The penultimate episode of “The Stand” finally paid off what Stephen King fans knew was coming ever since the project was greenlit: the destruction of Randall Flagg aka the Dark Man’s (Alexander Skarsgård) debaucherous Las Vegas community.
As Randall screams about the traitors in their midst and has Larry (Jovan Adepo) and Ray (Irene Bedard) chained inside a pool that is slowly being filled with water, ominous clouds drift into the Inferno through the hole in the ceiling, followed by lightning rods. These rods strike everything from railings to tapestries on the wall to individual people, including Randall, exposing his true nature. His followers flee, losing faith in him and trampling each other in the process. Eventually the rods hit the nuke on which Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller) rode in, causing the entire building to erupt in a mushroom cloud that can be seen for hundreds of miles.
“When I read the script, my first thought was that I wanted to be sure that all the characters are given their due before they die. So, I put a lot of thought into how to kill them. I wanted it to feel terrifying but also poetic and also real. For instance, when bodies are hit by lightning they break apart in horrible, gruesome ways. I watched MAGA rallies as a reference [for Flagg’s position] — that really helped me understand the psychological dynamic between the crowd and Flagg. And, of course, a dictator on a balcony was not a stretch and fit comfortably into the overall space we were working with, which was a converted hotel atrium. Putting Mr. Flagg above everyone else gave a nice sightline to all the activity below and a chance for him to interact with all the players. Also, it allowed me to isolate him from the action and make him the center of attention.”
“Once we were sure that the final sequence with Flagg would take place at the ‘Pink Palace’ — our playful name for the set before we settled on ‘Inferno’ — we knew we would have to build some elements as breakaway or to take some damage. We made several breakaway glass areas, including along the main casino floor and most prominently the front door. In one scene several people crowd against the glass of the main entrance before it breaks on camera. The general rule of thumb was, if an actor interacts with it, then we can make it practical, if not, then time dictates doing it digitally. The chandelier was designed to imply a portal between worlds and echo the idea of Dante’s ‘nine rings of hell.’ We wanted there to be a direct connection between Flagg’s penthouse at the top of the building and the lowest lev – els of the casino and New Vegas society. In the end, none of that chandelier was practical.”
“For the exterior shots, the cloud is an art-directed, fluid simulation composited over aerial footage I shot in Las Vegas. We designed it to resemble a hand and fingers in a very subtle way, which gave meaning to those looking for meaning — but could be passed right by you if you weren’t. We used volumetric rendering in Houdini to create this effect; it basically allows the lightning to glow realistically inside the cloud, mimicking nature. It was very important that the ‘Hand of God’ look like lighting, so we pored over reference images of lighting, electricity and high voltage arcs. [Inside], all of the destruction was handled by VFX: there were no burns, glass or blood on set, nor was there fire or debris. The lightning strikes were created by building CG walls with internal structure including plaster, sup – ports, plywood, wires and con – crete. Then we ran a simulation to match the random nature of a lightning strike.”
“We wanted the same entity — whether we think of it as God or some unnamed power — that summons the storm cloud to enter Flagg’s casino to be the entity that summons Trashcan Man there as well. That’s why Trashcan Man directs his final, ‘For you!’ to the cloud itself. The length of the sequence was deter – mined in large part by the time it took for the lightning to accomplish the various tasks we wanted to see it accomplish before detonating the nuke: it needed to burn over all of Flagg’s logos and sigils; it needed to empty the casino floor of people, either by vaporizing them or by sending them streaming out of the exits; it needed to give each of our major ‘bad guy’ characters their own distinctive death; it then needed to batter Flagg, allow him to push back slightly in a final act of defiance, and then finally to gather its power before delivering the coup de gras.”