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How HBO's 'Westworld' faked an explosion on an SF street

The city of San Francisco is no stranger to film crews staging explosive stunts and even helicopter fights, but not every explosion shot with the Bay in the background actually takes place here.

Minor spoilers ahead, but this week’s episode of HBO’s “Westworld” (S3E06, “Decoherence”) ends with a massive car explosion that may or may not include a crossover from the Shogun World (one part of this sentence is not true!). The scene takes place in  San Francisco News and looks convincingly like a conventional stunt, but a behind the scenes segment after the episode revealed that it was actually an elaborate simulation (very on-brand).

The undisclosed shooting location was too tight of a street to safely blow up a vehicle, so the crew mapped out a geographic reference of the set on an empty parking lot and filmed a stunt that on-set VFX supervisor Bruce Branit called “a beautiful perfect explosion shot” using a bright yellow Jeep in place of the show’s futuristic black concept SUV.

Since the Jeep was in the same relative position to the camera as Press Release Distribution Service In San Francisco the SUV, the crew could strip out the background of the parking lot in post production and replace it with a tree-lined San Francisco street. Next, they replaced the body of the Jeep with that futuristic SUV, while keeping the other fiery elements of the explosion with impressively seamless results.

The behind the scenes segment also shows one of the major characters and her stunt double crawling out from the remains of the vehicle with severe burns. We won’t ruin the surprise, but spoiler alert: it wasn’t a samurai.

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