“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is an effects-laden adaptation full of Greek gods, mythical monsters and otherworldly landscapes, but its young stars say they didn’t have to rely on imagination to visualize their fabled scene partners.
Disney Plus says the British Columbia-shot series, based on Rick Riordan’s best-selling fantasy novels, uses cutting-edge technology that forgoes green screens.
It’s billed as the first project shot in Canada to use the technology, dubbed StageCraft. At its heart is a newly built virtual production stage in Vancouver, known as “the volume,” which consists of 28-metre LED video walls that immerse actors inside computer-generated environments in real time.
Actors on the stage see video projections of CGI backdrops and characters that would traditionally be added in post-production.
Designed by Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Disney’s Lucasfilm, the stage’s first project was “Percy Jackson,” but there are more to come.
“[The volume] is just insane. The fact that we could be in New York one day and Los Angeles the next is crazy,” says 14-year-old Walker Scobell, who plays the titular hero.
“They even added built-in sprinklers to the ceiling of the volume stage because there’s so many raining scenes in the show.”
Directed by James Bobin, the series follows a 12-year-old demigod and his friends as they travel across America to return Zeus’s lightning bolt and prevent a war from breaking out.
“It was definitely very surreal,” adds Leah Jeffries, 14, who plays Annabeth Chase, Percy’s pal and the daughter of Athena.
“If you’ve read the book and know all the details that are in it, the creators made sure it was all in there. Even small things like, ‘There was a box with a red mark on the side.’ The volume made it more intense because you saw it come to life in 3D.”
ILM has other volume stages in Manhattan Beach, Calif., The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., and in London, England. The California-based stages were used for Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” while the London stage was used for this year’s Marvel Studios feature “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
“It takes a lot of pressure off your mind to constantly uphold what the show’s world looks like,” says Aryan Simhadri, 17, who plays Percy’s half-goat quest mate Grover Underwood.
He recalls a pivotal scene from the pilot set in a cabin in Montauk, N.Y., but actually filmed from the stage.
“Any time you glance out of a window in the Montauk cabin, it’s nice that instead of being startled by a green screen you forgot was there, you can see the reds and blues of the sunset. It helps you stay in it.”
The actors do have some reservations about the technology, though.
“The one small drawback was how hot it was,” says Scobell, noting the lights from the screens could get quite bright. “It got hot. But it was nice in the winter.”
“Percy Jackson” was filmed in B.C. from June 2022 to February of this year, but Scobell, a Los Angeles native, got his first taste of Canadian winter while filming 2022’s “The Adam Project” in Vancouver, where he played a young version of Ryan Reynolds’s character. He says the “Deadpool” star not only provided mentorship, but indirectly prepared him for his current role as a heroic demigod.
“He told me about a lot of great food places around B.C., one of which is related to Percy Jackson — Aphrodite’s Cafe,” says Scobell.
“They have, like, really, really good pie there. And it’s all Greek gods-themed, like Olympus. That was really cool.”
“Percy Jackson” isn’t all movie magic. Camp Half-Blood, the Greek demigod training facility in the series, was set at Minaty Bay, a coastal region along the Sea to Sky Highway.
“I don’t think they could have picked a better spot for Camp Half-Blood,” says Scobell. “It had this pure blue, glacial water. It was amazing.”
There was also some good old-fashioned physical training involved in the series. Simhadri’s character has goat legs, which required him to master the art of the satyr waddle.
“I learned how to walk like a goat,” says Simhadri.
“That was an interesting two months. I was [walking] like that for, like, 10 months after we wrapped. It felt weird to put my heel down on the ground, so I had to manually teach myself how to walk like a person again.”
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” premieres on Disney Plus in the U.S. and Canada on Dec. 20.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2023.