Warning: This story contains SPOILERS for Deadpool 2.
When director David Leitch first read the script for Deadpool 2, he was immediately struck by a crucial scene that fell about halfway through the movie; it featured seven pages of dialogue and almost every major character, and it laid out critical plot points for the film's third act, as well as the heavy emotional stakes for Ryan Reynolds' titular wisecracking mercenary. (Warning: SPOILERS for the film start here.)
There's one other element, however, that made the scene particularly formidable: After being ripped in half in the preceding action sequence, Deadpool’s legs — regenerating thanks to his mutant healing powers — are less than half their normal size. And he isn't wearing pants. Or underwear.
"When I looked at it on the page, it's like, 'How are we going to make this happen?'" Leitch told BuzzFeed News.
The answer turned out to be: very, very carefully.
The first step to pulling off the scene was figuring out just how to render Deadpool's growing legs. "We did do a range of tests [for] what state these legs should be in," visual effects supervisor Dan Glass told BuzzFeed News. The sequence was a callback to the first Deadpool movie when the character has to grow back his hand after ripping it off: In that film, the fledgling appendage looks like it belongs to a newborn baby. But making Deadpool's legs look that young "just ended up becoming really quite gross and off-putting," said Glass.
The team also tried out less realistic options. "I mean, he's a superhero who's healing, and there are no rules about how these things come back," said Leitch. "They could grow back in different stages. They could be really skinny with big feet on the end."
In the end, the filmmakers decided to go with a more realistic approach and use the legs of the 5-year-old son of one of the visual effects artists as their model. "There's already a slightly controversial aspect to showing a child's lower section in that way," Glass said, haltingly. "So we definitely wanted to keep it on the more fun and cute side than anything that was too gross."
Reynolds — who cowrote Deadpool 2 with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick — also felt quite particular about how his character would use his legs to escalate the discomfort of the other people in the scene. To have more control over that part of the performance, he wore special motion-capture pants that the visual effects team then used as a reference for how Deadpool's childlike legs would move.
"Especially the Basic Instinct moment," said Glass. "[Ryan] wanted to effectively perform that."
Ah yes, for one brief, cannot-unsee-this-ever moment, Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson) manspreads just enough so that everyone, including the audience, gets a glimpse at his character's nascent penis. Leitch insisted that his team was perfectly fine with making that moment a reality. Talking about it, however, was a different story.
"We always approached it, like, this man is growing these appendages back, and, you know, everything else has to grow back, too," said the director. "None of us were really daunted by potentially showing it in the sense that it's Wade's…Wade's, um...Wade's material down there."
Glass, by contrast, did own up to "some very strange, funny, slightly awkward conversations" about how best to bring Deadpool's penis to life, first among them the decision that at this moment in the film, the character would quite literally be a grower and not a shower.
"There was never a sense that [the penis] should be more kind of fully grown, if you know what I mean," said Glass. "We were very careful about how much we ever show. It was always the idea that there'd be a hint of something that you'd briefly catch, in order to get the right amount of 'Ohhhh!' reaction from people."
Glass has worked on many films — Jupiter Ascending, Cloud Atlas, The Tree of Life, The Matrix Reloaded — boasting unconventional visual effects. So how does Deadpool's Donald Duck moment compare?
"This is definitely up there in terms of the creative and technical requests that have been made of me in my career," he said with a laugh. "The job is never boring."