Killer butts and gorilla fashion: How visual effects help Doom Patrol stay weird

The HBO Max series Doom Patrol just might be the weirdest, most irreverent and unpredictable comic adaptation ever brought to the screen, and that’s saying a lot.

Now in its third season, the show based on the DC Comics series of the same name chronicles the adventures of a misfit team of characters with strange powers who couldn’t be less interested in being heroes — and yet, time after time, they find themselves stuck with saving the the day (and more often than not, reality as we know it). Across the series’ first two seasons, they’ve fought all manner of enemies, from surreal nihilists and extra-dimensional monarchs to more traditional supervillains and even, well … a horde of sentient butts with razor-sharp teeth.

Series showrunner Jeremy Carver works with the show’s Emmy-winning visual effects supervisor Armen V. Kevorkian to bring the team’s always weird, always entertaining adventures to the screen, no matter how strange the latest chapter gets. With Doom Patrol wrapping up its third season on HBO Max soon, Digital Trends spoke to Kevorkian about his work on the series.

Digital Trends: I can’t imagine too many projects being weirder than Doom Patrol when it comes to creating visual effects elements. How does it compare to some of the other shows you’ve worked on?

Armen Kevorkian: It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a show. It’s different every single episode, so it never gets boring for me. I’m always like, “I wonder what they’re going to come up with next?” Our Executive Producers are so great, and so is the whole writing team and Jeremy [Carver, showrunner]. … This season, there were obviously a lot of visual effects, with those flying masks and Monsieur Mallah and all. We also had the killer butts come back.

That’s not a phrase that comes up often when I’m doing interviews: “This season, we had the killer butts come back …”

Yeah, exactly. That’s Doom Patrol! And that gave us an opportunity to have fun and improve on assets that we had, knowing they were something you’d see up close now, interacting with characters more than they did last time. [Doom Patrol] is just a lot of fun. It keeps you on your toes and makes you create new things.

What have been some of the standout elements for you so far in your work on the show?

One of my favorite things to do is to go back to the canon of the comic book to see what was done. And as kooky as Doom Patrol is, you still want it to be grounded where it feels like, “OK, maybe this thing could exist in a weird world.” And what’s always fun for me is to say, like, “This is what they did in the comics. What can we do that stays true to the flavor of what they had, but at the same time, do our own take on it.”

So if you look at the comic book version of the Candlemaker and our version, they’re a little bit different. [Our version] doesn’t have a candelabra stuck on his head. His head is the candelabra. It’s things like that I love. I love the collaboration we have with the writers, where I can work with my guys and say, “Hey, I think this is a cool way to approach it. Let’s see if everyone else digs it.” And then we send it over and go back and forth a little bit, if at all, and come up with the final look.

What’s been one of the most challenging visual effects to pull off so far? 

One of the things that was a bit challenging was actually one of the simpler things, but it was challenging to figure out: It was Madame Rouge’s transformations. Anytime writers use the word “morph,” I get goosebumps. We definitely wanted the transformation to be different. We discussed it as a painful thing for her. That’s why, if you look at those moments in the series, [Actress Michelle Gomez] is moving around, physically triggering all the changes that are happening to her character’s face and body. We just kept the camera rolling, and it felt a lot more natural than the morphs we’ve seen in the past. But lining up the two characters and finding the moments when you see a part of the body change with a movement, that was probably one of the more challenging things we did.

It’s definitely labor-intensive with Mallah, too. There’s so much that goes into that animation, simulating his muscles and fur.

It’s weird to say, but this isn’t the first gorilla character from the DC Comics universe you’ve worked on. Did your work on Gorilla Grodd in The Flash series help with designing Mallah for Doom Patrol?

Well, Grodd never spoke. You heard him communicate, but it was all telepathic, so his lips never moved. The one challenge everybody faces with talking animals in features, TV, or whatever, is that their anatomy is so different from ours. If a gorilla spoke, he wouldn’t sound like us, but we’re using the voice of a real actor for the character. So that’s challenging because of the anatomy of their lips and our lips.

It’s funny, because everyone was initially like, “Are you just going to reuse Grodd?” And I’m like, “No!” Grodd looked good, but he deserves his own space. So we started designing Mallah early in order to have something ready before the season started that people could see. We stayed true to the character’s beret and bandolier, and in one episode he’s even wearing a full-on chauffeur outfit. For that outfit, we ended up scanning an actor in a suit the costumes department created. They were like, “What do you want him dressed in?” So we got to dress Mallah, even though he’s a CG character. They actually designed an outfit, made it, and we scanned someone in it. And then we created it in CG to put it on Mallah.

There’s so much going on in Doom Patrol that I suspect there are some VFX elements that people might not even realize are VFX. Are there some hidden VFX you’re particularly proud of?

There was a whole scene in the season’s opening episode where they’re in a field and Jane (Diane Guerrero) is about to take off in a plane. There’s all this wind in the scene and dust, and it’s pushing all of her personas back. That was a huge scene for us, because we created all the dust in that scene. None of it was practical. That’s one invisible effect we worked on, and then there are a lot of effects with the character Fog, too. Initially, every production is like, “We can do it practically,” when it comes to smoke and fog, but eventually they realize you can’t really make fog act the way you want, you know?

I’ve heard it doesn’t take direction well …

Not at all. So we eventually went ahead and did a bunch of fog shots that I think pretty seamlessly work with whatever they had done practically up to that point. So there’s stuff like that throughout Doom Patrol.

Where does the line get drawn between visual effects and practical effects when it comes to the characters? I assume Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser) is mostly practical, for example …

For the most part, especially this year, Cliff was 90-percent practical. Last year, when his bottom half was cut off in the underground, and he was crawling around with his guts on the floor, obviously everything below the waist was CG.  This year, we did have a lot of CG for Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) where we replaced him completely in shots. There’s a sequence when he goes up into space, and we kept some of the stuff production had shot of him against a green screen, but we redid most of it in CG to make him fit into the environment a little bit better with the lighting and stuff like that.

What about Rita Farr (April Bowlby)? I assume her body transformations require a lot of work.

I’m glad you brought her up. She’s always a little challenging. When you initially come up with an effect, you tend to get better at it the more often you do it. If her arm stretches in a scene, that’s a simple thing for us now, for example. We know what it takes to do it and what the issues are that we might run into if we stretch it too far. But this season, when she had to melt into a flowerpot in an episode, that was something we had never done. So we had to figure out what that would look like and whether we could convince people it looked right. You’ve never seen someone become a blob in a flower pot, so that’s always the most challenging part: Figuring out what we have to do on our end to make it work.

There’s a shot we did with her this season that I was really proud of. She’s basically a liquid, and been carried around in a big, blue sack for most of the episode. But then she kind of resolves and comes up, out of the sack, and she does so while holding the material, which turns into a dress. That was super hard. I think it came out great, but it was so difficult to make it flow. It’s really her in that last moment, when she’s putting the straps of the dress on, but 90 percent of that shot is CG — right up to that last 10 percent when she’s putting the dress on. Blending those elements, especially with cloth and skin, takes some time.

Well, I need to know you a little more about one of the returning elements this season, because it’s not every day I get to have a serious discussion about, well… killer butt monsters. What went into the creation of those particular characters? 

[Laughs] Well, when we first discussed them, I think the conversation I had with

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