At long last, the season finale for the second season of The Boys has been added to Amazon Prime, finishing off the show’s sophomore outing. Expanding on the world introduced in the first season of the show, Season Two was equally full of blood and guts as Homelander (Antony Starr) and The Boys continued their never-ending war on one another.
From that totally bonkers Love Sausage scene to a season full of exploding heads, the show was led on the visual effects front by Stephan Spzak-Fleet. This past week, we had the chance to catch up with the visual effects expert and chat about the show’s bizarre tone and how he continually pushed the boundary.
Full disclosure: major spoilers incoming for the second season of The Boys. Keep scrolling at your own risk!
ComicBook.com: Man, every time you think this show can’t push the boundaries any further, it does — and the visual effects are a massive part of that. You get the job, you get the gig, what knowledge did you have of The Boys and the content of what Amazon and Eric wanted to do with the series?
Stephan Szpak-Fleet: So sometime when I was in college years ago, I did read all of Preacher, loved it. And then when The Boys first came out, I read it before I knew Eric [Kripke] and before I worked on the show. I’m a legit Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson fan and so I was working on a show called Timeless for Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan out here in Los Angeles when I got the tip-off from Eric’s people that he was potentially doing a Boys show and we get along really well.
Eric went to bat for me and got me an interview with Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg], at that time for the pilot. The three of them all had to make a decision to get a unanimous decision together, so I went to a coffee shop out here in LA and met with Seth and Evan. I was nervous as shit. I was pretending I wasn’t nervous, but I was nervous as shit. And they were really cool, really smart, guys.
The first thing they said to me, was like, “Look, man, we’re not making a joke out of this, we’re going to take this really seriously. We want all the visual effects, all the superhero powers to be really grounded and we want this thing to sort of go to this next level, like nothing anyone’s done with superheroes before.”
So I was like, “All right, man. I’m going to fucking throw down!” I’m going to make sure that I fight as hard as I possibly can through the time and the money and the politics and all the usual stuff you get on any kind of thing and forget about all that stuff. I’m just going to dive into the creative and I’m going to do my best to make it that and I guess they liked me. I got the show.
I ended up meeting with the director of the pilot, Dan Trachtenberg, shortly thereafter and we hit it off really well and then we dove in, and you see what came of it. At that time, I had no idea where it was going to go and how crazy it would be. But I only think I read the pilot when I signed on, but I’m very, very happy with the show.
What excited me the most to work on the show, more than the visual effects, was just how well it was written. It’s a satire and a political commentary on the world, and it just hit really close to home for me. I thought it was really well done. And then it even just got better when we started filming it and I got to see how great our cast was. The actors took dialogue, scripts that I already thought were great, and read that were amazing and elevated it and took it to this next level.
You ask fans and critics alike and it’s getting even better along the way, right? The biggest — no pun intended, of course — visual effects asset this season, other than the exploding heads, of course, is Love Sausage, right?
The press around this is is that it’s something that was super late to the script. When you find out someone like Love Sausage is being added in, how do you wrap your mind around that as the visual effects lead?
The stories are all true. It came in late to the script. Because I have to do a lot of technical visual effects stuff, I actually sometimes am privy to the technical visual effects stuff a little earlier so I was tipped off a little sooner because me and the makeup effects guys have to build the thing. These things take time, right? We had to dive in and then the stories are all true. We had conversations about circumcised or if he was uncircumcised, meetings with a lot of grown adults, if you want to call us that, sitting around the conference table with Eric on the phone or around or whatever and just talking about all that stuff.
Then you get to actually shooting it, and I’ve done similar creature work before the way I had to approach it was like a creature thing where the actor is going to be in heavy physical contact with the object. To make something like that come off as looking real, I knew from the get go that you have to create something for them to actually be in physical contact with whether you replace it or not later. That’s how it came about to create this sort of 10-foot long monster stick, if you will. That’s what they call them in the visual effects world, monster sticks, actually. That’s another pun just built right in there.
Then when we were able to film it, and we’d discussed the scene, we’d been to the location before with the director, we knew about this little window and we sort of loosely blocked it out and again, the director of that episode, Sarah Boyd, was just so great to work with and just such a nice pleasant person and just very collaborative and had a strong idea of what she wanted.
Of course, I’d known the cast for a while now at this point, and I think one of my duties on that set in addition to making sure it went smoothly was to actually not be a giggly dude on set making a lot of jokes because I didn’t want to lend… I was right there in front of, right by the camera and right by Laz and Tomer and I didn’t want to lend any discomfort to the scene. I wanted to make it a comfortable environment for them because they had to show up and perform and pretend they were being attacked by this preacher when we all know what it is in real life. And they did, they showed up man, and they kicked ass and they did it.
In visual effects, it was one of the hardest sequences to pull off. There’s a lot of that contact with it and I would say, I think all but like one shot was full CG in the end.
You mentioned the whale as well and with that and Love Sausage both, there’s certainly a close working relationship between you and the practical special effects people. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Yeah. So Dynamic Effects is the name of the company, but I call them the Kenny family. It’s Tony Kenny and his two sons Hudson and JR. The Kenny’s, they’re our special effects team and for those that don’t know, visual effects are what is made with computers, and special effects are real stuff in front of the camera. I mean, I think they were telling me they had like 150 buckets of blood or gallons of blood for the whale sequence or something like that. I mean those guys show up and one of the reasons the show looks so good, from that truck smashed in season one through the whale is that those guys really will show up with the blood and we’re so collaborative together.
I’m not bullshitting because a lot of times people say that and it’s not true. It’s 100% true. We worked so well together that it’s one of the reasons I think the show looks the way it does is that I’m able to, with a lot of sequences, have it be 75% practical and 25% visual effects or like 50/50. Not like 10% practical, 90% visual effects. What people I think outside of the industry may not realize is that so much of it comes down to time and the challenge for special effects in this day and age is it takes a lot of time on set. It was so easy on a show to say, we’re just going to do a visual effect and just push the hot potato down the line so they can make their day on set, but on this show, we don’t do that. We make sure to fight for them to have the time and do it that way.
I see a lot of interesting articles these days out there about saying special effects are better than visual effects or blah, blah, blah, vice versa and I don’t think people are necessarily looking at it correctly. I think the two need to work together in the right way to just make shit fucking awesome. I think cheating the special effects people in their time is probably the better way to look at that argument. Don’t cheat them out of their time is what I think people are trying to say. It’s just amazing.
With the whale, we had a lot of practical blood, and then as Eric has said on social media and stuff and in other interviews, they built this giant whale set that we didn’t have to do very much work to. We added a little bit of wetness to it here and there, but it was real. We had a real set and I’m telling you when you’re an actor or crew member or anybody and you go up and you see this real exploded whale set, it’s different, man. It connects with you in a different way than if I would have just put up a green tennis ball, so it was still the right way to go. It’s another reason why I love working on the show is we get to work with people and do things like that in that kind of way. It’s just so cool.
Early on in the season, with the CIA agent with the exploding head, that’s something that obviously becomes more prevalent as the season goes along, heading up to the courtroom or the hearing room or whatever you want to call it. How many of the heads exploding were scripted and how much control do you have something over a scene like that where it’s just absolute chaos?
I’m a planner, but I’m also a planner that’s done this long enough to know that you are planning for chaos in filmmaking and that’s kind of actually the beauty of filmmaking, that there’s always things that are going to go wrong. There are always mistakes and you have to, I think, embrace the mistakes and embrace the chaos and find ways to weave it towards what you want it to be, towards your desires.
The first head explosion in that first episode was heavily, heavily planned. Lots of plate shoots, because we had the time to do it. I also knew that the head explosions were coming down the pipe. Again, I was tipped off to it because it’s a heavy visual effects sequence, so I knew that I had to plan for it. I made it really smart for me business-wise because I was able to contract the company, in this case, a company called Rocket Science Visual Effects in Toronto. They’re kind of our blood people on the show. They do such a great job at the blood and I was able to say, look, let’s spend a lot of time doing this first head explosion and really get it right because we’re going to have to do like 20 or 30 of these things later, so that’s what we did.
We were able to sort of share notes and they were able to say you filmed this thing and it worked, but you don’t need to film this thing, whatever. So I was able to take that information into episode seven and I prevized the five hero shots in episode seven: the Congressman, Vogelbaum, Shockwave, and the two assistants. I prevized specific angles for those that I was able to share with the director and the DP. When I do previews I’m not trying to lock anybody into something, but I was able to give us a general guideline of where to go on the day so that we just stay at a time, so I was able to tell them we need a green screen, we need a blood cannon, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But time is always an issue and we have a lot of VG people, so that’s where the chaos came in and the shooting from the hip if you will. For the rest of them, I kind of devised a way to just kind of look at replays of footage and pluck out people that I thought would be good candidates for head explosions and write down notes and send them to post-production and to Eric.
Then once it was edited, I went through it with Eric and the editors, and my team and I was able to do a head explosion spot. And I was like that one would be pretty good and that one would be pretty good and that one would be pretty good. And that’s what we did, and it worked well. What you see in that scene for the first two shots is a combination of special effects, makeup effects, and visual effects. Probably 70% visual effects, 30% the others. But then every other explosion after that of a head is fully CGI with a few dudes off-camera with blood cannons, spraying a little bit of extra blood into our crowd. But then everything else is CG.
It worked. I knew that it was going to be a heavy frenetic scene with a lot of camera motion. At the beginning, it’s a very calm scene so you have to put a lot of time into a visual effect when it’s calm and the camera’s static because you’re going to be holding on something that has to be photo-real without a lot of movement. But then when it starts shaking and going crazy you can get away with a lot more. That’s why I knew the camera style of the scene would lend itself into that sort of technique.
What’d you think of the show’s second season? Let us know your thoughts either in the comments section or by hitting up our writer @AdamBarnhardt on Twitter!
The Boys, Amazon Prime Video
World news – THAT – The Boys VFX Boss on Love Sausage, Exploding Heads, and More