Superheroes and supervillains, quirky characters, movie-quality effects and suspenseful plots with unexpected twists made "Heroes" the watercooler hit of the 2006-2007 TV season. It racked up eight Emmy nominations, including Best Drama Series, and attracted a huge following to its take on good versus evil.
"Heroes" has spawned a comic book, video game, Web serial and a spring 2008 spin-off called "Origins" while getting America -- and fans in nearly 150 countries -- hooked on the adventures of an indestructible cheerleader, a Japanese time-traveler and an exotic dancer with a very split personality.
Now, as its second-season premiere approaches (Sept. 24 on NBC), "Heroes" carries the pressure to match, if not outdo, its stellar freshman year. The premiere episode is titled "Four Months Later," segueing from the season one finale.
"I'm never 100 percent satisfied with anything, but I was pretty pleased that we were able to wrap up that much story and give ourselves enough of a blank slate to start the season with," says series creator Tim Kring.
But much was still in doubt at the end of the season one finale, including the fate of Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) and D.L. Hawkins (Leonard Roberts). Kring won't comment on their status, but he does make it clear that there will be major shakeups in the lives of returning superheroes and a long list of new characters joining the "Heroes" universe.
In this article, we'll find out what's in store for season two. Is Jessica gone for good? Will Matt find his pregnant wife? Will Hiro make it back from the past? But first, we'll learn about the creation of the series' amazing special effects.
'Five Years Gone'
"Heroes" used more than a thousand special effects in its first season. One of the most complicated episodes was "Five Years Gone," a jump into the postapocalyptic future.
The special effects department needed to produce two very different Manhattan landscapes and multiple superpower effects for "Five Years Gone." It also had to depict Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) in front of the White House and at Ground Zero before having him fly across the New York skyline.
Artists rendered postnuclear Manhattan in a matte painting of 3505 by 2785 pixels that included animation for moving vehicles, airplanes and construction cranes. To allow the character of Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) to interact with his future self, the four-and-a-half minute scene was filmed in four passes in 35mm using a motion-control dolly and a Hot-Head -- a remote-control camera head.
For the scene in which President Petrelli heads for his helicopter on the White House lawn, Pasdar walked in front of a blue screen, which was composited with a computer-generated model of the White House rendered at 2922 by 1644 resolution and enhanced with matte-painting additions of surrounding greenery.
Petrelli's appearance at a Ground Zero memorial service required green screen, matte paintings and numerous CG elements. His solo flight in the next scene involved more than 200 hours of work from 3-D artists, matte painters and the compositor. The compositor created a green-screen model of Pasdar and a CG model (made with Maya Cloth simulator software) and put them together with crowd elements, a matte painting of the memorial site and an animation of the jet's exhaust trail.
The episode's technical challenges also included Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) exercising the power of invisibility, which was achieved through split screens, rotoscope and glass distortion filters. A similar process (but with a CG ripple effect instead of a distortion filter) was used to show Sylar (Zachary Quinto) walking through walls. For the showdown between Peter and Sylar, special effects artists used Lightwave software to create animated CG fire and ice elements.
Split screens and rotoscoping illustrated frozen time, and when it was necessary to show actors in off-balance positions, rigs propped them up and were removed in postproduction. Finally, to create a wraparound view of present-day Manhattan, artists utilized a 270-degree matte painting, Boujou tracking software and green-screen and CG elements.
Hayden Panettiere, whose character, Claire Bennet, is constantly defying death, has spent considerable time with the special effects department, mostly for makeup and prosthetics. One episode, "The Homecoming," was particularly rough -- she spent six hours having burns simulated and getting a body scan for CG. In another episode, Claire is autopsied, which was achieved via a prosthetic placed on Panettiere's chest. She remembers walking around with blood dripping everywhere. "I'm like a piece of steak," she says. "I've been broiled and filleted."
On the next page, we'll find out what your favorite characters will be up to in season two -- and get a sneak peek at some new faces.
If you're a "Heroes" fan, you're probably on the edge of your seat waiting for the lowdown on the new season. Here are some tidbits to tide you over until Sept. 24.
- Teflon cheerleader Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) surfaces at a Los Angeles high school, where Lyndsy Fonseca and Dianna Agron will recur as members of the cheerleading squad. Claire's relationship with her adoptive father, Noah, will remain complicated.
- Life for Niki (Ali Larter) will be less schizophrenic now that her alter ego, Jessica, has been eliminated, but no less challenging. "To be able to focus on the one character is, I think, going to be the best move," Larter says. "I heard it will be a little like 'La Femme Nikita.'"
- Beat cop Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) has been promoted to detective. "He gets to be in the position he always wanted to be in, so I'll be working with a lot of the people I've wanted to work with," Grunberg says. Parkman's wife is pregnant, but because she cheated on him, there's a strong chance it's not his child.
- Zachary Quinto says his character, the nefarious Sylar, will be "in a radically different landscape than you'd expect to find him in, in a radically different power structure, a place no one would ever expect him to be."
- The return of evil shape-shifter Candice Wilmer is up in the air because portrayer Missy Peregrym is a regular on the new CW series "Reaper," which shoots in Vancouver. "The studios are working together to make it happen," Peregrym says. "I know some things about her that haven't come out yet. So we'll see what happens."
Quite a few new characters will be joining the "Heroes" ranks this season. Here's a look at a few of them:
- Jessica Collins ("The Nine") will recur as a mystery woman named Sophie.
- Barry Shabaka Henley will appear as a New York police officer.
- Holt McCallany joins the cast as the ringleader of a gang of Irish thugs.
- Dana Davis comes on board as a young relative of D.L.
- Kristin Bell (of "Veronica Mars" and the narrator of the new CW series "Gossip Girl") will appear starting in October in a multi-episode arc as Elle, described by Kring as "a sexy, intriguing, mysterious young lady" who'll commit a heinous crime. A woman with unclear allegiances, she has ties to Peter Petrelli and Noah and Claire Bennet.
- Dania Ramirez ("The Sopranos") joins the cast as Maya Herrera, a Spanish-speaking character first seen somewhere in Central America on the run from the law with her twin brother, Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz). "She's trying to cross borders to get to the U.S. illegally," Ramirez says. "She is essentially a good person, but she has a hard time controlling her abilities and because of that has harmed some people around her."
As the season one finale set up, Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) has teleported to feudal Japan. "We're going to be there for a while," says Oka, an Emmy nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
"The whole idea of Season Two is that we're going to start with two separate time lines," he says. "One time line is going to start four months after the event [in the finale] happened, and the other storyline starts with Hiro 400 years in the past."
Oka also reveals that he has been working with some new cast members, including Eriko Tamura, a Japanese actress and pop star who plays a Japanese princess. David Anders (formerly of "Alias") plays samurai warrior Takezo Kensei, Hiro's childhood hero and the original owner of his precious sword. George Takei will also return as Hiro's father.
"Origins," the new spin-off series created by Kring, will start airing after season two of "Heroes" ends in April 2008. A new character will be introduced in each of the six stand-alone episodes, and viewers will decide which of them will remain for season three of "Heroes." Kevin Smith (of "Clerks" and "Mallrats" fame) is on board to direct the first episode.
Kring sees "Origins" as a sort of farm system for new characters. "Rather than it being like a tank of gas where you use up story, these twists and turns and reveals and cliffhangers actually generate more story," he says. "So it's an engine that feeds on itself."
"[They're] disconnected from the main storylines of Heroes but in the same world," says Masi Oka. "You might see a mailman deliver a piece of mail to Mr. Bennet's house, which we know has burned down."
Tim Kring, previously best known for creating the series "Crossing Jordan," says he had wanted to write a show like "Heroes" for years, but serialized dramas with large ensemble casts didn't usually rerun or syndicate well. "But with the advent of shows that did well and DVD sales, it became more attractive to the networks," he says.
The "Heroes" premiere in September 2006 drew 14.3 million viewers and was the highest-rated NBC drama debut in five years. After the blockbuster first season and all the hype and Emmy nominations, it would certainly be understandable if the "Heroes" cast were nervous about the new season. They've certainly heard of the sophomore slump, right? But according to the actors, there's not a worry in sight on the Hollywood set.
- "The pressures of the second season are real, but judging by the scripts and the shows we've done so far, it feels very confident and sure-footed." -- Jack Coleman (Noah Bennet, aka HRG)
- "Because we've kept up the quality, it keeps getting better and better." -- Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman)
- "I hope that the show keeps taking risks. Risks don't always work, but that's what will keep it fresh. [This season is] on a grander scale -- everything feels a little bigger. Now we have to hold onto the integrity of what made it so special." -- Ali Larter (Niki Sanders)
- "Heroes goes so much beyond being a comic book or sci-fi show because it's about relationships and characters and plots. I think that's why there's so many people who love this show and relate to it." -- James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi)
- "There's always going to be pressure, whether you're going into the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth season. ... There's that sophomore curse that everyone talks about, but you can't worry about it." -- Milo Ventimiglia, whose Peter Petrelli ostensibly incinerated in the season finale. (Note: Ventimiglia is on the cast list for the season two premiere.)
What's Up Next
Many of the "Heroes" cast members are now hot commodities in Hollywood. Here's what else they have on tap.
Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman)
Grunberg plays an agent trying to stop drug dealers in "Fast Glass," due out next year. In his spare time, he plays drums in Band From TV, alongside actors James Denton ("Desperate Housewives"), Hugh Laurie ("House"), Bonnie Somerville ("Cashmere Mafia") and Bob Guiney ("The Bachelor").
Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura)
First up is a cameo in the fall indie "Quebec," a comedy about two real estate agents (Jenna Fischer and Seann William Scott) competing for a job. Oka is also in the cast of the movie version of the TV series "Get Smart," starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and the Rock, due out June 20, 2008.
Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet)
Next year, Panettiere stars in the family drama "Fireflies in the Garden" with Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds and Emily Watson, and she has been recording an album for Hollywood Records.
Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli)
Pasdar stars in the indie thriller "Home Movie" as a Lutheran minister who thinks his children may be possessed.
Zachary Quinto (Sylar)
He'll don pointy ears to play the young Spock in the J.J. Abrams-directed 11th installment in the "Star Trek" franchise, slated for a Dec. 25, 2008, release. Leonard Nimoy is expected to appear as the elder version of the Vulcan.
Dania Ramirez (Maya)
In "Ball Don't Lie," Ramirez plays the foster parent of a teenage basketball player. And she's on the run -- this time in subway tunnels -- in the thriller "Brooklyn to Manhattan," about a drug deal gone bad.
Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli)
After directing and producing "It's a Mall World," a series of 12 original short films for American Eagle and MTV, Ventimiglia returned to acting, playing a forensic pathologist in the thriller "Pathology," which hits theaters Nov. 30.
For more information about "Heroes," check out the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- Q&A at the "Heroes" event at the Television Academy. April 23, 2007
- Interviews with Ali Larter, Adrian Pasdar, Masi Oka. July 17, 2007
- Interviews with Masi Oka, Jack Coleman and Zachary Quinto. July 21, 2007
- Interviews with Milo Ventimiglia, Dania Ramirez, Hayden Panettiere, Greg Grunberg, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Adrian Pasdar and Tim Kring. July 24, 2007