When Colin Penman read the script for Episode 5 of Gen V, he couldn’t believe it. The Canadian makeup designer has made a name for himself as an expert in prosthetics, working on Star Trek: Discovery and Dune, but Gen V, the college-set spinoff of the famously gory series The Boys, presented a much less realistic challenge: a no-holds-barred puppet fight scene, complete with felt intestines and plush brains.
“I have a background, a sordid past in puppet building and puppeteering,” Penman tells Inverse. “When the script came across my desk and I read it, and saw it called for the Deep puppet, I thought, ‘Oh, this is my worlds colliding.’”
In the 1990s, Penman worked with multiple shows from the Canadian children’s television channel YTV, like the ‘90s kid classic The Big Comfy Couch. In the years since, he mostly worked as a makeup designer, but when Gen V’s puppet scenes came along, he saw it as a chance to pivot to ultra-realistic prosthetic work. “I immediately contacted the producers and said, ‘I have to build this. You have to give this to me to build,’” Penman says. “I even sent them a photo of me from about 25 years ago with one of my puppets on a show that I worked on.”
Penman’s excitement was a stroke of luck for the producers as well. “He had done this before. I couldn’t believe it. We lucked out,” showrunner Michele Fazekas told The Wrap.
Inverse chatted with Penman about the making of that wild puppet sex scene in Gen V Episode 6, puppet penises, and building a sexy tree knot. Spoilers for Gen V up through Episode 6 follow!
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Is there an overlap between puppetry and prosthetic work?
There can be, yes. My entry into the film and television business was doing makeup effects and creature effects and oftentimes we’ll make a monster creature like an alien that maybe doesn’t exactly fit the form of a human. Then we have to operate those separate pieces.
Actually, even on this season of Gen V, we had Rufus’ exploding penis, and we actually made a penis for him that I puppeteered a little bit leading up to the actual explosion part of it.
So that was a little bit of crossover there, but it does happen quite a lot, especially with creatures and monsters and weird stuff like that.
How much of the exploding penis scene was you and how much was it CG?
We made a piece that he could wear and, basically ours inflated. So it hangs naturally when you see him, that’s us. And then it immediately starts to go [bigger], and we could inflate it, and then he would grab onto it and it would continue to inflate. That’s all that ours did.
Then at some point, we knew it was going to explode. We didn’t know they were going to show that much of it. We thought they were going to sell it by showing Marie getting the blood splatter in her face, but they ended up putting in that whole bit, which I thought was awesome.
While we’re on the subject of penises, the giant one in Episode 1, was that you?
Yes, as well.
How did you approach building a 5-foot-tall penis? What was it made out of?
It’s made out of a silicone rubber with a dense foam interior with a bit of a structure inside to hold it up. That was, I think, actually one of the first things that we built in the shop. We started with some 3-D prints to get a design. We were working with Lizzie [Broadway] and we had a dildo and we had some dolls, and we were just trying to figure out the proportion.
It ended up being about 6 feet tall, I think Lizzie’s about 5 feet tall, and she would come in and kind of stand beside it. We’d say, “OK, that works.” Then we’d keep going.
But it was fully there. All silicone and all hair punched, and it was amazing. Lizzie could jump on it and kind of rock around a little bit. It just worked out really, really well.
I saw the picture that Gen V posted, and it looked like it was just a clay model.
It went from that clay, then we made molds of it, and then we injected silicone into that. So the actual finished piece is a soft material.
Lizzie actually shocked us when we first had it pulled out and it was unpainted, just a silicone thing. She walked into the shop and she immediately just went and jumped on it, which we weren’t expecting at all. We all had heart attacks, but it was awesome. It didn’t fall down, and it didn’t tear, and nothing happened.
I think it kind of changed the scope of what she was going to be doing on camera that day. That action of her clinging onto it like a koala bear kind of came [about] in our shop, which was awesome to see it used in the final shoot.
How much of the puppet massacre scene was practical?
It’s entirely practical. The puppets were all built. We had a Sam puppet and we had an Emma puppet. Then we had, I believe there were six guards in total. Then each guard had I guess you could say, a death double. Which was rigged as to how it was going to die, whether it was torn in half, or its head ripped off, or its arms ripped off, or the various things that happened.
Everything was completely resettable so they could be torn. The effects team had these little cannons that could fire glitter, which was the fake blood in the puppet sense. In puppet world, fake blood is glitter.
So as far as the puppet action goes and all of that, it was all practical. It’s amazing.
What was the biggest struggle in creating puppets for such a unique purpose?
Everybody’s going to say it’s probably the timeline that we had to build them, which was really, really tight. But it’s a collaboration with the costume department, the Gen V costume department, and the props department, and the sets. It’s tricky because it’s hard to shoot puppets on a normal human set: where are you going to hide the puppeteers?
So they built this amazing sewer set, but it was raised up off the ground, and there were these channels built into the floor that the puppeteers could be in. So they were below the camera, and that’s always a big challenge, the logistics.
They knew exactly how they wanted each puppet to die, so the stunt team did a fight choreography, which we then catered to the puppets. I guess that’s just the biggest challenge of it all, is how to put them on camera, how to hide puppeteers, and how to get the most bang for the buck with these things. That whole sequence was shot in a day.
Did you operate any of the puppets?
I didn’t get to on this one, unfortunately. I wanted to so badly, but because I was running the makeup department as well, I think I got to run in quickly that day and then run off to whatever we were shooting at the same time. So unfortunately no, but hopefully, Sam doesn’t lose his puppet hallucinations, and we can have another crack at it. I would love to do that again.
What was the strangest prosthetic to work on in the show?
The strangest one, well, it’s probably the penis, really. Just because again, it’s like you kind of read it and then kind of digest that for a minute. Then you call production and say, “Are we doing this? Are we really doing this?”
Aside from that one, maybe the ear, that was also a big giant build. Oh, there was an episode where we built a blowhole for the scene with the couple in bed. We built that rig and it actually was rigged to blow the junk out of it on camera, but I think maybe that was a bit too much. That was an interesting one.
Oh, you know what else we did? This was another one I’ve never been asked. We made a prosthetic for a tree in the scene. We built a knot, like a hole in the tree, for an existing tree.
When Tek Knight’s doing his sign-off, he glances over and sees the tree. And then he is like, “I’m going to need a few minutes.” Yeah, we made that knot hole for that tree as well, I’ve never been asked to do a prosthetic for a tree before.
Well, you’ve done a puppet fight scene, and you’ve done a puppet sex scene. Is there a third on your bucket list?
Wow. OK. Let’s see. Puppet fights, puppet sex. That’s a really, really good question. What else can puppets do? They can do everything. Maybe a dance sequence, that might be fun.