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Bringing Hill House to life in "The Haunting" demanded a seamless integration of physical effects, visual effects and sound

Bringing Hill House to life in "The Haunting" demanded a seamless integration of physical effects, visual effects and sound.

Special effects supervisor John Frazier conferred with Eugenio Zanetti and the filmmakers throughout the design phase to plan how certain set pieces would be manipulated. Their collaboration was essential in the design and execution of the fascinating double helix hanging staircase, which towered over the greenhouse set.

Frazier explains, "The process of constructing the staircase was in two parts: how to make it and how to make it fall apart. It had to hang perfectly, and then collapse in four stages on cue. We actually made the patterns, formed the molds, had the pieces sand cast and then assembled the entire thing on the stage. It was a gigantic feat of engineering."

The staircase is the focus of one of the film's most suspenseful sequences when Nell must be rescued from the top of the swaying structure. De Bont relates that the tension was all too real for Liam Neeson while shooting the scene. "The staircase was almost 50 feet high and had to swing all the time, and Liam, who is terrified of heights, had to hold on it as it fell apart. He was so afraid of heights he didn't have to act. When he was holding on, he was really holding on."

Physical effects were also incorporated in the horrifying scene when Nell's bedroom comes to life and closes in to attack her. Frazier and his team used computerized hydraulics to make the room collapse on itself, as the headboard lowered and tentacle-like arms extended to trap Nell in her bed.

Most of the effects in that scene, however, were accomplished with digital visual effects, supervised by Phil Tippett and Craig Hayes. Visual effects also came into play for the more subtle manifestations of "The Haunting."

"We've become overwhelmed by what we can do with effects," says De Bont. "I've used a lot of them myself, but this film is different. We wanted the house to come alive in a very organic way. We needed to convey emotion from an inanimate object, which is really hard to achieve."

Tippett offers, "A lot of the events that take place-particularly as the arc of the story is beginning-were what we identified as threshold events, where you can't quite tell if they are really happening. What we tried to do was create effects that are on the limits of perception-to invoke fear without knowing exactly why. The trick was to find a level that was subtle enough to be noticeable without being obvious, but not so subtle that the audience would miss it altogether."

De Bont adds, "What do you show the audience, and what do you leave to the imagination? That's the choice we are able to make with today's effects, and it's great. We could give hints of the supernatural.. .hints of the real horror that's happening in the house."

No haunting would be complete without the eerie sounds that can permeate the darkness and trigger your imagination. De Bont maintains, "Sound is a very important element in creating suspense. You hear a creak or a footstep.. .you start to imagine things.. .your mind gets going.. .your fear slowly builds... Sounds work on our deepest fears; they can scare us to death."

Sound designer Gary Rydstrom was responsible for the sounds of "The Haunting," which is only the second movie ever to employ the new Dolby Digital-Surround EX theatrical sound system. &quo


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