When an alien species makes a surprise visit to Earth, threatening humanity’s existence, things get shaken up as events unfold in real-time across the globe in Invasion, a new series on Apple TV+. Set across multiple continents, the human cast of characters are a team of Japanese astronauts from JASA and a ground crew, a group of schoolboys in England, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, and a Syrian family trapped in Long Island. There is a lot of chaos surrounding this surprise invasion, marked by the rattling and rolling of a shocked earth. That’s where Special Effects Coordinator Mark Bero and Special Effects Supervisor Devin Maggio make their best work.
Their collaboration goes back to the big screen with Across The Universe, Enchanted, and two from the Jason Bourne series, The Adjustment Bureau and The Bourne Legacy, to name a few. They joined forces in episodic television with Maniac, Lisey’s Story, and Dexter: New Blood. Invasion was a natural project for the special effects tag team, combining their love of Sci-fi and creating atmospheres affected by the unknown and the unseen.
Recently, Below The Line spoke with Bero and Maggio, who shared the secrets behind all the shaking, flipping, and smashing effects of how the earth reacts when aliens land, as well as simulating weightlessness and explosions in space. They discuss meeting the challenges of combining their effects, created in New York, with other FX departments and designers in Tokyo, England, and Morocco.
BTL: In the first episode, an Oklahoma lawman played by Sam Neill investigates a cornfield ravaged by a suspected meteor. Can you describe the effects in that scene?
Mark Bero: There were two main rigs on the cornfield. One was the indentation in the ground, which we sort of treated like snow. It’s a thing we use of paper snow, but this was a different color and kept it pristine throughout that scene with a lot of smoke. There was a truck in that scene that we turned over on a piston that was hidden, and then we smashed it all up. It was the last part of the roll as it flips over. Then we cut to inside the studio where they’re rolling in the ring roller as they’re crashing.
BTL: In the scene where the JASA spaceship gets hit, there is a combination of many different effects, including weightlessness.
Devin Maggio: We ended up using air cannons to give you that feeling of the explosion of pieces of the ship blowing apart. We floated a bunch of pieces to give you that illusion that you were in space. We would take the pieces that the props had and then we would add monofilament to it, and then on top of it was a balloon with helium. Depending on the size of the balloon and how much helium, it would make the object float around. We would have small little lines on them to pull the packages like the backpack to insinuate that it was in space.
BTL: So, there is no such thing anymore as the vomit comet to simulate weightlessness for the actors?
Maggio: With the whole ring roller moving around, you tend to get a little dizzy, but we would do it a couple of times so everyone that was inside was able to catch their breath.
Bero: We’ve done this a bit on different jobs with different versions of it, but you’re not doing the vomit comet anymore. You’re hanging the stunt people or picking them from below and you’re adding things on monofilament to add that they can interact with, and then visual effects will do other things to enhance it. It’s more layered, so the actors don’t have to go through that anymore.
BTL: How often do stunt people get in the way of special effects?
Bero: That scene was very tight because it wasn’t a very big set. It’s a space capsule, but we did rehearse it a bunch of times with stunts so they got used to that air pressure of the canons. They were big cannons with 60-gallon tanks. We had to work with construction getting those panels out that we needed for the cannons so we could make those moves easily for all the different shots.
Maggio: We work pretty much hand-in-hand with the stunt department, to begin with, so there’s a lot of rehearsal that goes into pretty much any type of gag that they want to accomplish.
BTL: What was different about this project in terms of the different locations?
Bero: What was different about this was the organization, and how big a scope it was throughout all the countries, and how they kept that look together with all these different effects and piecing them together. That was pretty amazing. We didn’t do the London, Tokyo, or Morocco shoots but New York was the base and New York did a lot of the other areas and other parts of the country. We did a little bit of Tokyo inside sets built in New York.
Maggio: The studio used in Long Island was Grumman Studios.
BTL: What was the Tokyo effect?
Bero: It was a little bit of water effects in Mitsu’s apartment. We did a bit of vibration on the plant in her girlfriend’s father’s place in rural Japan, but they did that as an interior part of that set in Long Island.
Maggio: We used shaker motors that you would use for cement to get the bubbles out when you pour it. We adapted it to use for what we needed. It’s on a speed controller and you can turn it up or down. We also used shaker motors and small pneumatic pistons in the shaking attic set where the floorboards were shaking.
BTL: There were a lot of shaking effects going on in the series.
Bero: We also used the shaker motor for the Malik set when the spaceship first comes and you see all the glass imploding towards the father [Firas Nassar]. That concept was the spaceship coming down the street in suburbia and, basically, cutting things in half. There’s a big exterior shot where cars are on fire and cut in half. As it’s going by, it shakes the Malik house and explodes the windows. We use air cannons to do the windows breaking. We cheated a bit on that by covering the windows with curtains and didn’t put any kind of glass in there. They were just clean and put rubber glass in the cannons so that the actors could actually be there as the explosion happens.
BTL Have you become the Sci-fi/fantasy special effects experts?
Maggio: Recently, we’ve done a ton of these types of movies. We did Lisey’s Story [also for Apple] and the movie, Don’t Look Up, which was similar to this, but it had monsters and that science feel. Then we did The Mother Ship, a Netflix movie which was kind of aliens in space. A lot of it has to do with once you do one, you’re pretty much geared up into that position.
Bero: Aliens are the next thing to explore. [Creator] Simon Kinberg is doing something more mysterious with aliens, going into more of a reality of that world.
Invasion premiered on Apple TV+ on October 22, 2021. All images courtesy Apple, except for Mark Bero headshot.