Those of us who worked on this special effect for Wynonna Earp, waited with bated breath to see the final results of our favourite illusion on screen. Episode 8 and the aforementioned effect aired on Space Saturday night.
If you didn’t see it, you now can on iTunes and You Tube. If you did see it, you’ll know exactly what effect we’re talking about: the live autopsy scene. This was the most time consuming, large scale prosthetic we made for Wynonna Earp. It took about a month to fabricate and test this effect, yet was the most simple of a magician’s illusions. See left for an early sketch drawn by Special Effects Supervisor Leo Wieser.
We started with a torso cast of actor Sasha Barry, then made a silicone skin to cover all of the organs. The process of creating the organs was intense as all of the details regarding colours, shapes and sizes were referenced from real autopsy photos. Only the bravest staff members were looking at the stack of images on Alyssa (our prosthetics creator)’s desk that month (although we understand that Leo, the Special Effects Supervisor, made it a habit to email the producers with the most gruesome photos – always around lunch time).
Because every organ was replicated to size (except for the pancreas, because it was too small and never would have been seen tucked behind the stomach), a large amount of platinum silicone was used. All of the organs were loose in the body cavity allowing the actor (Ryan Belleville) to rummage around in there, moving and pulling out whatever he wished during the scene. We did not know at the time of the build if he was going to rip out the heart or pull out a length of intestine. Alyssa wondered if the kidneys were even really worth making given that they sit deep in the back of the cavity, but somehow during shooting they made it to the surface and ended up being the part that was removed by the “Doctor”
If the regular organs weren’t interesting enough, animating the organs was what really sold this piece. The heart and the lungs were built hollow so that they could be brought to life, beating and breathing using pneumatics on set while shooting, which while physically impossible, looked very cool.
(Top: Alyssa testing the suit in the shop. Bottom: Sasha on set)
To complete the illusion, Dylan and Wade – two of our special effects technicians – built a box for Bethany to lie in that had a hole to allow her head to poke out. Her back was supported at just the right angle so the illusion was created that the prop torso was her body. Alyssa got to test it out in the shop and luckily she was the right size because it was a tight fit.
Click here to see the organs in action as we tested them on Alyssa in the shop.
We were so very proud of our effect as it required only the smallest of CGI (computer generated imagery or visual effects) work. Initially the neck seam was to be a make-up blend but due to the shooting schedule we had backed ourselves up with a neck scarf that could cover the seam. We advised the CGI team that minor blending might be required. In the end the visual effects team digitally removed the scarf to make Bethany a seamless blend into the torso.
This prop required many hours and lots of testing but it is one of our favourites. We’d love to hear your comments. And – it was the extemely popular main event at our Beakerhead Open House last Sept…and might make a return appearance in 2017!
Wynonna Earp airs on Space Sat nights after Dr. Who. It is also available by clicking here on iTunes.