This Is Us likes to keep its viewers in suspense — but sometimes, we just need answers.
Below, PEOPLE solves some of the show’s biggest mysteries.
(Warning: spoilers ahead!)
Was the fire that engulfed the Pearson home real?
Even with all the advances into digitally created effects, it turns out the thing that looks most like flames on a screen is… flames. “The best thing you can do is make a real fire when it’s appropriate and safe,” says cinematographer Yasu Tanida. “That’s what we did for a lot of the shots.” A partial replica of the Pearson residence (all three upstairs bedrooms, minus the roof, plus the front exterior) was built near rural Lake Piru, about 50 miles from Paramount’s studios. (To find out more about how Milo Ventimiglia dealt with acting amid real fire, pick up PEOPLE’s special edition, The Complete Guide to This Is Us.)
How did they get the Feb. 4, 2018, Super Bowl into the post-Super Bowl episode on the same night?
On the 20th anniversary of Jack’s death, his family is watching the 2018 Super Bowl — which was taking place in real life just hours before the episode premiered. Weeks earlier, “they shot the show with green screens in the TV,” explains producer Nick Pavonetti. The idea was to drop in three clips of the game before air time. But during the first of seven practice runs, his crew spent four hours on just one clip — double the time allotted. “It was just terrifying,” says Pavonetti, who made a contingency plan to fake the footage. But practice — and speeding up their usual pace (“I think I ran six miles that day”) — paid off, and they were able to use real footage.
How did they get Clooney the cat to walk through traffic?
William’s pal Clooney was once a stray, walking the city, at one point weaving perilously through traffic. That, says cinematographer Yasu Tanida, “was the most difficult part of that episode.” On the New York exterior of the Paramount lot in Los Angeles, he mused that “it would be great if the cat would walk down the street and then make a left at the end.” Possible? Yes! Feline actor Charlie (with help from trainer Steve Solomon) “nailed every shot — it took a couple of takes, maybe.”
Does the crew cry at work?
Yes! Everyone has their moment. (Many admit to crying while reading a new script, even before they’ve shot a frame.) “I have cried on my acoustic guitar at least once an episode,” says show composer Siddhartha Khosla, who watches episodes in order to add the score. For Pavonetti, the worst was when William dies. “I was mixing that show crying. I mean, bawling my eyes out, and giving orders to people crying at the same time was a really weird experience.”
This is an excerpt from PEOPLE’s special edition, The Complete Guide to This Is Us, now available on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.