Netflix’s dysfunctional family superhero comedy, The Umbrella Academy, has been captivating audiences for three seasons. The third season topped the Netflix top 10 for several weeks, dethroning the massively popular season four of Stranger Things. Following the exploits of The Hargreeves Family, The Umbrella Academy is more about interpersonal relationships between its characters than it is about flashy battles between heroes and villains.
Season three introduces a time paradox that causes the Umbrella Academy to go up against their alternate universe Hargreeves superhero family, the Sparrow Academy. This alternate timeline/universe introduces several new characters while also reimagining a few others. The new characters bring with them new superpowers and a whole new level of dysfunction.
Awards Radar talked with Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell about bringing season three to life. You can listen to the full interview below.
One of the new characters, Christopher Hargreeves is a floating cube with telekinetic powers. In the graphic novel, this character is made of a swarm of dead flies. For the adaptation to the screen, that didn’t translate well in tests. The Visual Effects team designed the nightmarish cube as a practical effect to be enhanced in post.
“We built him fully practical. He was on a little gimbal rig pole. And it was really cool. It was built out of a translucent plastic material that had these LED lights inside. So we were able to through software, and program the lights any color we want. So most of the time you’re seeing he’s practical, but there are occasions when he does something really crazy he’ll be CG. But I’m real proud to say that Christopher Q was mostly practical.” Everett informs us. “And we you know, we shot him sometimes in the scene with the actors, and then we shot a big library of him on blue screen that we were able to pick from and cherry pick into the scenes. And that worked out great. It was such a fun thing and I’m super proud of that character, even though he’s just a square. It’s still a lot of fun.”
One of the most popular characters in the show is Pogo (Adam Godley & Ken Hall), a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee. Because of the time distortion, we see an entirely new Pogo that we haven’t seen before. This Pogo is more grizzled with tattoos and driving a motorcycle.
“If you want to do this correctly, you know, get a reference performer, which we had a guy named Ken Hall.” Everett explains about the starting point for the fully CG character. “What really convinced us, let’s do Pogo completely CG from head to toe, all his clothes, that way, it all interacts. And if you want to change the colors, and you want to tweak it still in post, you have that ability. The ability to tweak stuff in post is really important to Steve Blackman (Showrunner), and to the executives at Netflix. They want to have that room, that wiggle room, and they don’t want to be baked in on set. But the character is so advanced and so unique that we want the ability to continue to tweak as needed.”
With a dozen characters with powers and a fully CGI chimpanzee, you’d be shocked to find what the biggest challenge for the Visual Effects team actually was. Everett explained, “The street where the academy was established in season one went over massive renovations. So we went back to go shoot there. And it was nothing but construction cranes and shipping containers. I literally got there and I don’t even know if I can fix this. But it was luckily, we had the LIDAR data from season one. So we’re able to put that over top of the current situation that we were in with all these construction cranes, and an epic pit dug next to the academy and construction workers. It was like, I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to shoot there. That’s one of the big challenges that we have, how do we paint all that stuff out? We were really lucky that we had a lidar from season one and were able to use that to kind of paint all those construction things out. So that’s a little-known fact that those shots are very difficult to achieve.”
The Visual Effects team did an amazing job crafting the universe of season three of The Umbrella Academy. From the new and reimagined characters to the Academy’s location to the stunningly weird Hotel Oblivion. The season felt like a surreal drug trip that made you lean in and want more. Seasons one through three are available for streaming on Netflix. You can also listen to The ‘Verse! Podcast’s interview with show runner, Steve Blackman here.