Apple TV’s Invasion first hit our screens in 2021, and it’s been a delicious slow-burn science fiction treat. The show about aliens invading Earth (spoilers!) feels big, and the amazing sequences wouldn’t be out of place if someone told you it was from the latest blockbuster. To say we’re excited about the second season is an understatement. A few weeks ago, we chatted over Zoom with Erik Henry, the VFX supervisor on the show about bringing these invaders to life.
Henry’s passion for the show was infectious, and the conversation was fun. We talked about the big opening alien ground battle in episode 1, about the ethereal alien just revealed in the show today and how it’s so different from others in the genre, and even about some exciting moments inside the mothership.
The second season of Invasion is the perfect mix of people and exciting sci-fi action. The show stars Shamier Anderson, Golshifteh Farahani, Sam Neill, Firas Nassar, and Shioli Kutsuna and is helmed by David Weil and Simon Kinberg. The human drama grounds the story and Henry and his team’s effects elevate the show to orbital levels. Check it out below or however, you listen to your podcasts.
About Erik Henry
Erik Henry has an impressive career as a VFX supervisor in creating stellar stories. Not only did he work on seasons 1 and 2 of Invasion but Henry has also helped bring titles like The Abyss (which we spoke about in the interview!), Watchmen, Black Sails, Jack Ryan, and so much more to life. He has several Emmy awards for his work and many other accolades. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ve probably seen his work.
Our interview with Invasion’s VFX Supervisor Erik Henry
[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Mild spoilers for Invasion are discussed below. Audio of this interview is available in podcast form below or most places podcasts are available.]
Ayla Ruby: “All right, well, thank you. So Hi, Eric. It’s wonderful to meet you.”
Erik Henry: “Nice to meet you, Ayla.”
Ayla Ruby: “So Invasion is a very VFX-heavy show, and I’m very excited to talk to you about it. So I want to kind of just jump right in since we’re limited on time.”
About the opening sequence in “Something’s Changed”
Ayla Ruby: “So that first episode, let’s talk about it. It came out [In August], and that first sequence is, there’s a lot of fire, there’s the aliens. Can you talk about bringing that to life? I think I read that it took six weeks to just shoot, not post or anything like that. So I’d love to hear how that came to be.”
Erik Henry: “Six weeks to shoot and probably four or five months to post.”
Ayla Ruby: “Oh my goodness.”
Erik Henry: “Yeah, so we started; Alik Sakharov is the director of the episode, and he was keen to have something that felt like the camera was in amongst the fighting. And, of course, Mitsuki [Shioli Kutsuna], our heroine, is fighting and saving people, whether it be children or people who have been knocked down; she’s doing all of that stuff. So what we started with, Alik did storyboards for the whole sequence, like every little beat, and then we pre-vised the heck out of it, adding the alien in. Small tweaks were made because of the way the aliens move. Well, we can take advantage of that here or there. And then they went and shot it. And let me tell you, they just did exactly what we planned.”
Ayla Ruby: “Oh, wow.”
Erik Henry: “And sometimes it works. It doesn’t always, but they just shot it perfectly and gave us every opportunity to have success in giving room for an alien, moving the camera in a way that allowed for the alien to be placed in the scene. Alik and his team really delivered for us. I had a supervisor on the ground who helped in that, and then we go into post, and the team at Wētā took all of those shots, and this is an alien that they knew well from season one because they had done all of those.”
“But what happens when you work with an alien over time – you get better and better at it. And there was a shorthand between us and getting those 3D objects to sit in the frame, and the animations were, I think, exceptional in that scene. We get a chance to, of course, have people killed, but just seeing them in all, giving different places for them to run, rooftops down into alleys, and giving a lot more character than I think we had in anything in season one.”
“So, it was really that opening scene was supposed to do one thing, and one thing only is to say, season one, you had a little bit of aliens and a lot of character development, and what are you going to get in season two? Boom, you’re going to get aliens left and right and a war. Basically, open up and tell the audience this season is about all-out war.”
On the fog and the mothership in Invasion season 2
Ayla Ruby: “I’m glad you mentioned that because, so, season one, a lot of character development that season two, there’s so much more. There’s a lot of sci-fi stuff. Without going too much into the show, I know it hasn’t aired yet. There’s the mothership, there are these really cool… There’s this fog, which I would love to talk to you about. And how, I guess, there’s this big battle between Aneesha [Golshifteh Farahani], Luke [Azhy Robertson], Clark [Enver Gjokaj]; they’re escaping these hunter-killer aliens.”
Erik Henry: “Yes.”
Ayla Ruby: “Can you talk about bringing the fog to life? That just was completely creepy. It totally worked. It wasn’t a jump scare, but it was terrifying.”
Erik Henry: “Well, yeah, I mean, obviously, that was a challenge because we were shooting that outdoors, and it’s tough to keep all of that fog, the live-action fog. So, obviously, we had to augment it. And there are scenes where people are being chased, and they couldn’t get any fog. And so we’re really adding it. The idea of the fog was supposed to be a little bit of, where is it coming from next? Also, just when they’re in the car and driving along and Aneesha looks out and is searching and searching and, Luke’s feeling something, and then you see them running alongside, in other words, these new aliens being able to keep up with the car easily. It’s like, oh, okay, now what’s going to happen? I just think that that scene, yeah, was really well again pre-vised and thought out. And I think that anytime you can use a natural element to play hide and seek with your aliens, it’s going to be a success. And I think that’s probably why that is. I think people like that scene quite a bit.”
On comparisons to The Abyss and etherealness of the alien threat
Ayla Ruby: “Was there anything, whether it be other shows or other movies that you drew inspiration from or had little Easter eggs for in this season? I think I read something about The Abyss at one point and how that inspired some of this stuff. I’d love to hear if there’s anything else.”
Erik Henry: “Absolutely. I mean, years ago, I actually worked on The Abyss because I’m old. But that was one of those things where we were super careful of we had to create an alien for season two, a higher life form, a sentient life form. And Simon gave us the marching, Simon Kinberg, the creator of the show, gave us the marching orders that he wanted it to be beautiful and kind of ethereal and it wouldn’t have eyes, and it wouldn’t be able to communicate in a typical human-to-human way. So how are you going to do it? And then he left us with it because that’s our job. What we came up with, I think, still can emote, and there’s a great level of emotions that we were able to get in. And obviously, the comparison to The Abyss came in because it does feel like it’s at sometimes made of water, this entity.”
“And, of course there’s the character the alien takes on the shape of water in The Abyss, but in The Abyss, it also creates a face at one point for the actor to work against. We never did that. We couldn’t do that. And yet, I think there are intimate moments with one of the characters and this entity alien that I think are real powerful, and it’s amazing that you can do it. But we were aware of the comparison to The Abyss, and we said, if people are comparing it, that’s high praise. And I don’t think that we are overtly trying to copy it in any way. It is a whole different thing, and it’s driven by, all the emotional moments are driven by something that happened to this character as recently as season one. And so you have to have watched to understand why there’s a kind of love-hate relationship going on.”
Ayla Ruby: “I think it totally works with the story and everything that’s been building.”
Erik Henry on his favorite and most challenging VFX moments
Ayla Ruby: “And I think this might be my last question. Was there anything that you really loved working on this season that you’re super proud of that just was a joy to create and bring to life?”
Erik Henry: “I would say that one of the things that I think is most successful is in season one, you saw a ship that was an unknown, and in season two, we get to go inside it. And I think that as you watch the episodes because it’s a little later in the season when you go inside, and you see certain things, I thought that the execution of that was a lot of fun. I think it gives you real science fiction moments that I guess are dear, near, and dear to my heart. Sure, the challenge of the entity was a tough one. And I’d say more difficult than what I’m talking about in the interior, but there’s some great, big, vast moments where it’s almost, I guess, the success of the interior of that ship. And my love of that part was that it reveals without being in your face.”
“It just kind of, you walk into it, and you go, oh my God, this is a place that is so vast, I can’t even, my mind is blown. But we’re not making too much of it. You’re just seeing it as, of course, that’s what it is because it’s just big. And I just think those interiors via a company called Raynault VFX in Montreal are some of the best in the show. And yeah, I think people will really enjoy those if you’re a science fiction freak.”
Ayla Ruby: “And we definitely are. Well, thank you very much. This has been wonderful talking.”
Erik Henry: “Okay. Well, I enjoyed it too. Have a great day.”
Ayla Ruby: “You too. Take care.”
How to watch Invasion on Apple TV+
Invasion Season 2 is streaming now on Apple TV+. You can watch the 5th episode, “A Voice From The Other Side,” starting today.
Have you watched it yet? What do you think about the show – or our interview with Erik Henry? Join the conversation with us on social media or over on our Discord. And if you’re looking for more behind-the-scenes chats about your favorite films and television shows, check out our other interviews.