‘A Quiet Place’: How John Krasinski’s Horror Blockbuster Got its Badass Creature

Industrial Light & Magic had to do a last-minute redesign when the creature wasn’t scary enough. But they made the right choice by adding teeth and no eyes.

Designing the blind, shrieking creature for “A Quiet Place” was hard enough for Industrial Light & Magic. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) But when the first pass wasn’t scary enough for director John Krasinski and producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form (of Platinum Dunes), the VFX studio had to start all over with less than a month to deliver the goods. They obviously succeeded, with the acclaimed horror blockbuster reaching $102 million and counting.

“We looked at a lot of new ideas and came up with a combination of teeth with no eyes,” said Scott Farrar, ILM’s visual effects supervisor (the “Transformers” franchise). “That was scarier. John had his own ideas about weird fish with shells that looked like hard stone and having them run like bats with their wings folded.”

Read More: ‘A Quiet Place’: John Krasinski’s Sound Team Shaped a Blockbuster Out of Silence”

Opening Up the Flaps

Getting the flaps on the head right was important, too. Farrar suggested having them rotate like radar dishes aimed at where the sound came from. “So the flaps literally find the sound first and then direct the head and the rest of the movements,” he said.

ILM (co-led by Rick O’Connor, the animation supervisor, and Alison Farmer, the digital supervisor) got the flaps working with only a couple of weeks or so left before locking the movie. That meant they had to scramble to re-rig, re-paint, re-texture, and re-animate the alien creature (a reptilian-like humanoid quadruped with a large head and exoskeleton).

ILM’s Scott Farrar on the set of “A Quiet Place.”

“We were painting and texturing right to the very end,” added Farrar. “And a lot of it wasn’t ready to look good up close to camera. So we did all the shots far away from camera first, and, as the model got better, we could go closer and closer until finally we could do some of the basement shots, where the flaps all open and you see everything.”

ILM worked on the final simulations in the last week for the bulging muscles that opened the flaps along with the strands of hanging goo. And they finished the final touches just two days before delivery.

Playing Peek a Boo

Crucial, too, was when to show the creature and how to get through a particular sequence with as few shots as necessary. In this regard, Krasinski took inspiration from “Jaws.” The filmmakers also relied on preview screenings to track the effectiveness of the story. “Quite honestly, the biggest problem in the beginning was: Does the audience understand what’s going on?,” said Farrar. “Do they understand the presence of Millie [the deaf daughter played by Millicent Simmonds], and how the piercing sounds coming from her hearing aid are hurting the creature, sometimes putting him into convulsions and making him flip over backwards?”

Left to right: Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

“A Quiet Place”

Jonny Cournoyer

They discovered that it was more effective to have the creature never stand up. Instead, it leans on the front arms, even when running. And when it comes down the stairs after Emily Blunt, it crawls on its hind legs. “We staged the creature a couple of different ways coming down the stairs when Emily goes into labor,” said Farrar. In one version, you pan the camera over and you see a lot and you rack focus. But there’s one shot we did where you’re with Emily and she’s over by the water heater and she moves out a little bit and we pan over just enough not to lose her in the frame. And we see him in the background out of focus. It was a choice that ended up being far scarier. It tells more, I think. And then the sound guys riffed on that with that horrible sound.”

Going into Labor

Farrar especially liked the first confrontation between Blunt and the creature when she goes into labor. Her water breaks, she runs down the stairs in the basement, and steps on a nail. The creature follows her down, but she gets a break when the fireworks go off and the creature is drawn to the louder noise.

Emily Blunt plays Evelyn Abbott plays Lee Abbott in A QUIET PLACE from Paramount Pictures.

“A Quiet Place”

Photo Credit: Jonny Cournoyer

“She’s in the bathtub, she’s alone, she’s in agony, and she has to give birth and keep quiet,” said Farrar. “Then the fireworks go off and she can finally scream. As opposed to later on, when she’s got the baby in the basement and it’s flooding. John wasn’t sure how to do visual effects and we had a three-hour meeting. I spoke to Emily at that point about her doing ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and how she was used  to being around motion capture people or tracking marker suits around you holding different things or acting like creatures. ‘Just tell John what you need and he’ll do it.'”

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Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ and Ang Lee’s ‘Gemini Man’ Are Changing the Face of Digital De-Aging

The controversial CG technique will be tested next year, when younger versions of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off and Will Smith gets stalked by his younger clone.

Digital de-aging is Hollywood’s latest tech toy. (Think Sean Young’s Rachael replicant in the VFX Oscar-winning “Blade Runner 2049” or Kurt Russell in the Oscar-nominated “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.”) The controversial CG process faces a major test next year with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man.”

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off as real life mob hitman Frank Sheeran and labor union boss Jimmy Hoffa in Scorsese’s gangster biopic, as Industrial Light & Magic digitally removes decades from their appearances for a series of flashbacks. And elite 50-year-old assassin Will Smith gets stalked by his 23-year-old clone (created by Weta Digital) in Lee’s cutting edge sci-fi thriller.

Read More:‘The Irishman’: 9 Things You Must Know About Martin Scorsese’s $100 Million ‘Goodfellas’ Reunion

Obviously, there’s more at stake here than the successful de-aging of Sean Young and Kurt Russell, or Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” Robert Downey Jr. in “Captain America: Civil War,” and Michael Douglas in “Ant Man.” Any misstep into the Uncanny Valley could prove fatal. Then again, there’s no way Scorsese and Lee would take such risks if they weren’t confident that ILM and Weta could pull them off.

Scorsese’s Latest Gangster Gambit

“The time is definitely ripe to make de-aging or an older actor playing a younger one quite possible and almost undetectable to the audience,” said Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato (“The Jungle Book, “Hugo”). “As with most things, while the technique and technology have come of age, the taste factor and choosing the right method of acquiring the underlying performance (and the performance itself) separates its believability and effectiveness.”

In “The Irishman,” Sheeran, who was allegedly involved in the death of Hoffa, looks back at his life during key moments throughout the decades. The budget has reportedly soared past $140 million, as ILM begins VFX work, with Netflix releasing the movie next year.

“Blade Runner 2049”

However, it should mark a definite improvement on ILM’s controversial de-aging of the late Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) in “Rogue One.” The circumstances here are very different, though, in which De Niro and Pacino are more actively involved in their face-mapping and ILM can better match their iconic performances from, say, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II.” ILM can also push its evolved Oscar-winning facial performance-capture solving system more effectively in optimal lighting conditions before de-aging more believably with state-of-the-art animation tools, mixing and matching with younger body doubles.

Why not just cast younger actors? To better maintain the strong emotional connections that we have to these legendary actors. “Some of the pitfalls include trying too hard to slavishly match the look of the actor themselves to their younger version from previous films or appearances,” added Legato.

“Rogue One”

“Too many factors are at hand at any given time, including lighting, weight, health, and camera lenses etc. that determine how we look. Trying to match all new material to one look causes some unnatural alterations to the new mask, which also alters the performance. It’s hard to tell what is wrong, but we detect something is. The exciting part is a great actor can play a multitude of characters of any age or body type with the same success of Gary Oldman’s [Oscar-winning] portrayal [of Winston Churchill] in ‘The Darkest Hour.'”

Trying to Deliver the Most Convincing Digital Human

“Gemini Man,” which started out as a Disney project in the early 2000s, is analogous to the VFX Oscar winner, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It required technology to catch up to its experiments in digital humans and fluctuations in aging. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Lee plans to shoot at 120fps/4k/stereo (minus the 3D of “Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk”).

“The clone (created through motion capture) is a major character in the film, and is present for 400-plus scenes in over half the movie, delivering full ‘in your face’ emotional performances,” said Oscar-winning production VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer (“Life of Pi”). “Our full methodology involves a combination of scenes where Will plays his younger self wearing appropriate costumes for his body and a motion capture head rig. These scenes are done ‘on set’ and cover all of the action where young and old versions are not on screen together.

Will SmithClosing Ceremony, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 28 May 2017

Will Smith

Laura Antonelli/REX/Shutterstock

“For scenes where both are playing against each other, we have a body double for the young character. Both he and Will are filmed together on set. The geometry of the set is recreated later in a motion capture volume where Will performs the young character over again. Given the tight coupling with head and body action, we will often need to fully replace the body double with a digital version, though there will be times when we can salvage some of him and just replace the head.”

Because of the magnified, large-format scrutiny of its digital humans, “Gemini Man” requires a more complex de-aging technique than what Lola achieves with its revered 2D skin smothing and shape warping on the Marvel movies. “That’s why we are pushing the envelope as hard as we possibly can to potentially be the first to deliver a fully convincing digital human,” Westenhofer added.

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’: Tackling VFX Was Ava DuVernay’s Most Daunting Challenge

The director went from VFX novice to nerd as she learned on the job, working closely with Disney through previews to find the best results, including a revised finale.

At last year’s VES Summit, indie-minded filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) described how, as a black woman from Compton, she learned to overcome her fear of VFX and incorporate it into her storytelling arsenal for “A Wrinkle in Time.” This was crucial as the first woman of color to tackle a $100-million studio tentpole: “I pride myself as the queen of the scene in a room…I know how to make the past and the present,” said DuVernay. “I don’t know how to make the future — until now.”

But when Industrial Light & Magic’s Rich McBride (the Oscar-nominated supervisor for “The Revenant”) broke the process down into layers, the experience became a transformation. “There are pieces of the puzzle that I didn’t need to see or comment on,” added DuVernay. “I’ve been able to learn and speak to [visual effects] in a robust manner. You can create as an artist with these tools. There’s no separation. The way I’m shaping life with cinematography, I’m doing with my visual effects supervisor.”

The Flexibility Factor

In adapting the beloved 1963 novel by Madeleine L’Engle as a multi-racial sci-fi fantasy revolving around 13-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid), DuVernay defined everything by emotion, including the VFX. That required flexibility. So no matter how much action revolved around flying planets, running and falling creatures, and tesseracting through different dimensions, the director wanted to ground it in reality.

“A Wrinkle in Time”

“There was a certain limit to the complexity and detail that she wanted to know,” said McBride, who served as production VFX supervisor. “But she did want to understand the language, so that when we started to look at the various steps (concept art, rough tests, motion, simulation, compositing, lighting, rendering), we were on the same page.”

According to McBride (who tapped several other companies to assist with the work, including MPC, Digital Domain, One of Us, Luma, Iloura, and Rodeo FX), the biggest challenge for DuVernay was getting the performances she wanted without VFX getting in the way. This was particularly true of child actors Reid, Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace), and Levi Miller (Calvin O’Keefe). “That is why she required flexibility from the visual effects, planning out in a way that would allow her to shoot with multiple cameras and later on find those performances for the movie,” he said. Previs/Postvis boutique, Proof (led by supervisor Chris Batty), was also a contributor in planning and revising sequences.

A Celestial Makeover

The biggest design decision centered on the three shapeshifting, astral travelers: Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). But instead of going for a glowing, CG-enhanced approach, DuVernay was more exotically grounded in costume (Paco Delgado), hair, and makeup (LaLette Littlejohn and Kim Kimble). “She didn’t go over the top with the magical element,” McBride said. “It’s not in line with Disney movies but the studio supported it.”

The new conceit for Winfrey’s Mrs. Which was that she can’t control her size, growing to 18 feet in the backyard and 35-feet on the lush planet Uriel. Choreography, eye lines, and interaction with the kids proved challenging, so McBride approached it with minimal digital manipulation. They shot Winfrey on a scissor lift beside the other actors in Meg’s backyard, and utilized an eye-line pole for the other actors in New Zealand (for Uriel) when shooting Winfrey separately on a stage.

“A Wrinkle in Time”

For Mrs. Whatsit transformation for the flying sequence, the director rejected the novel’s centaur-like creature and requested a plant-like character more indigenous to Uriel’s vegetation. She was after beauty and nature in keeping with the CG talking flowers designed by ILM’s Ben Wootten. Multiple sets of petals were arranged and configured into various positions for communicating, and large ones opened up and caught the wind like sails for their flight.

DuVernay also wanted the flight on Mrs. Whatsit to resemble waveform movements similar to the time-traveling, tesseract effect (billowing fabric textures created by One of Us in London). The kids sat on a motion control rig with separate arms that cycled through pre-programmed float and drift maneuvers.

VFX to the Rescue

However, the flexibility came in handy when DuVernay requested a last-minute environmental change to the goodbye between the kids and the three astral travelers. The scene was originally shot in Meg’s backyard, but didn’t test well with a preview audience. To provide smoother continuity, DuVernay re-conceived it on the planet Camazotz, once consumed by darkness but converted to light.

Storm Reid in “A Wrinkle in Time”

But that entailed brand new CG work and Digital Domain and Proof stepped in quickly to handle it. The kids were rotoscoped out of the exterior scene and placed into the new digital environment, yet the lighting had to match the golden look of the backyard. “The support that I saw from the studio for what Ava wanted to do was there the entire time,” said McBride. “They never wavered and it was a very collaborative effort, trying things out to find the best possible version.”

While reviews were mixed, it looks like “A Wrinkle in Time” will hit a respectable $100 million and DuVernay will take what she has learned to another big-budget tentpole driven by VFX: Warner Bros./DC Comics’ standalone “New Gods.”

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FilMart: China’s BaseFX Expands to Malaysia (EXCLUSIVE)

China’s leading special effects company, BaseFX is to open its first overseas production facility in Malaysia. The outpost will be located in Kuala Lumpur’s Bangsar South complex and open in mid-June. The new Malaysia Studio will be a full service studio offering facilities from pre-visualization through to final compositing. With a staff of over 200, it […]

China’s leading special effects company, BaseFX is to open its first overseas production facility in Malaysia. The outpost will be located in Kuala Lumpur’s Bangsar South complex and open in mid-June. The new Malaysia Studio will be a full service studio offering facilities from pre-visualization through to final compositing. With a staff of over 200, it […]

‘Black Panther’: How VFX Helped Build the Afrofuturistic Look of Wakanda

Industrial Light & Magic walked a fine line between reality and fantasy with director Ryan Coogler on Marvel’s cultural phenomenon.

In order to bring Wakanda to life for “Black Panther,” Industrial Light & Magic’s visual effects supervisor, Craig Hammack, took a deep dive into African aesthetics and architecture. The result was a notable one for the zeitgeist-grabbing Marvel blockbuster, which pays homage to the diverse beauty of Africa’s past and present.

They started with the 500-page Wakanda bible by production designer Hannah Beachler, which provided every macro and micro detail imaginable about the fictional civilization. “It allowed us to absorb the culture of the individual tribes and translate that into the urban design of the whole city so that everyone gets their distinct districts,” said Hammack (“Tomorrowland”). And by understanding the tribes, you understand the needs of the architecture.

Real World Geography

ILM modeled cityscapes for districts associated with four of the five tribes (River, Merchant, Mining, and Border), as well as exterior and interior shots of the palace. Flyover establishing shots benefited from aerial footage shot in Uganda, with also a nod to “Blade Runner,” given its urban influence on the production design. “There was a real desire to break away from a traditional city grid,” Hammack said. “We wanted to convey scale and real world geography.”

Wakanda spans six miles in length and three miles in width, with 60,000 buildings surrounded by 12 million trees. ILM’s environment team modeled hero buildings in Maya. The buildings got taken apart and used as kits to assemble unique structures.

“Black Panther”

cromeyn

ILM then used a scatter system to place a library of smaller buildings throughout the city. “At that point, we could divide districts among individual artists to do urban planning, city streets that funnel into alleyways and large pathways,” said Hammack.

We enter Wakanda, approach the lakeside with docks that belong to the River Tribe, and then head into the Merchant area where there are subtle color and structural changes on the way to the palace. “We were able to tell a story with the organization of the city,” added Hammack. Then we touch down on a landing pad, which has been extended with African iconography on buildings.”

The Hipster Steptown

The most attention to detail by ILM was given to Steptown, the hipster cultural center and the epitome of Afrofuturism. It’s dry and dusty and yet urban with lush elements around it. “It’s an interesting mixture of ideas,” Hammack said. “There are dirt streets but 1,000-foot high rise buildings. “Materials and building structure ideas harken back to traditional African aesthetics. There’s red dirt in a lot of Uganda streets and the lower structures of the buildings that we built almost flow into Mesopotamian structures. But they are all things that you find in Africa, even now in modern architectural design.

“Black Panther”

“We tried to do some of the same things as far as being uniquely African. There are buildings with double structures, mid-level, and high rises. We tried to keep it grounded in the nature of the valley with buildings that grew out of the forest and vegetation on them.”

A Surreal Dreamworld

ILM also modeled environments for the two Panther dreams when King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) visits his father T’Chaka (John Kani) in the spirit world. It’s a surreal look comprised of floating islands yet grounded in real African geography of a savanna plain. “It’s flat and reaches out to the horizon with flowing acasia trees and long grass,” said Hammack.

“Black Panther”

cromeyn

In the trees are CG black panthers from ILM, representing the spirits of Wakanda kings. One of them jumps down from a tree and transforms into T’Chaka. The first nighttime dream features multi-colored aurora borealis and deep saturation with bright stars. The next one contains warm, golden sunlight. The stylized lighting was a collaboration between VFX and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”).

Hammack credited director Ryan Coogler with figuring out how to rely on VFX and how far to push it, thanks to the tutelage of Geoffrey Baumann, the production VFX supervisor. “He had a real vision, which was impressive, because you’re in a Marvel world and could go anywhere you want,” he said. “It’s a fine line between [reality] and fantasy and he was able to walk it well.”

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Visual Effects Oscar Nominees on Their Top Digital Secrets

This year’s visual-effects category displays so much expertise that each nominated film had at least one Oscar winner or nominee on its team. John Nelson, who won for “Gladiator” and led the group behind “Blade Runner 2049,” says, “I was lucky that everybody wanted to work on this movie.” Nelson adds, “It’s hard to live […]

This year’s visual-effects category displays so much expertise that each nominated film had at least one Oscar winner or nominee on its team. John Nelson, who won for “Gladiator” and led the group behind “Blade Runner 2049,” says, “I was lucky that everybody wanted to work on this movie.” Nelson adds, “It’s hard to live […]

Technicolor to Open Major VFX Facility in South Australia

Post-production and effects giant, Technicolor is to open a new facility in Adelaide, South Australia. Its initial focus will be delivering VFX for major film studios and streaming services, with a later expansion into virtual and augmented reality. The visual effects unit, named Mill Film, involves an initial investment of $21 million (A$26 million) and […]

Post-production and effects giant, Technicolor is to open a new facility in Adelaide, South Australia. Its initial focus will be delivering VFX for major film studios and streaming services, with a later expansion into virtual and augmented reality. The visual effects unit, named Mill Film, involves an initial investment of $21 million (A$26 million) and […]