How 'American Gods' Pulled Off One of TV's Most Daring Sex Scenes

Starz American Gods
Starz

American Gods, now three episodes in, is already demonstrating its wares as one of the most intense shows around. But that was amped up to a whole new level with the latest episode's supernatural gay sex scene.  

As intense as that was to shoot -- it involved a lot of black oil and had to be filmed twice - the scene was aided in part by the visual effects team, who also contributed swathes of afterlife imagery for episode three and, would you believe, a blue screen cat. Here's what you may have missed while soaking up the visual feast of American Gods' latest installment.

American Gods Flaming Eyes
Starz

A genie grants a sexual wish

The episode's psychedelic sex scene takes place between Salim (Omid Abtahi) and a spiritual messenger in the guise of a taxi driver (Mousa Kraish). Featuring full nudity as well as some god-like imagery, it's certainly an explicit sequence, and one that required various levels of digital intervention.

The scene was dubbed "Obsidian Lovers" and involved the two men taking on a very distinctive look and feel while they had sex. "Creator Bryan Fuller very clearly described what he wanted," recounts the show's visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug, "which was two obsidian people with flames inside of one guy that he ejaculates into the other one."

To help make that happen, Abtahi and Kraish wore shiny black makeup while performing their sexual choreography on a blue screen. It was a feat they ended up having to do twice. American Gods' visual effects studio, BUF, augmented the photography to provide the flame and obsidian texture. They also implemented the... necessary appendages with computer graphics.

"It was all very clear on the page what the goal was," adds Haug, "so the trick was just trying to do it in a way that made it clear what was going on, and looked like a love scene."

American Gods Dessert
Starz

The cat that wasn't there

On the other end of the spectrum -- like, the complete other end -- were invisible visual effects for a scene featuring the cat of an old woman who dies one day in her New York City apartment. The thing is, the cat in those shots was never in the apartment at all, thanks to the magic of special effects.

The sequence features Mrs. Fadil (Jacqueline Antaramian), who falls while readying a meal for her family. After being surprised by a godly presence, Mrs. Fadil makes her way into the afterlife.

Before passing, she has several scenes with the cat, which follows Mrs. Fadil along a a staircase towards the heavens. The American Gods crew had a real cat on set, but it failed to deliver the performance required.

Recalls Haug: "The cat had, as best we could tell, never been around more than two people in its life, and had no idea why it was standing on an uncomfortable cold chair. The second the handler let go of it, it would run in the other room and start tearing the carpet apart. So at some point we had to give up."

Instead, a completely separate shoot using multiple cats was orchestrated with stand-in mock-ups of the kitchen and outdoor set that had been filmed with Antaramian.

"We built blue ramps and blue stairs and blue sets and blue walls and blue screens," explains American Gods' visual effects director of photography David Stump, who helped orchestrate the shots. "We filmed two days of the cats performing for each of the shots in that scene."

"We even heated the blue screen stage up to 85 degrees so the cats would be comfortable."

Now that's worship.

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Ian Failes is a visual effects and animation journalist who wants a bluescreen cat.