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

The AJ Carmichael Details You Never Noticed In The Umbrella Academy

Season 2 of Netflix's The Umbrella Academy was a welcome return to the increasingly hectic world of the super-powered Hargreeves siblings. It also introduced viewers to all sorts of strange new characters — like Lila Pitts (Ritu Arya), the newly powered young Harlan (Justin Paul Kelly), the ominous Swedes, and whatever the mysterious Sparrow Academy will eventually turn out to be. Still, in a series teeming with all sorts of eccentric figures, AJ Carmichael takes the cake as the weirdest character around.

Carmichael (voiced by an uncredited Robin Atkin Downes) is the head of the Temps Commission's Board of Directors, who unceremoniously demotes the Handler (Kate Walsh) due to her actions on season 1. Oh, and he's also a super-intelligent goldfish residing in a fish tank atop a robotic body. Unfortunately for AJ, this isn't the greatest thing to be when the vengeful Handler's machinations cause Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) to assassinate the entire Board. This marks the beginning of Carmichael's rapid downfall, which sees him confined to a fish tank in the Handler's office ... and ultimately eaten alive. 

The suit-wearing, cigarette-smoking goldfish is an extremely inspired character, and as you might guess, bringing him on screen was a gigantic endeavor. However, the good people behind The Umbrella Academy's effects brought Carmichael to life with great success — and they even included all sorts of stealthy details. Let's take a look at the AJ Carmichael details you never noticed in The Umbrella Academy.

AJ Carmichael is a Shubunkin goldfish with a human touch

Weta Digital — the Peter Jackson-founded effects house known for its work on blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame, Deadpool 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and more — brought the outlandish AJ Carmichael to life for The Umbrella Academy season 2. In an interview with ComicBook.com, visual effects supervisor Chris White, animation supervisor Aidan Martin, and art director Gino Acevedo revealed just what it took for their 200-plus-strong team to bring everyone's favorite bureaucratic goldfish to life — and what sneaky details they included in the character design. 

As they shared, Carmichael is based on a Shubunkin goldfish, and his look and movements were painstakingly captured from two real Shubunkins, aptly named "AJ" and "Carmichael." However, the CGI artists also gave Carmichael special patterns on his face that made it seem slightly more human. 

"If you look at AJ, the spots that he has on them are not just random spots," White revealed. "Gino painted them so they look a little bit like eyebrows — kind of a man look. He's got a little patch on his head and [...] he's got a little mustache." Indeed, a close look reveals that the fish's facial patches form a thin mustache, as well as eyebrows and a tuft of hair.

Apart from the fish itself, the water effects of his fish tank "head" were a challenge. "Part of what you're seeing with AJ is some of the first uses of our new water software," White said. "The sloshing around, the little bubbles coming up, all of that was driven from that new software. It worked pretty well."

Sometimes, the team still had to turn to practical effects for reference. To portray the goldfish's cigarette habit, the team blew vapor in a tube in order to study what smoke traveling in a bubble should look like inside Carmichael's tank. 

An actor portrayed AJ Carmichael's robot body

If AJ Carmichael's body seems eerily realistic, a tweet from Weta Digital explains why: actor Courtenay Stevens portrayed the character on set. Stevens also gave an initial voice performance. Everything above the costume's collar piece was replaced with the CGI tank and all the other effects wizardry required to make things seem as natural as they can be for a character with a fish tank for a face.

Carmichael's "head" has all sorts of stealthy little effects you might have missed. For instance, the tank's not as static as you might assume, as it actually reacts to the body's movements. "We ended up just having a little bit of the head just do a little [movement]. When the body moved, the head would just slightly over-articulate," Martin explained. "So it had a little bit of its own life and it seemed reasonably natural." 

Eagle-eyed viewers might also notice that the water in Carmichael's tank behaves a little differently from ordinary H2O, and its quality even changes from scene to scene. This is because realistic water effects would unnecessarily obscure the character.

"We just had to tune the water differently for each shot," White noted. "Sometimes we'd make it more viscous if he was sloshing around a bit more. Or sometimes we'd actually have to change the quality of the water, because AJ being in the water would get magnified by the glass and by the water." 

All in all, creating AJ Carmichael was a cool challenge, and as anyone who's seen The Umbrella Academy season 2 can attest, Weta Digital did a fantastic job.