Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Shameless Final Season: How Chicago Was Made With VFX (And What They Got Wrong)

With credits that include "ER" and "The West Wing," John Wells has made a name for himself as a prolific TV producer and showrunner. An unlikelier notch on Wells' resume, however, is his role as a champion for the city of Chicago, first on the Windy City-set "ER," then as the man behind the development of "Shameless." 

"When we first started pitching, everybody kept gravitating towards the South or putting it in a trailer park," Wells told The New York Times. "And I kept saying, 'Well, no.'" Instead, Wells pushed for "Shameless" to take place in Chicago, and over its 11-season run, the series inspired hordes of Chicagoland fans to seek out filming locations and spot cast members, even if they only appeared sporadically to film snowy exterior scenes.

For the 11th and final season of "Shameless," the crew had to shoot entirely in Los Angeles due to the pandemic and recreate the city via VFX, even going so far as to build house facades on the back lot at Warner Brothers Studios. But even cutting-edge visual effects couldn't fully replicate the Chicago experience.

The Shameless crew had to get creative to replicate the Chicago feel

When it came to shooting "Shameless" Season 11 during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, staying completely in Los Angeles was no one's first choice. "We just had to compromise on our love of seeing Chicago, and being out on the streets in Chicago," John Wells told The Chicago Tribune in December 2020. "That really wasn't an option." One silver lining was the spacious executive lots that were empty because of remote work. "We took over an executive parking lot and rebuilt the front of the street," Wells explained, though they used VFX to flesh out the surrounding blocks.

The crew also used VFX to insert Chicago-centric details, such as including "a Chicago bus" or a "Chicago police car" in certain outdoor scenes. Most fans wouldn't notice, Wells believed, but a Chicago native would be considerably more eagle-eyed. "For anybody who knows Chicago and knows how hard we've tried to really make it be Chicago, you'll notice." He continued, "We're changing as much as we can, but there is a limit to how much you're going to do in visual effects to bus signs. Or are they the right parking meters? Are there parking meters, period? All of those sorts of things."

For some fans, California's undeniable presence became distracting. "I used to be able to look the other way by the occasional palm tree in the background or the obvious California neighborhoods," wrote u/erncub on Reddit. "This season it's too much and it's actually making the show less enjoyable for me."