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The Sympathizer | Case Study


Set Extensions




HBO's limited series "The Sympathizer," based on Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, stars newcomer Hoa Xuande as "The Captain" alongside Robert Downey Jr., who portrays a variety of colorful characters. Set in 1975, this cross-cultural satire follows "The Captain," a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy as he is sent to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War, and learns that his spying days aren’t over.

"The Sympathizer" is available now on Max


Ingenuity Studios delivered 212 shots for this limited series.

We were on set from the very beginning to collaborate with director Park Chan-Wook and ensure visual effects were integrated seamlessly in post-production.

The work ultimately included DMP, CG set extensions and builds, FX explosions, a full face replacement for the myriad of characters played by Robert Downey Jr., and more.

Technology used: 

Nuke, Houdini, Maya, Blender, Zbrush, Substance, Renderman, and Karma

The Many Faces of Robert Downey Jr. 

In episode 3, we created CG face replacements for three of Robert Downey Jr.’s four characters: the real Robert as CIA Agent Claude, film director Niko Damianos (left), Professor Hammer (center) , and Congressman Ned Godwin (right). Using face replacements allowed for all four of his characters to be in the same room in a single continuous shot. 

The heads were first recreated by our CG team, who modeled a series of meticulously detailed facial expressions. Our rigging team combined the expressions to allow for a full range of facial animation. Once the models and animations were complete, atmospheric lighting was added and the assets were rendered and composited onto the body doubles in the final version of the shot.

Extensions & Explosions

To recreate 70s Saigon, the Ingenuity Studios team created full CG set extensions for a variety of different settings including a theater and roads around the city.

Ingenuity Studios was also tasked with creating the massive explosion of the theater. A combination of CG, compositing, and digital matte painting created the realistic look of the blast.

The Croc

A variety of fully CG creepy crawlies, flies, and rats were developed to add drama, and a full CG crocodile gives Downey’s Niko Damianos a scare in the pool. 

The croc needed to be versatile, and close up shots called for a strong attention to detail on the skin and eye to make it come alive. When the croc makes its way into a pool in episode 5, we added water simulations and rigged the natural movement of its swim towards Damianos.

“The Ingenuity Studios team really delivered on ‘The Sympathizer.’ From the massive theater explosion that packs a punch in the first episode, to realistic CG crocodile and creepy crawlies, and two digital face replacement shots that made way for multiple Robert Downey, Jr., characters in a single scene -- they earned unanimous praise from the production-side team.”

-VFX Supervisor Chad Wanstreet


Grant Miller, Partner and Executive VFX Supervisor

Jack Wesson, VFX Supervisor

Hallana Paula Barbosa, VFX Executive Producer

Juliana Watson, Senior VFX Producer

Aditya Sawant, Production Coordinator 

Ben Stommes, Compositing Supervisor

Xiaozhe Hong, Compositing Lead

Didier Daza, Compositing Lead

Nathalia Moya, Compositing Lead

Pamela Navarro, Compositing Lead

Saeed Bidzari, Compositing Lead

Paola Ortiz, Compositing Coordinator

Juan Dominguez, 3D Lead

Kenzo Nishida Santos, 3D Lead

Viridiana Barraza, 3D Coordinator

Whitney Hii, 3D Coordinator

Darryl White, Animation Supervisor

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