Behind The Scenes

The Umbrella Academy | Fighting With The Family

Episode Summary

When you’ve got super powers, you’re going to get into fights. Whether it’s a tight hallway match, or a major outdoor battle, the Academy gets into their fair share of scuffles. We talk to the stunt coordinator who choreographs these fights, the actors who perform them, and the VFX team who adds that superhero flair.

Episode Notes

When you’ve got super powers, you’re going to get into fights. Whether it’s a tight hallway match, or a major outdoor battle, the Academy gets into their fair share of scuffles. We talk to the stunt coordinator who choreographs these fights, the actors who perform them, and the VFX team who adds that superhero flair. 

Episode Transcription

SPOILER ALERT

Emmy: I heard a rumor… that you watched all the new episodes of The Umbrella Academy before listening to this podcast. Otherwise, things will be spoiled. 

COLD OPEN- Battle Dallas

In the first few pages of episode one, season two of the Umbrella Academy, Five finds himself in another apocalyptic scenario. This time, it’s a massive battle. 

The script reads: 

“The street is decimated. Crushed cars, crumbled buildings and dead bodies scattered everywhere. ….Deep on the horizon, Five sees the telltale signs of a nuclear mushroom cloud… 

SFX from the series throughout

Behind him, the Russian tank fires a shell… we swing around to reveal... 

-- VANYA, glowing hot white, shooting powerful sound waves from the tips of her fingers. 

--- BEN, on a roof nearby in all his tentacle glory, tossing soldiers like rag dolls. 

--- DIEGO, standing on top of a car, surrounded by soldiers.-

Diego (clip): Five, you sick son of a bitch, where the hell have you been? 

 --It’s a nuclear doomsday. And the end of life as we know it.... Again.”

Explosion SFX

Jason: [00:18:52] I'll never forget Steve just kind of starting to laugh, like looking at all of us , like you guys are. You guys are going to hate me. 

This is Jason Neese. He and his twin brother Jamie are producers and post-production supervisors on the Umbrella Academy. 

Jason: And, you know, honestly, for Jamie and I, we  were just super stoked. 

 

Jamie: When we read the pages for Battle Dallas, the first thing I did was call Everett, our VFX supervisor. And I was like, yo, are you good with this? Like, it is huge.

This, of course, is Jamie Neese.

Jamie: But the first time I read it was like, I am so excited about the first five and a half minutes of our show, season two. But how in the F are we going to do it?

What they call “Battle Dallas” was going to be one of the biggest, and most complicated scenes anyone on Umbrella had ever filmed. And a lot of that lift was going to fall on the show’s visual effects team, led by Everett Burrell. 

On The Umbrella Academy, Everett is in charge of everything from erasing green screens and stunt wires, to creating entire city blocks, like he did for Battle Dallas. He frequently uses something called a LiDar Scanner ... which, with the help of some very cool lasers, can calculate the distance between objects, and create an accurate 3D rendering based on the results. 

Remember Ottawa Street from episode three of the podcast? For the very first scene of the season, Everett had to recreate that street with the Lidar Scanner so he and his team could destroy it on the screen without destroying it for real. 

Everett walked me through his teams’ process. First they needed to digitize Ottawa Street.

Everett: We scanned every inch of it and photographed every inch of it so we could replicate it exactly as well as to add to it, you know, add the various sort of Dallas iconic things that we had to put in like a barbecue restaurant sign or the Texas theater. 

Then the actors shoot the scene on what they call a “blue screen volume.”

Everett: It was four sides, quite large. We built it sort of our backlot area at our studio.  So it was all blue. So there was nothing there that was that was real. And then we rehearsed it quite a bit. We just really went through each step

The scene features tanks, missiles, ghost soldiers, and… a bunch of exploding heads.

Everett: Originally, what we had done was a very graphic. Their heads exploded and it was very meaty and very disgusting. But, you know, Steve liked that. He wanted to be a little shocking. He wanted to be kind of crazy. But unfortunately, I think once Netflix saw it I think they thought it was a bit too much. And the word came how we had to make it less pumpkin-y as in pumpkin exploding. So we had to go back, and had to rethink it. And, you know, we thought about, you know, make it a little bit more like she's triggering, almost like a flash bang grenade in their brains. And that, that they calmed everybody down. It wasn't as gross. 

Allison (clip): I heard a rumor that I blew your minds. 

SFX

Everett: But it was the minutia. The smoke. The bullet hits. The photoreal walls. You know, sometimes it was a C.G. tank. Sometimes it was a real tank. It was just so many pieces to that. The making of that, once we do the before and after is I think going to be pretty astounding. 

Jason: And honestly, it came out like even radder than we ever thought it would have been. 

Jamie:  I mean, it was just a mind blowing experience being a part of that.

I’m Brandon Jenkins and this is Behind The Scenes: The Umbrella Academy Season Two 

In our last four episodes, we’ve taken a look at the music used in the series, how the sets and locations are selected, and even gotten nerdy about how to write a time travel show. But one thing about The Umbrella Academy that we can’t ignore… is that there is a lot of fighting. And a lot of explosions. Honestly… there’s just a lot of action. And in this episode, we are going to see how those fights come to life. From the visual effects that built an apocalyptic warzone on the streets of Dallas, to how the actors prepare for the show’s signature hand-to-hand combat. 

MUSIC CUE ENDS

Act 1 - Hallway Fight 

Everett Burell has been in the business for years, earning himself the moniker “The bad boy of visual effects.” But not all of his work is battle scenes and explosions.  In episode four of this season, Everett’s team created a space so deceptively simple, that you wouldn’t notice that VFX were used. It’s in the hallway fight at the Mexican consulate. The scene features Five, Lila, and Diego facing off against three Swedish assassins.

Diego (clip): Five? 

What’s remarkable about this scene is where it happens. It takes place in a very tight space—a single, long hallway; with the characters moving back and forth through it, all while showing off incredible moves. 

Everett: Very proud of that scene. The Mexican consulate fight, because it was a location mansion that did not have the right kind of hallways they wanted. So they shot part of it on location and then they can only afford to build one hallway that we use twice. Basically kind of flipped it. 

It’s what they call the French Reverse, when you take a set piece, and then reverse it, to give yourself twice as much space. Watching the show, you’d never be able to tell… 

Everett: The before and afters are astounding, they’re beautiful, amazing work, and subtle. No one will ever know they’re visual effects. And I think that's the ultimate testament of the work is you just can't tell. 

Rick: You end up with a giant hallway with only having half a hallway. 

Brandon: Camera tricks. 

Rick: That's it.

Rick Forsayeth is Umbrella Academy’s stunt coordinator. He spent most of the interview with us smoking a cigar, sitting next to his at-home sauna that he uses after heavy fight days. 

The scene starts with Five, getting into a scuffle with one of the Swedes who’s been posing as a caterer for a party at the Mexican Consulate. Diego comes to his brother’s aide, but he quickly gets overtaken by the two other blonde-haired assassins.  

Rick: In that particular fight scene, it was a lot of hand-to-hand combat and fighting skills, which David had become quite adept at over the first two seasons. And with David's fight skills that he has picked up over the year and a half we've had him. He was as good as any stunt guy I could put in there. // I could use David, the actor, in like nine tenths of that fight. And it's something he wanted to do. 

Brandon: [00:05:16] Did did he have a ton of experience before he walked in? 

Rick: [00:05:19] Not a lot. 

David: [00:11:33] Yeah. I mean, I remember the day that we shot that and my heart was going to fall out of my chest. 

David Castaneda, the actor who plays Diego… he was a bit nervous. 

David: So Rick said you're doing it today. You know, you're doing the fight. And we had already prepped for it. And I knew that today was a possibility. So...saw the hallway. The hallway felt really, really narrow. That was the first thing I thought is, “This is a very narrow hallway.” What we practice is not going to… it’s going to be very dangerous.  Rick would always was handing me Red Bulls, you know just to make sure that my energy was up. You know so he would always have, every time I did stunts, Rick would always have about two or three red bulls just hanging there for me. He was like he was like the granddaddy, you know, just taking care of me. 

Diego (clip): Oh yeah, mofo. It’s just you and me. Show me what you got. 

MUSIC SHIFT 

They needed a French reverse to make that hallway extra long because at the other end of it… you’ve got Diego’s brother, Five in another fight… and it looks like he might be losing. That is, until this season’s newest addition, Lila, steps in, played by Ritu Arya.

Rick: Initially coming in, I don't think she had ever thrown a slap to somebody on a screen.

Brandon: [00:10:24] We had spoken to the fight coordinator who told us that you had never thrown a slap on screen. So like, you know you said...

Ritu: [00:10:31]  Throw me under the bus.

 

Ritu: [00:10:44] No, it was really hard for me. It does it did not come naturally. I started, I guess, a few months prior to shooting. So they found someone in London that I was seeing a couple of times a week to get my fitness up, which is embarrassing. I mean, I thought I was fit anyway, but they were like, no, you got you got to be training like every day I was going there. Then when I came to Toronto, they set me up with training and taekwondo with a Master Chang, who was just amazing. I felt like he really, really pushed me and he made me do things I didn't think I'd ever really be capable of doing. 

Lila (clip): You’re welcome

For Rick the stunt coordinator, it was important for each character to play to their physical strengths and limitations. When it came to Five, and thinking about how he would handle a scuffle with Lila, there was a fight scene from another movie that came to Rick’s mind. 

Rick: Denzel Washington in The Equalizer. For a lot of that he basically uses what's ever there to his advantage to take out his opponent. And there was one scene where the Denzel character, walked into a room with a bunch, four or five thugs. And as he walked into the room, he was already scoping out the room like a corkscrew over there, a knife there, ashtray over there of things he was going to incorporate for the fight that was going to ensue. And I sort of because of Aiden's size, yet he was still, you know, the fifty five year old guy, professional assassin. It was as the fight begins. Yes, he can blink out, but he’ll see you know a plate on a table as he lands somewhere and use that plate as a frisbee to take somebody out halfway across the room, you know, whatever he can adapt to you use his skill in the size he is as a 50 year old is in a 14 year old body. 

Brandon: [00:09:35] Is that something that you've maintained and kept with him throughout season two? 

Rick: [00:09:41] Yes.  It was still something using his size to gain control over the other ones like in even in the hallway fight. He was, I think, fighting that tallest Swede we had. And he was like 6' 3", 6' 4". But yeah, we just used his blink out skills and his size and put them at each other. 

The fight ends with Five and Lila chasing after their Swede, and Diego being left to his own devices, facing off against Axel, the biggest, toughest Swede. They battle their way down the hall, in what the script calls “an Old Boy style fight” inspired by the 2003 Korean neo-noir action thriller.  

Rick: There is a big oner down the hallway with  Diego and the Swede fighting all the way down. That was a a wish list fight scene that Steve had always wanted to do. 

The scene took a full day to shoot. And at the end, David Castaneda was amped. 

David: I couldn't sleep. I was not exhausted at all. I was so excited. I was so excited that I remember I I couldn't eat lunch with the crew because I just felt so euphoric. So I was not exhausted. I mean, once the adrenaline came down and I went home, I mean, you can't help but to ponder that. Wow, this is this is yeah. This is dope cause, you know, it's not every day you can do a one shot hallway scene and then go, you know, banter with Five for, like, you know, another four hours. 

END MUSIC CUE

Act 2 - Ranch Battle

The final, and biggest fight scene of the season takes place on a ranch just outside Dallas. The ranch belongs to Sissy, a woman who accidentally hits Vanya with her car, and brings her home to care for her. 

Elliott: Well, hello. My name is Ellen Page and on The Umbrella Academy, I play Vanya Hargreeves. 

Vanya spends most of season 2 suffering from amnesia, living with Sissy, and her husband Carl, and their son Harlan. The two women develop a complicated, secret relationship.  Vanya’s had issues with romantic partners before, I mean, remember Leonard? He turned out to be a manipulative serial killer …  But without the memories of her past, Vanya is able to love Sissy without restraint.  

Elliott: So getting to see Vanya just, totally full blown, open hearted. Wide open. Falling in love, is really nice. I'm really glad she she had that experience. You know. 

Brandon: Not only is she in a loving relationship, but she's ready to love. And that's that can be a really powerful and big transition. 

Elliott: Yeah. She's ready to love. I like that.

Vanya also shares a close relationship with an unexpected character... Sissy's 14 year old son, Harlan. Vanya and Harlan’s fates become deeply intertwined when she saves his life early in the season. Not only is there an emotional bond… but  Vanya also passes some of her powers on to Harlan. 

VANYA (clip): Something wrong with Harlan. I need to help.

Luther: Vanya, we need to stick together okay, now more than ever. 

Vanya: That's why I’m telling you this. Whatever’s going on with Harlan, I… I might’ve caused it.

LUTHER: How?

VANYA: He drowned. And somehow, I was able to bring him back to life. And now we’re “connected.”

These new relationships come to a head in the show’s finale, on the Ranch. 

As the family reunites, Sissy and Harlan are met by none other than The Handler and Lila.

Luther: Aw Shit

Klaus: Who are they?

Five: One’s the Handler, the other’s Diego’s girlfriend. 

Diego: Lila, that’s my ex-girlfriend

Luther: You know what, it doesn’t matter, they both look angry

Allison: Yeah well, our brother has that effect on people.

Brandon: When the rest of the siblings join Vanya at the ranch … what does that mean to her?

Elliott: [00:03:28] I mean, it means the world to her. I think it's just I don't know, it's like really sweet for them to get through their difficulties to sort of, in many ways bond over the trauma and what they've all been through. 

But it’s not all sweet. The Handler — having taken over The Commission — has decided to get rid of the Academy kids once and for all. She calls on thousands of commission agents to storm through a field and take on the Academy in one final showdown. It was a massive production involving hundreds of crew members. With only a few weeks left to shoot, and the whole cast on set for this fight, everything needed to go just right. 

There was no time, or budget, for reshoots or do-overs. 

Steve: [01:02:18] Well, we hire meteorologists.  

But as Steve Blackman quickly found out … sometimes even meteorologists can’t predict the weather. 

Steve: We thought we'd worked it out, that we would just beat the snow and we had enough locations indoors that if we could just get through these four or five days and the first couple of days, it was cold, but there wasn't. It was blue sky, not a bit of snow. We went away for a day. We came back and there's four feet of snow on the ground. 

Everett: The grass was green. It looked great. And then we got an early winter storm and it just dumped snow everywhere. I I talked to Steve immediately. And he's like, what do we do? I said you gotta write it. You have to write it into the script. You absolutely have to. It has to become part of the scene. We can't hope that it's going to go away.

Diego (clip): You think whatever is going on inside is causing the cold front?
Five: The correlation is high. 

Everett: The idea was that Harlan’s power creates this weird little storm system around the ranch, but only around the ranch. So there’s sort of a circle, oval shape of snow. And then beyond that, it's the normal world. It's grass, its trees and all that stuff

Steve: And thankfully, you know, our CG VFX team led by Everett Burrell, you know, we sat down and we figured out a way with a lot of different VFX houses around the world to make it make sense. 

 

Everett: And that's what's been taking so much time to get this episode done, is basically I had to pull actors out of snow shots and put them into grass shots and vice versa sometimes. Incredibly complicated they call it snowmageddon. And it was a pretty good nickname. It was tough. It was a really tough situation.

MUSIC

Brandon: [00:15:31] Weather aside of it, you know, that scene you’re shooting, you know, you're shooting a fight that's supposed to be lots and lots and lots of commission officers. But on that day, how many would you say were actually on set during filming? 

Everett: I think we had 40. But on film, you know, they look like 10. It just is, it's a weird thing. You can have 200 people out there. And the wide shot, it looks like it’s 20. And you start off with a 40 by lunch, you have 10. Because they’ve all bailed. But, you know its, I don't blame them, you know, take after take in the snow for, you know, 50 bucks. Who wants to do that? But we again, we were smart. We digitally scanned every actor, every extra, so we could have our library full of C.G. doubles that we had to rebuild all those people in CG and some of them wearing masks like the Hazel and Cha Cha, kind of masks from the first season. We have a variety, a great mix of characters, but we scanned every one of them and luckily we did, because we used every one of those scans to build our CG army. 

Brandon: [00:16:58]  How many did you wind up adding to complete the army? 

Everett: [00:17:00] Thousands. 

Brandon: [00:17:02] Whoa. 

Everett: [00:17:03] Thousands. 

Handler (clip): Shall we?

Five: Run, go, go, go, go! 

Agents screaming

 

Vanya takes out the agents in one shot. 

SFX

But just when they think the battle is over and done, Lila faces off with the entire Academy. 

Handler: Let me know when you’ve killed them all, will you? 

Lila: Okay, mum. 

Which meant that actor Ritu Arya had to learn how to fight five very different opponents with five different fighting styles.

Ritu: And I also found the last episode incredibly exciting, being able to finally, you know, have these one on ones with the characters and take on their powers and surprise them with that and like learn those skills.

Brandon: [00:13:22] Well, now that you're an accomplished assassin, how would you describe Lila’s fighting style? 

Ritu: [00:13:29] Well, because she takes on people's powers, it's more like whatever they can do, I would do. So again, that's what was tricky, because I had to learn how the other guys were fighting. So I know that I think Alison was more sort of kickboxing and Diego is more like, Muay Thai and Luther was more just about mass strength.

Luther (clip): How is this possible?

Lila: You gotta believe in yourself, big boy.

First, Lila blows everyone away using Vanya’s sound wave powers, then she knocks Luther out with one punch. And after that, she rumors Allison almost to death. 

Allison (clip): I heard a rumor

Lila: You stopped breathing. 

Ritu: I tried to get as many different styles as possible so that if I felt that they were being a certain way, then I could mimic that. So I had a bit of a mix. 

Brandon: [00:14:17] Yeah, I feel like it's got a one thing, it's like tough to learn how to learn this thing and then perform it, but also to learn every other character’s style and then have to execute that on screen. 

Ritu: [00:14:28] Yeah. And I guess as well with Aiden his style, I guess, is a bit more like quick witted. 

Lila: Anything you can do, I can do better. 

Remember when Rick said that Five’s unique fighting style was adaptability?

Rick: He’ll see you know a plate on a table as he lands somewhere and use that plate as a Frisbee to take somebody out halfway across the room.

So, that’s what Lila does too, taking a frying pan and throwing it at Five mid-blink.. 

SFX of Five getting hit in the head with a frying pan. 

Ritu: And you don't have to like, figure that stuff out because that was with the fight coordinator. In terms of learning the different styles. Yeah, I wanted to make sure that I could do that justice of her being such a chameleon, you know?

Luther (clip): By the way, your ex-girlfriend can blink like Five.

Allison: Yeah, that bitch just rumored me so I couldn’t breathe.
Klaus: And destroyed like half the farm with a shockwave, so unoriginal.

Vanya: If she can do everything we can do, she might as well be one of us. 

Luther: Yeah. 

For the post-production crew, all of this material coming in right on the heels of Covid-19 has meant facing challenges even more complicated than a surprise snowstorm. Here’s Jason Neese. 

 

Jason: Well, you know I mean, it’s been intense, it was an abrupt pivot. You know we all kind of  saw it coming like this slow big wave. I was telling Jamie just yesterday as like, you know, we have a new point in our resumé: can produce and deliver a show during Pandemic.  

Like the Umbrella team, we also recorded, produced, and finished this show during the Pandemic. And while we promised you five episodes — and we thought we could fit all of our incredible behind-the-scenes knowledge in — we couldn’t. We had so many good conversations with the people who make this show, that we’re coming back with one more episode featuring some of the most compelling characters of the season. 

Aidan: I approached Umbrella Academy very much as a fan

Justin: Well first of all, I should mention that I didn’t know that he was gonna come back

Tom: What was so great every time I put that suit on, it felt uncomfortable. It felt

hot. And every day I put that on. It was like I put Luther on

Kate: She's always been sort of a little devil, like a bad seed, if you will. 

MUSIC ENDS

Actually… one little easter egg for you… about easter eggs. Everett Burrell, the VFX supervisor, did have to go back into the show and add a few CGI details here and there. Mostly small things...

Everett: The big one, though, is the symbols of the sparrow, the Sparrow Academy, which we find out at the end of Episode 10 that they're the new family and they have a unique symbol it’s a circle with the black sparrow in the center. And as part of the Easter eggs. We've planted a certain amount of black sparrows throughout the season.

 

So if you’ve already watched this season once, now’s a good time to go back and see how many of these sparrows you can find. Good luck.  

 

Behind The Scenes: The Umbrella Academy is a Netflix and Pineapple Street Studios production. I’m your host, Brandon Jenkins. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Thanks for listening.

MUSIC OUT