A whale of a good time: The Boys season 2 team dissect the gutting water face-off
The writers wanted to one-up the dolphin scene from season 1. And they did it.
The Boys season 1 featured Chase Crawford as The Deep accidentally launching a rescued dolphin from Oceanland out of a dashboard window to be run over by oncoming traffic. For season 2, the crew had something different in mind.
In the third of a trio of premiere episodes that debuted on Amazon Prime Video this weekend, the Boys — made up of Billy (Karl Urban), Hughie (Jack Quaid), Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso), and Frenchie (Tomer Capone) — are trying to evade attack by The Deep and his army of sharks. They flee on a speedboat towards a storm drain on the shore, but the Aquaman-esque hero, desperate to try to earn his place back in the Seven, rides in on the back of a whale to block their path. So, Billy, in his infinite wisdom, drives the boat straight through said whale and the results are bloody diabolical.
"[Writer] Craig Rosenberg, who brought you such hits as ‘dolphin through the windshield’ and ‘gill fingering,’ came up with the whale," showrunner Eric Kripke told EW. "I think he specifically wanted to top the dolphin. I was initially reluctant, but he argued that there are only so many more times the Deep can kill marine life through his sheer incompetence, so let’s go out big. Through his persistence and passion for the idea, he won me over. So please send all your hate mail to him."
Stephan Fleet, the VFX supervisor who would have to find some way of pulling this off, remembers visiting the writers room during season 1 so they could pick his brain on potential moments for season 2. "I go in there and it's like, 'So, hey. If the boat hit a whale, is that hard?'" I was like, 'Yeah, but we'll do it if we gotta do it.' And then two months later I'm on vacation and I get the script and I'm like, 'OK, let's hit a whale with a boat.'"
The dolphin scene took about six to eight hours to film in season 1, by Fleet's estimates. The whale scene, beginning with the race to shore and ending with the aftermath of the blood-drenched impact, took a solid week. The Toronto-based production turned to Lake Ontario, which brought rougher beach weather and choppy waters. Steve Boyum, a stunt coordinator on 1982's The Beastmaster and who directed episodes of Kripke's Supernatural, came in to direct this episode. Boyum worked with the Third Floor pre-visualization company to map out a concept for the scene, which Fleet's team then turned into "a whole cartoon." They had a game plan.
The production would have two units going. One saw Boyum and Fleet boarding a helicopter to fly over the lake as Urban, who had experience as a boat captain, piloted the speedboat through the water. An additional boat, sometimes with executive producer Philip Sgriccia inside with a camera, would move about filming additional photography.
"It's chopping up and down. Jack had it the worst 'cause he was on the nose and thy actually had to give him something to hold on to because he's just holding on for dear life," Fleet says. "In hindsight, it was a little risky, but I think Karl was having the time of his life."
At one point, the helicopter flew so low to the water to get the desired shot that Fleet remembers Boyum turning to him to say, "If we hit that water, I'm just gonna tell you right now, you're gonna have to kick that door as hard as you f—ing can because you have about 3 seconds to get it open or we're all dead. Let's go!"
ILM were tasked with creating the CG effects for when the whale leaps out of the water for a moment with The Deep on its back. But an actual silicon and styrofoam whale was created for when the Boys are on the beach, entangled in its guts—complete with animatronic mouth and tail movements. Fleet's VFX crew would also enhance the visuals inside the whale to create the effect of pulsating organs because they thought it would be more funny if the whale was still alive after all that. "If you watch the scenes closely with Hughie inside the whale, you're gonna see this little thing pulsing behind him," Fleet notes. "That's VFX. But we slowed it down and there's little blood squirts coming out of it. So much of what we do [on this show] is the timing of blood squirts."
For the moment of impact, canons were in place to shower the boat in blood. But at that point, stunt performers came in to replace the actors as the boat was set atop a rail that would jut the vehicle forward into the prosthetic creature. Fleet incorporated a few "magic tricks" to blend the CG with the practical effects, whether it was splashing water on the camera lens or adding movement elsewhere in the frame to draw the eye away from certain things. But, he confirms, "that is 100 percent a set we build" on the beach.
Fleet estimates it took about five months to create the whale set. "I went to many meetings in a giant woodshop with a styrofoam whale and then the next time it was a slightly skinned whale," he says. "We had a whole show and tell on whale guts 'cause they made all these guts, too, for the inside. They did all their research. They had them on a table and they'd walk us down. It's like we're sampling food for a restaurant. 'This is a whale spleen!'"
The production team also incorporated a hidden backdoor to the whale so Boyum could sneak the camera in for that closeup of Quaid covered in blood and whale innards. "Inevitably, when they got to shoot that interior scene, it was pretty miserable, especially for Jack Quaid because the poor guy just gets slathered in blood in everything he does," Fleet continues. "I wanna say it was like 100 degrees out and they were like, 'Here. Get covered in this sticky blood, we're gonna stuff you in this giant silicon whale, and you're gonna sit here for three hours while we do the scene.'"
When the week was done, including additional shots of The Deep mourning his precious Lucy (that's the name of the whale), a piece of the set's top was cut off to create what Fleet describes as "a mechanical bull whale" for Crawford. There was one shot for this sequence done in front of a blue screen, which, on the stage, looked like Crawford riding a piece of cut-off whale flesh to be inserted into the moment the creature emerges from the water.
"We are not jumping the shark, but we are jumping the whale—or quite literally we are jumping into the whale," Antony Starr, who plays Homelander, joked with EW. "I read the scripts and I was like, 'We’re doing too much, we’re going too far.' Quite genuinely that is one of, if not my favorite scene in season 2. I think it just shows how far we can push the envelope and get away with it. When you see a big sequence like that, it’s still anchored in the needs of character. The Boys are trying to get away and The Deep is trying to get back into the Seven. Whilst, yeah it’s pretty whacky and it’s crazy and kooky and all that, it is anchored in very strong character needs and story."
Fleet, sadly, doesn't know what happened to Lucy. He does know the prosthetic whale was held underneath tarps in a parking lot near the season 2 set stages for a time. "Once we were done with the whale, we were like, 'What do we do with this whale?' Storage is expensive," he says. "I tried to convince them to give it to some theme park and turn it into a ride, but I don't think that happened."
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