newly ascendant Pope Pius, the Pope decided that instead of sending the live animal to the zoo, he would just let it wander around his garden. The kangaroo meets an unfortunate bloody end, but in his limited time on screen, he managed to hop his way into all of our hearts. We spoke with production designer Ludovica Ferrario about how they managed to pull off scenes in which a wild six-foot-tall marsupial acted opposite an A-lister. Because Ferrario speaks Italian, both our questions and his answers were translated.  

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there ever discussion of using a real kangaroo?
LUDOVICA FERRARIO: Even if our country is so rich in architecture and landscapes to draw on in order to recreate the most diverse environments, alas, finding a trained kangaroo in Italy proved impossible. CGI modeling was necessary, but with a small contribution from production design. It was necessary for those who would then work on the post-production to be aware of the actual volume of the animal in the scene, as well as for the actors to imagine its sheer presence.

So, we decided with [series creator Paolo Sorrentino] to sculpt two kangaroos, to simulate this Australian gift to the Pope, in two different sizes and positions, also to facilitate the setting out of the composition of the scene. Despite research by an assistant of mine to find hides with which to cover our mockups, we eventually decided to paint our two creatures green. Result: “a green screen modeled inside the scene” and then skillfully reprocessed in every detail by DNEG in post-production.

So how was the kangaroo rendered?
The kangaroo we used was real. We arranged a day of green screen shooting in the U.K. and matched the lighting and camera positions from the day with Jude Law on set. There was CGI work involved in removing the harness/trainer from the kangaroo and then repositioning him in composite to fit in more closely with Jude’s eye lines.

What was the biggest challenges in inserting the kangaroo into the scene?
The challenge was mainly to match it correctly to the shots required. The action was quite slow and deliberate in Jude’s performance, but kangaroos are either stationary or move quite fast, so it was hard to get a matching movement from the real animal.

Was the final, dead kangaroo also CGI?
The dead kangaroo was based on pictures of the real one and then worked up as a digital matte painting.

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