I have reported twice now on my visit to the season 2 set of “Hemlock Grove.” Check out my interviews with the core cast and with stars Bill Skarsgard and Landon Liboiron, and watch for my final story from the set – an interview with the new showrunner, Chic Eglee.
While in Toronto, we also got to chat with the behind the scenes team – the people who drive the design and technical engine of the show. (There are some minor spoilers here, so you’ve been warned.)
I was very impressed with the passion with which the designers and technicians do their work, as well as the skill and sense of fun they appear to bring to their jobs.
First, we spoke with the jovial Production Designer Drew Boughton, who took us on a tour of the sets. I especially enjoyed visiting Roman’s new bachelor pad and the pristine White Tower laboratories.
Drew talked about the very calculated differences between the homes of Olivia and Roman Godfrey in season 2. As an upir vampire, Olivia is … well, older than she looks. So, she’s of a previous time, but she’s “pretending to be young.” They try to make her design taste a bit behind the times compared to Roman’s uber-modern aesthetic.
Drew also told us how they decide whether they’re going to shoot on location or construct a set. “It makes sense to build a set if you’re going to shoot for several days,” he said. “If you’re going to do a certain kind of stunt, it’s easier to do if you can remove a wall because it will allow the camera to have the kind of wide shot that is needed.”
He disclosed that “Hemlock Grove” is sort of a supernatural version of the Carnegie family’s history. There’s a big “Godfrey” sign on the side of the company’s building. (Well, it looks like it’s on the side of the building, but it’s actually just attached to a set that is not at all at the top of a building.) Drew told us to watch for places in which the last four letters of the Godfrey name are obscured. Not exactly subtle, but fun.
Prosthetics Supervisor Patrick Baxter explained a couple of less than appetizing-looking prosthetics that had been on our interview table all day. They were made to look like veined body parts with hairs sticking out of them. He said they were made of silicone and contained a tube that led to a balloon-like bladder that allowed the tech people to pulsate each of them. When it came time for lunch, I had to move the hairy pink blobs out of my line of vision.
Visual Effects Supervisor Matt “Readyman” Whelan handles the CG aspects of the production. He said that the directors come in with ideas for effects, and he raises flags when there’s a problem with making their visions a reality.
“From set extensions to full CG creatures to the hybrid stuff that we’re talking about where it’s actors, special effects, and visual effects, the show has a really broad base of being able to do a lot of things,” he said. “For my job, that’s really interesting because every day is like, ‘How are we going to do that?'”
Generally speaking, they try to use physical effects when they can. “The goopy, sloppy types of things are hard to do [with CG], so for example, if we have a character, a creature, we’ll try to build the things that are goopy and sloppy and augment the rest with CG,” he said. “We just try to help when they want it to be bigger or grosser.”
Whelan’s wife is an E.R. doctor, so he goes through her textbooks for inspiration. He also looked at cadavers in art school. “There’s a lot you can learn from that … mostly that we’re all gonna die,” he said with appropriate deadpan delivery.
Even if your job is to be as gross as possible, it can become a bit much. “There’s a lot of times where things are written into the script which we Google and wish we hadn’t,” he said.
Special Effects Supervisor Tim Marabell said he loves that season 2 brought more challenges for him. The more medical grade stuff, the more blood, the more killing, the better, as far as he’s concerned. In one scene, they used 20-30 gallons of blood (I heard both numbers from different people) and ended up soaking the cameraman. “It’s always a good day when I go home and somebody was soaked in blood,” he chuckled.
One scene in which Bill Skarsgard had to lie on a slab in the laboratory proved to be worrisome. “They had robot arms from the automotive industry that are used to build cars. We built these giant five-headed syringe-needle contraptions that were to jab into his body and rotate…. So, after a lot of testing with the robot arms, we determined that the operators said they could come within a two-millimeter tolerance every time repeatedly. Then, when we tested it, we tested it on a pile of rags, it actually burst through the bag and went in about three inches. So, after that, we … uh … decided that Bill Skarsgard would never appear on the surgical bench while these robot arms were working,” Tim said.
Needless to say, the CG world had to take over from there.
He also has to be licensed in Canada to do on-set explosions. “We did an explosion down by Billy Bishop Airport, and we had to alert them,” he said. “And we had to time it exactly when there were no planes coming in. We had a very short window. They called and said, ‘Do it now!’ The fireballs can go 40-50 feet in the air.”
He explained another effect that is similar to what they do on “The Walking Dead.” “We put what’s called a Kabuki-rig on the back. If you’ve seen ‘The Walking Dead’ when the zombies get shot, you see a big spray of blood out the back,” he told us. “It’s actually an air-pressure system – a pressurized tank with a little reservoir of blood and a little angled spigot that straps on the back of people. And you fill that up with blood, and we have a wireless system to detonate it. So, there’s no pyrotechnics, there’s no concussion or anything. It just straps right on your back, and you can angle it wherever. You fill it up with blood and hair and bits of ham.”
The show will be ready for binge-watching on Netflix at 12:01 Pacific time on July 11, 2014.