“Oh, it was definitely our Marvel movie moment,” says “The Umbrella Academy” visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell when describing the apocalyptic vision that the title superhero siblings are trying to prevent in season two of the Netflix series, which premiered in July 2020 (production on season three is currently underway). But scenes like that aren’t the only way visual effects play an important role in telling the story. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Based on the comic book series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, “Umbrella Academy” explores the lives, conflicts, and occasional apocalyptic crises of a team of adoptive siblings who were born under mysterious circumstances and all developed superpowers. Season two finds them stranded in the 1960s and fighting to get back home while also facing yet another cataclysmic threat to the planet.
Showrunner Steve Blackman didn’t want the show only to be about spectacle “because there’s the emotional value of our show” in addition to the “grandness of the superhero part.” But “the planning alone took months and months” for that particular sequence, and it wasn’t the visual effects department’s only major undertaking this season. We also saw a lot more superpowers from Vanya (Elliot Page), whose destructive capabilities were hidden for most of season one (even from her), and representing those visually led to research into “solar flares, rip tides, and tidal waves.”
Then there’s AJ Carmichael (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes), the head of the often sinister commission that oversees the space-time continuum. He’s a talking goldfish in a head/bowl atop a human body. “Originally it was going to be just a regular actor,” Burrell reveals. There were discussions about whether the character would be “too complicated to shoot” or “too expensive” as a visual effect, but “I said, that’s so much a part of our show is the weird, quirky characters, and AJ is one of those characters.”
Season two also introduced us to baby Pogo, the hyper-intelligent chimpanzee that was introduced to us in season one as an adult. But “as we were developing him … ‘The Mandalorian‘ came out and Baby Yoda sort of stole our baby Pogo thunder, so to speak.” So how does one sci-fi show respond to another? “I remember us trying to make the eyes really big because Steve wanted to be cuter than Baby Yoda.” Eventually “we brought him back down to reality, but we did give them a little extra cuteness.”
The fact that such effects can even be discussed is a testament to how technology has changed over the years. “A lot of the feature film effects tools have now trickled down into the TV industry, so we’re able to get bigger and more epic-looking stuff,” he explains. “But the new tools that are coming are even more exciting. So every season we have to top ourselves by utilizing the newest and best tools that we can get a hold of.”
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