When production began on season two of The Boys, the showrunners were faced with a whale of a problem: In the script for the third episode, “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men,” Butcher, MM, Hughie, Frenchie, Kimiko, and her “terrorist” brother are on a boat waiting for a CIA rendezvous that could clear there names when they’re confronted by The Deep, seeking justice while riding on the back of a sperm whale. The crew races for safety in a drainpipe, only to have The Deep and the whale block their path. Butcher, ever the maniac, plays chicken with the pair, and ultimately rams the group’s boat into the side of the whale. The whale dies a slow death on the beach—much to The Deep’s dismay—while the gang ends up rocketed into the gash the boat made in the side of the whale. They’re covered in blood and guts, and Hughie, feeling defeated and depressed, refuses to come out for a while, making for some incredible in-whale footage.
But how did The Boys do all of this? The A.V. Club talked to showrunner Eric Kripke and VFX supervisor Stephan Fleet about the genesis and development of what viewers eventually saw on screen. Some of the gory details are in the video interview with Kripke above, but there’s more from both parties in the interview below.
Eric Kripke: I think that at least the line producers thought we were bluffing about creating this thing. They were like, “We’re not really doing this, right? It’s just our first draft.?” And I had to say, “Oh, no, we’re doing this.”
Stephan Fleet: Between seasons one and two, my wife and I decided to do this crazy RV road trip across the country. I was somewhere in an RV—which is very stressful, by the way, if you’ve never driven an RV before—maybe Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when I first heard about the whale. I got literally three phone calls and five emails all at the same time. “Have you heard about the whale? Have you heard about the whale?” I was like, “I’m on my way to Disney World. What are you talking about?” So then they sent me the script, and I read it.
To be honest, I probably should have been afraid, because it’s a big undertaking and we’re a very demanding show. Eric and I are both super picky with the product, but I wasn’t afraid after doing season one. I was like, “All right, bring it. I’ll need this and this and this to do it.” And that started the beginning of many, many, many meetings.
EK: So we had a meeting with Stephen Fleet and our production designer Arv Grewal and a bunch of other people. My assumption was always, “I’m sure we’ll build where the boat goes, but we’re not building this whole whale…” But they said, “It’s actually probably more economical to build the thing.” Stephen said there would be so many VFX shots if we had to CGI the head and tail that it would be more expensive than if we just built the whole thing. Then we could shoot as many angles as we wanted.
SF: Pretty much from the beginning we knew we were going to build a practical whale set. There’s not only the tail end of the scene where they hit the whale, but there’s this whole other scene where The Seven come and The Deep and Homelander are talking to each other on the beach. And it’s a pretty long scene if you’re gonna go all digital whale. Is it possible? Yes, but it probably would’ve been more expensive to add visual effects.
EK: It was a crazy amount of money to build this thing. Just stupid amounts of money, but it was ultimately cheaper than the visual effects.
SF: So we built a giant whale set. Arv Grewal took that on very early. It was great for me because he did a ton of research on whales and what type of whale it was gonna be. He even had this great reasoning for which way it was going to be facing when it flopped on the beaches. Why the nose is this way or that way. Because he started really early, I was able to piggyback off his research, and we actually built the model of our whale based on scans of the real whale set.
EK: Those two departments had to work hand in hand. When the whale is in the water or jumping onto the beach, that’s all CG. The big overhead shot is CG. But the boat actually broadsiding the whale, Chace [Crawford] falling down, everything in the aftermath, that was all completely practical. The guys were covered in red, sticky fake blood.
SF: I don’t 100% know why [Grewal] landed on that specific kind of whale. That might have been a conversation the writers had before. It was pretty well-scripted. It was definitely not a killer whale. It was something larger. I think a lot of it had to do with how there are a lot of horrific pictures out there of idiots standing on dead sperm whales. A lot of this scene is deconstructing that type of moron in the world, the person that thinks it’s funny to take a picture standing on a dead whale.
We looked at a lot of those kinds of pictures, which is unfortunate and not the most fun research, but you’ve got to do what you have to do. I think there’s something about the way the mouth is and the way the tail flops in this particular whale that I hate to say is morbidly funny. At least the way we applied it to this scene. It’s not funny to kill a whale, but we’re obviously satirizing this whole thing...
I got to watch the whale being built. I went to many meetings at a special workshop contracted just to build this whale in Toronto. It’s the same guys that did the dolphin in season one. The first time we went there was a giant white Styrofoam whale. The next time we went, it was a whale with half of its skin on. The third time, it was almost fully done
SF: There were also all these logistics of “How do we get this giant whale from this workshop to a beach that’s two and a half hours away?”
EK: The day the shoot, you would have seen a massive whale, in three giant pieces, shipped out on the back of a flatbed out to the beach, and then assembled. The boat was on a ramp so that it could slide back and forth in and out of the whale for whatever takes we needed. There were blood cannons, which are exactly what you think they would be. Those were inside the whale, and it all had to be timed to go off properly. And then there were stunt guys who had to dive out of the boat.
We had so many cameras on it. We probably had three big cameras, and you’d be surprised how many GoPros you use for a shot like that. You just start putting GoPros everywhere. You put them on the boat, you put them behind the wheel, you put them inside the whale, you just put them everywhere just to see what you can get, because usually you edit something like that so fast that you can use a few frames here and there to help you. So, yeah, if you were there that day you would have seen a giant whale on the beach with an incredible amount of very sticky sugary blood that attracted flies.
SF: They had to bus the giant fake whale over there, and then when we were done shooting it, they chopped up a piece of the whale for me that we made into a saddle for Chace Crawford as The Deep to sit on for that shot where he flies out of the water. That was shot later. It basically looked like a giant mechanical bull, but with whale skin.
EK: For the shot of the whale coming out of the water, Chace was being quickly moved on this tall gimbal almost like a rodeo bull, but on a platform. It’s set against a shiny green backdrop, and he’s, like, 10 feet in the air riding the back of this thing. The camera’s moving past for no other reason than just to put him on the back of a CG whale.
The script not only called for a beached whale, but for several members of the cast to sit inside the carcass of the whale.
EK: Since there were scenes in the script that took us inside the whale, [Grewal] said we should actually just build a set inside the whale. We’re gonna build this giant whale anyway, so let’s have it actually be really in there. They had to design the whale with doors on the sides so you can get cameras in.
SF: At the shop during the third visit, the director asked, “How can we fit the camera inside the guts?” And, the shop said, “Oh, we built a door here where you can open it up and put the camera here.” I remember just standing there going, “Man, how many people have a job like this where you get to stand here and talk about it physically?” It was pretty awesome.
EK: Cameras are clunky. You’ve got to light it. So you need a lot of space to actually make that work. So what happened was that on the actual beach on the day they shot all the exterior whale stuff, the boat going in and then everyone climbing out of it. Then they chopped off the head and chopped off the tail. I have no idea where they are. They’re somewhere. Maybe they’re in someone’s house. I don’t know. Then they took the middle section that had all the guts, and they moved it to the stage on the back of a flatbed. Both sides were open, so that you could get cameras in, and we shot like that…
The whale is actually anatomically correct inside. All those organs were properly placed. We decided the boat punctured the whale’s lungs because the lungs were in the only cavity big enough to put characters in a scene. We were exploding blood when we hit the whale.
In order to get the whale onto the beach, Fleet’s team had to tackle a complicated CGI project involving a boat chase, an eventual beaching, and some old-school physics.
SF: There’s a lot of practical whale stuff going on when the whale is on the beach, but everything in the boat leading up to them hitting it, that was all computer-generated. That was 100% my department.
At the beginning, I said, “We’ll do this scene, but I’m going to need this much money and we’re gonna need to do previs with this company called The Third Floor.” Previs is like a cartoon that you make before you shoot something. I said, “They’re going to cost this much. They’re going to take this much time,” and I asked for all these things upfront. And everyone said okay.
The director of the episode lives in Los Angeles, but he went to Toronto about three weeks before he was going to start shooting to start prepping. It’s a big episode beyond just the whale. There’s a 20-minute action scene with a lot of visual effects, so it was a big one. [Before he went to Toronto], he had even gone into Third Floor, which is in Los Angeles, and he sat with their creative directors. I was in Toronto at the time, but I was able to remote in, and we created this whole cartoon. We showed that to everyone, like Eric and the team, and then we did multiple revisions of it. It helped us figure out the angles, and what kind of gear we needed to shoot it, like helicopters.
EK: There’s so much effort on his part to those shots, and I love them because they’re like magic tricks. It really is all smoke and mirrors. How does the water spray help obscure the fact that that part of it looks a little fake? You’re always looking for ways to use the environment and the tricks to create believable facts.
SF: In regards to the math and the velocity of the boat, we talked about it, and then honestly we threw a lot of that completely out the door. I think if a real speedboat hit a whale, the boat would probably just crumble. The whale would be annoyed and hurt, and maybe limp off and die over a long period of time. It would be a horrible, horrific, and very different scene. This is one of those places where we definitely souped up reality for the gag. It’s a question of “How far do you go before it becomes stupid versus comedic?” We had to balance the logistics of that.
The other thing is how it was written. On the page, the whale jumped out of the water and then was beached. I just thought, “Well, it’s not going to jump out of 10 feet of water. That’s really weird.” So we had to figure [that] out. The truth is that when these whales get beached, what happens is they’re there about 30 or 40 feet out, closer than you’d think, but they jump up and then they kind of slide back with the tides. So that whole slide concept came out of that where the boat hits it. That allows us to push it out of the water onto the beach. It can’t just already be on the beach when the boat hits it, which is how it was planned originally. There were a lot of logistics that went into figuring that out for sure.
I started thinking about [the whale] in April of 2019, and then we filmed it in August of 2019. We finished our work on that shot probably around April of this year. So from first getting the script to completion, it was about a year.
EK: We used every part of that whale. Nothing went to waste.