The future of Netflix superheroes was gloomy as Number 5 traveled back just in time to serve us with Season 1 of Umbrella Academy. Seven children were adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, trained and prepared for a supposedly doomsday, but soon disbanded. The ‘dysfunctional family’ also has a butler who is quite hairy by the way.
Pogo, the ape, is a butler, friend, and assistant of Sir Reginald Hargreeves. To be exact, Pogo was an advanced chimpanzee who cares about the powerful, growing teenagers (at least most of them were, consciousnessly speaking).
To create this believable character, it took 220 people to work on his CGI effect. It was challenging and according to Everett Burrell, a “scary point” and it prompted the team to bring it Weta Digital in.
If you don’t know who Weta Digital is, think Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes, and the biggest assemble of heroes, yet, Avengers. Weta Digital is known for their impressive VFX works, but it’s a first for them to work on a TV series. Blackman first threw his sales pitch: “‘Guys. We don’t need you to do 100 apes and monkeys coming on horseback over a hill. I need you just to do one monkey really, really well for me.’”
And the team happily agreed to the job! For one thing, Weta Digital has done hundreds of apes before doing all kinds of things. It was easy that for this one, they can focus on a single one, paying attention to the details of the movement, expression, and everything.
The voice, the act, and the expression.
These are the three most important components in the making of Pogo. Weta has the digital covered, but they still need professional actors to act out Pogo’s movements and expressions.
They have chosen their acting chimpanzee and it was Ken Hall, the man who was Jeff the Grey from People of Earth. It was a pleasant challenge because he had to act an advanced chimpanzee who had the expressions and mind like those of a human. Ken Hall did a great job at making Pogo moves exactly like how everyone expected him to.
Adam Godley came in later and voiced Pogo’s character. They also captured Adam’s expression and have it integrated with Ken’s acting. This is a little bit tricky because while Ken blinks a lot, Adam doesn’t, for example. So, the team has to readjust the movements and features to create a seamless portray of Pogo.
Nothing was impossible
The team at Weta never mouthed, not even once, the word impossible for Pogo, according to Blackman. Everything on the script came to life with the help of more than 200 people from Weta.
Blackman praised the professional work Weta gave: “I’ve worked on other shows where vendors come back to you and say, ‘You know, we just can’t do this.’ More typically, ‘I don’t think we have enough money based on the budget.’ Weta didn’t do that. Weta said, ‘We just want this to be great.’”
Weta said, ‘We just want this to be great.‘Steve Blackman
It was a first for Weta to work with more than one actor for a CGI effect, but they took up the challenge and delivered wonderful results. Additionally, Burrell who was the visual effects supervisor and associate producer made sure all parties, including eight different production houses, post-production teams, showrunner, and DPs are integrated. There were only minor corrections along the way, but other than that, everything was fun and exciting for the team.
And, you’d think it was hard for the actors to integrate with the CGI character?
No, Ken did all the acting, which makes it as if the actors were acting with Ken, the chimpanzee. However, his facial expression never features Adam’s voiceover and acting. So, Blackman thought of a way to make sure Ken’s hard work is shown.
If you have watched the series, you might notice Herb in episode 6. Ken’s an amazing actor and Blackman commented, “We gave Ken a great part and he was just so wonderful in it because he’s a really good actor.”
Weta Digital also reminded Blackman: chimpanzees have more facial muscles. Ken did his best at portraying the expressions, although he was clouded by Adam’s. But don’t get this wrong: Adam’s personally directed performance by Blackman was perfect. It took three days to finish everything and they handed the results over to Weta.
The production team prepared a Director’s Welcome Pack that contained details on the budget for every Pogo scene. They attach a note to every scene, commenting how much they would have to pay for a certain scene and how detailed it should be. Every director in the team had never worked with VFX characters before and they were astounded at the cost paid.
However, overall, Burrell was so satisfied with how Pogo turned out that he might reuse the scenes, although, given the ending on Season 1, Pogo might not make it to Season 2. But we can be sure that as Weta trudges into the realm of shows, we can only be made to fall even more in love with the loving character.