How 3 Body Problem Pulled Off That Jaw-Dropping Panama Canal Scene

Netflix’s 3 Body Problem has been out since last week, and the streamer is starting to share spoiler-filled behind-the-scenes videos. Today’s drop goes into great detail about episode five, “Judgment Day,” a title that refers to both the giant ship at its center… and the memorable fate suffered by all aboard.

Suffice to say, if you haven’t watched 3 Body Problem yet, turn back now!

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In episode five, intelligence operative Wade (Liam Cunningham) brings his team to the Panama Canal, where they’ll attack Judgment Day—the oil tanker that’s home base to reclusive billionaire Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce). The vessel is also where he’s been clandestinely communicating with the San-Ti, the aliens who’ve set a course for invading Earth. Since Wade can’t just storm the ship and steal whatever intel Evans is hiding, he comes up with a plan that weaponizes the highly advanced nanofibers invented by brilliant scientist Auggie Salazar (Eiza González).

The slice-and-dice result (think the opening scene of 2002 horror flick Ghost Ship, made exponentially worse) is both visually wondrous and agonizingly brutal, and it posed quite a challenge for 3 Body Problem to pull off. “It began with months of prep,” episode director Minkie Spiro explains in the below video. “And it started with the science.” The clip includes insights from the show’s particle physics consultant, who helped bring authenticity to that element—as well as its production designer and VFX supervisor, who worked in tandem to make the scene feel as organic as possible. It also digs into how some characters are horrified by what they’re doing, considering all the people they’re killing as part of this… while others simply see it as part of being at war.

3 Body Problem | Inside the End of Judgment Day | Netflix

Speaking to io9 and other journalists as part of a recent Netflix press day, D.B. Weiss—the co-creator of 3 Body Problem, along with David Benioff and Alexander Woo—explained a bit more about what went into crafting the episode. “There [were] a lot of challenges. One of the [hardest things] was making sure you knew what was going on, going into it, so you didn’t need any of it explained to you in the moment. Because explaining about nanofibers slicing things, while nanofibers are slicing things, is going to kind of kill the buzz of the sequence, to say the least,” he said. “Story-wise, there was a challenge of sneaking things onto the board in these episodes that preceded episode five, in ways that were dramatic and interesting in their own right, and kind of gave you—without you knowing it—a tutorial in what was going to happen in episode five.”

He continued. “In terms of the production challenges, you’ve got micro nanofiber wire every three feet slicing something that’s hundreds of feet high into deli slices. Deborah Riley, our production designer, drew lines on the walls saying, ‘This is where the fibers would be. Everything that crosses those fibers paths is going to be cut in half.’ It makes for a really difficult conversation: which parts do you do practically, [and] which things are just too hard to do practically? The paper dolls with the legs get cut off in that one shot preceding the first human death that we see—that’s something [where] there was no good way to to do that practically, because we didn’t actually have nanofibers. So that had to be a computer-generated visual effects shot. Obviously, the people are real right up until the moment when they get turned into deli slices, and stuff needed to be handed off from practical—people looking afraid—to visual effects of people getting chopped to pieces and falling to the ground … Everybody needed to be working together in unison on the same page to make everything happened exactly when it needed to happen.”

3 Body Problem is now streaming on Netflix.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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