Season Two of The Boys was packed to the gills with holy-sh-t moments. Fans went particularly bonkers for a sequence in Episode Three, “Over the Hill with the Swords of a Thousand Men.” In it, the Boys — Billy (Karl Urban), Hughie (Jack Quaid), Frenchie (Tomer Capone), Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), and Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) — are in a speedboat, trying to outrace the Deep (Chase Crawford) and an army of frenzied sharks at his beck and call. Hoping to reclaim his place among The Seven, the Deep rides a massive whale in pursuit, races in front of them, and impedes their path to a storm drain on the shore. Billy’s typically Butcher-esque solution? Smash the speedboat right through the whale, which results in a spectacular burst of whale guts and blood.
That portion of the scene – the Boys in the speedboat, Billy flooring it, the boat striking the whale, and the poor mammal’s innards totally drenching everyone – takes up only 45 seconds of screen time. Not surprisingly, however, it required months and months, a helicopter, a practical whale, CG, a stunt crew, game actors, makeup and prosthetics pros, and more, to pull it off. Stephan Fleet, Visual Effects Supervisor for The Boys, was on vacation after Season One – in the midst of a cross-country trek with his wife in an RV — when he got word about the upcoming scene.
“We were somewhere in New Orleans, like in an RV park, and I get all these phone calls and emails all of a sudden from the production designer, from the Assistant to that person,” Fleet recalls during a Zoom chat with Below the Line. “‘Have you heard about the whale? Have you heard about the whale? Have you heard about the whale?’ I had intentionally taken a week off from reading scripts and outlines and was just trying to clear my brain. I had to go in and read the whale sequence. It was really funny, because I’d been invited in to a meeting with the writers, and one of the things (Writer-Producer) Craig Rosenberg said was, ‘So what if a boat hit a whale?’ I was like, ‘Well, that would probably be really hard to do.’ I was like, ‘Maybe don’t do that,’ but then it’s in the script, of course, and it was great.
“It ended up just being a ton of meetings,” he continues. “I think it was probably about a year’s worth of work from the very beginning of discussing it in the script to the very end of delivering the talent shots. It actually went really, really well. There weren’t any crazy stories about last-minute deadlines or things going wrong because we planned it well. ILM London did all the work. We pre-viz-ed it with The Third Floor. We had a whole previous cartoon of the thing before we shot it. I’m a big planner, so everything was planned out to a T. Steve Boyum was our Director. He is this wonderful, wonderful director who’s been around. He’s an action director, and he used to be a stunt coordinator. He insisted on getting a helicopter to shoot this whole thing out of a copter. Nowadays, people would probably use drones, but he had this little pitch for using a helicopter instead of a drone for control and speed, and he was right.”
So, picture the goings-on: Cast and crew out on the water, the leads in a speedboat, a helicopter in the air. “You can’t really control the coverage that much,” Fleet notes. “You can kind of ballpark what you’re going to get, but it felt a little bit like we were shooting Apocalypse Now or some Sam Peckinpah movie where you just go out there like a cowboy and do it, and you get what you get. So, that portion of it was controlled chaos, mostly just chaos. But it ended up, if you look at the cartoon that we made, the pre-viz, it’s remarkably similar. Then, once they hit the water, it’s a real set that we built. While I was planning and stressing about this whole water sequence, our other teams, art department and special effects, were working on the stuff on the ground. Then there’s a couple of shots that marry the two where we blended a little bit of CG with real in the middle that we all worked on together. It was a feat. It was a crazy week of filming to get that done. So… a week of filming and a year’s worth of prep and finishing.”
And when Fleet watches the scene, what does he see? Does he see a practical whale and visual effects sweetening it, or can he suspend disbelief enough to watch a boat hitting a whale? “That’s a horrible question to ask me!” he says, laughing. “I mean, I see all the flaws. I see the visual effects of it all with everything I do. I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. Every year I look back on what I did the year before, I’m like, ‘Oh, I could do so much better with what I’ve learned now.” I do think as I’ve gotten slightly older, I’ve calmed down a little bit, and I’ve let go. I’m at this kind of Zen, live for the now moment where I can watch it and enjoy it and just turn that part of my brain off. If I watch my work with my family, I’m just looking at them all the time like, ‘Do you see that? Do you see that? Do you see that?’ And they’re like, ‘Shut up. Will you just enjoy it?’
“So, I see the flaws, but I let go and enjoy it,” he adds. “I will say this: There are sequences I’ve done in my life that I just literally can’t watch anymore. And that (whale sequence) is not one of them. I’m very proud of it. I could watch it again and again. It’s exciting. That’s actually true of everything in The Boys. There’s nothing I’ve done where I’m like, ‘Oh.’”