Percy Jackson may have been pulled into the world of Greek mythology in his show’s first season, but the production crew had the exact opposite challenge: to make the gods and monsters of Greece look like they fit in the real world. According to Pierre Gill, the show’s director of photography, this meant approaching the scenes in the most grounded and realistic way he could.
In an interview with Polygon, Gill said that this approach came directly from showrunners Dan Schatz and John Steinberg.
“They really wanted to do something natural, realistic, as much as possible,” Gill said. “Not like [a] superhero type of show, not over the top. [They wanted] to keep Percy as a real character, a real human, a real kid, who’s going through this journey. That was the main direction we discussed [...] we really got synchronized on this.”
Adding to the challenge of making it all look real was the fact that most of the show was shot on the Volume — essentially a soundstage with a massive LED screen around it to simulate different locations, which has been used on shows like Loki and The Mandalorian. Gill isn’t immune to the Volume’s benefits, but he says that there are some productions where it makes things easier, and some that it makes a little more challenging.
“The Volume is very specific,” Gill says. “I’ve said it many times, but I still believe it: The Volume is great for sci-fi and fantasy. But it’s very, very difficult to do any more realistic stuff. And this is what we aim to do.”
The way Gill got around the Volume’s specific challenges was actually to start inside the Volume and work outward.
“It makes me start my testing and prep and all my vision from the Volume,” Gill said. “The Volume became my center core, because if I shoot outside, I can always find a look I want or put more contrast or more light or whatever. If I shoot inside a stage, I can also light it and do another one. If I shoot on the Volume I cannot do that.”
So he tested all of his lenses first in the Volume, to make sure they looked good there, then adapted his approach in other shooting locations to make those lenses work, since making the Volume work look real was the first priority.
Gill feels like this unique approach paid off in the end, and helped keep the show realistic looking.
“I think we succeeded pretty good,” Gill said. “Some people, they didn’t even know that the exterior MET [Metropolitan Museum of Art] and the interior MET were in Volume. And that the Minotaur was in Volume. [...] But when I hear this, for me, it’s very good news because I’m like, ‘well, I worked really hard to make it work.’”
Percy Jackson and the Olympians season 1 is now streaming on Disney Plus.