“Yellowjackets” VFX Directors Dissect Shocking Sequences

Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” the latest psychological thriller, is beyond explanation. It effortlessly transforms from a coming-of-age story regarding a high-school girls’ soccer team to a bloody story of survival following their plane crashes in the Ontario wilderness, then turns a complete 180 to horror, with buddy comedy and political drama as well. 

The visual effects on “Yellowjackets” may look irrational as it doesn’t over-stuff its audiences with terrifying bloodiness like “The Walking Dead”. 

Challenge Was to Make Sure No One Could Tell the Difference

As per Lawson Deming and Michael Adkisson, two visual effects supervisors from the main effects vendor of the show, Los Angeles/Vancouver-based Barnstorm VFX, the effects on the show, from a docked leg to the numbers on a scoreboard, were majorly developed by combining practical effects and CGI. The challenge for Deming and Adkisson was to ensure nobody could find the distinction.

Adkisson said “I’ve always been a fan of doing shows where the visual effects are seamless and hidden and you can’t tell,” adding “I just want to contribute to the story, rather than overpower it. … For this show, it’s about helping with that suspense and telling this kind of twisted story.”

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The series sets that “twisted” tone soon on when Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) handles a fellow teammate and mistakenly breaks her leg. The player revolves around the field and lets out a blood-curdling shout, and the viewers see what has taken place in time with the other teammates: the terrifying picture of her bone showing below her knee.

The nasty effect of the brief shot is partly because of the work of the highly trained special effects makeup team but is also overblown by post-production work from Barnstorm.

Adkisson said “We did blood enhancement and helped out with the makeup effects that they used to enhance the look of the bone,” adding “Obviously onset, there’s not a lot of time to get things done, and we enhanced it to get continuity with blood and make things look more realistic.”

Coming to legs, the most remarkable in the show emerges (or disappears) in episode 2, following the plane that has crashed, and assistant coach Ben Scott (Steven Krueger) is stuck under the aircraft.

The girls uplifted it to look for his damaged leg below, and young Misty (Samantha Hanratty) decided to cut it off underneath the knee. It can make even a grown man faint and it does also, however, the wound turned out to be difficult for the effects team for causes other than nauseousness.

Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets

The Process Wasn’t Simple as the Filming Done in the Vancouver Wilderness

Krueger would put on a sock on the end of his leg on set, which would then be taken off digitally. But as the show was shot in the Vancouver wilderness, the procedure wasn’t easy.

Deming said “It’s not like the type of project where you just shoot around the fact that this one character has their leg removed and put tracking marks on it and they’re shooting it in a blue screen stage,” adding “It’s not like a big Marvel movie or something where they will just subsume the process of making the film to the visual effects. You sort of end up with a bunch of odds and ends … so a lot of it is taking everything one shot at a time.”

The plane crash scene and its consequences took about 30 to 50 shots, Adkisson said. 

In Episodes 4 and 7, audiences have an even better taste of the visual horror the show has to give. Episode 4 has a dream sequence where young Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) is back in her seat during the plane crash, and her dead father (Derek Hamilton) appears next to her with a huge part of his head missing. To turn things scarier, he bends in and tells her, “I don’t know why you’re so scared, Natty. You’ve already got blood on your hands.”

Two Notable Moments for Adkisson

In Episode 7, following a group of girls headed by Taissa decide to seek assistance, the crown jewel of visual effects emerges in the form of Van’s mangled face following a pack of wolves in the middle of the night attacks her. Adkisson said those two were notable moments for him to bring to life.

Adkisson said “I think both of those were quite interesting because they’re graphic, right, and adding CGI and making it integrate seamlessly and look real is always a challenge,” adding “At the beginning of Episode 8, you have Van laying down and she’s next to a campfire, so there’s a lot of flickering light. Making those things look real and integrate properly and track with any movement that might be, is always a challenge and I think we executed pretty good on that.”

Deming said “Normally planes don’t just explode in that way,” adding “They have a small explosion and then they crash or something like that, and because of the timeline and the story and the way that they wanted to do it, it was like, this needs to just decisively explode … and all I can say is I’m happy that it didn’t come across as comical when we watched it.”

Adkisson said that it was a completely different experience of working on an effect like that in isolation from seeing it in its full context when the music, editing, and color-correcting get together.

Adkisson said “At a certain point, it is trusting the showrunners and the directors and that all their pieces that we don’t know about while we’re creating the imagery brings it together,” adding “When you see the finished product and it all works, it’s good. It’s rewarding.”

When questioned whether working on the explosion was a climax for him, Adkisson responded “I mean it’s always fun to blow stuff up, right?” he said. “It’s every boy’s dream.”

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