The newest escape on Prison Break keeps its visual-effects pro on the run.
When visual-effects supervisor Michael Leeming got the script for the season opener of the new Prison Break sequel, he couldn’t put it down.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is the first series to really bring ISIL to primetime TV,’” he says. “It had the perfect combination of raw emotion and suspense — and all the various elements that should make it another hit season.”
The Fox show, which ended its previous run in May 2009 after four seasons, is back now with a nine-part event series. This time, the action kicks off when Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) discovers that his brother Michael (Wentworth Miller) might be alive in a high-security prison in Yemen, where ISIL forces are present both inside and out.
“We had to constantly think on our feet,” Leeming says of the production, which shot in Vancouver and, for three weeks, in Ouarzazate, Morocco.
“One of our biggest challenges was that the show used a lot of hand-held camera, documentary-style filmmaking [using the Arri Alexa Mini cam] to explore what the brothers and the rest of the gang were dealing with. Things would change very quickly, and we had to redesign the visual effects on the go.”
In Morocco, Purcell incurred a nose and head injury when an iron bar got dislodged and landed on his face during shooting. He was quickly rushed for treatment and had a speedy recovery, but his remaining Yemen scenes had to be done via greenscreen in Vancouver.
“We used a double [Johnny MacDonald] for reference,” Leeming explains, “but it was quite tough to match the look, get the lighting of the desert exactly right. It required a lot of massaging to make him feel part of the scene. These scenes were shot in 4K, which allowed us to have more flexibility in postproduction. We had to reconstruct about 30 to 40 shots digitally.”
Leeming is proud of the various set extensions that he and his team created, using giant matte paintings and digital technology. An alum of the Vancouver Film School, he has supervised the visual effects of many shows, including Supergirl, Fear the Walking Dead and The Magicians.
But his Prison Break experience taught him a lot about efficiency. “This was one of the most fast-paced projects I had ever worked on. I’ve done shows with bigger effects shots, with lots of aliens and explosions, but this one really kept me on my feet.”