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THE THING

Creatures and Special Effects
When John Carpenter's The Thing was released in 1982, the special effects designed by effects pioneer Rob Bottin broke new ground for the genre. His use of practical effects and prosthetics set a standard that is still considered a benchmark in the field. With the advances in technology since, the filmmakers had an important choice to make: whether to use CG exclusively or a combination of CG and practical effects.

For fans of the genre and of The Thing, the big fear was "that we would do a completely CGI show,” according to Newman. The final decision would prove an easy one. "We had an obligation to do as much of the movie as practically as we could,” says Newman. "However, the reality is that practical and CGI work very well together.” The blending of the two honors Bottin's work, as well as makes use of the advancements in technology.

Director van Heijningen believes that the tension of waiting for the monster should seem scarier than actually seeing this monster. "We now have the ability to do the transformations in CG, but the end result is still prosthetics,” says the director. "I've tried to get the best blend between CG and prosthetics. The way to shoot it is like Bottin did. You don't see everything in detail, and you let the audience make up the monster.”

Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.'s (ADI) TOM WOODRUFF JR. and ALEC GILLIS serve as the co-designers and co-creators of the creature effects. Abraham explains just how important it was for the designers to get it right. He says: "For these guys, the Carpenter film is their Citizen Kane, their Lawrence of Arabia. Even though they revere it, they were all itching to say, ‘We can do that kind of thing, too!' Enough time has passed, nearly 30 years, since John Carpenter's The Thing was made. For people like Alec and Tom, this was an opportunity for them to pay homage to a film that had been instrumental in their lives. I don't believe they would have taken on the job if they didn't think they could do it justice.”

Woodruff (who often did double duty as the monster in the suit) offers: "Bottin and his team's concept of a creature that got inside you and hijacked your DNA had a huge impact on all of us who grew up in the field. To be handed the prequel is both daunting and a dream.”

Gillis adds: "We're trying to be faithful to the original because it was such a groundbreaking film. We also want to define what the rules of this creature are, what it can do, and just as importantly, what it can't do. If you adhere to rules and set those rules up so the audience knows what they are and the world they're living in, then that's where you start to have fun.”

Woodruff and Gillis are in agreement with van Heijningen that the creature should be seen in flashes and rarely all at once. Explains Gillis: "This is a horror film where you want to have some things in shadow; you don't want to necessarily show it all. We wanted to be judicious with how we doled out the surprises. That's where our special makeup and animatronic effects come in. We provide a tactile, flesh-and-blood illusion that feels very intimate and is very much about your body being invaded and taken over.”

Woodruff and Gillis' creative process included coming up with the look of the creature by taking into account how this look could be achieved practically. As well, they determined what portion of the thing would ultimately involve animatronics, puppetry, prosthetics, or a combination of the three.

The men appreciated that their director was responsive to their vision. Woodruff commends: "Matthijs understood that we are looking beyond just building creatures and puppeteering them on set. He gets that we wanted to find the most effective way to show them and present them as part of the story. He's really sharp in terms of how he planned to use and reveal creature aspects through the movie.”

His business partner concludes: "We've pulled out all the tricks we know. We could build the most sophisticated animatronics, but it's always good to have a hand puppet lying around. There is no technique too old-fashioned to consider, and there's no technique that is too modern or cutting-edge to consider.”

Supplementing the practical effects was a top-notch visual-effects crew. Visual-effects producer PETRA HOLTORF-STRATTON describes the approach: "We've definitely gone for realism. Matthijs was very impressed with Image Engine's work on District 9 and the realism of the creatures. They came up with some very good ideas. We also involved ADI for the design of the creatures, and we have some practical effects. The point is to make the movie look as good as it can look, and as fantastic as it can.”

The director discusses an example of his interest in blending practical with CG: "I thought, if the monster can change any cell structure at its will—in any given moment—it's forming new tissue and that new tissue is translucent. So, you see how the veins are regrouping or how the muscles are regrouping to become something else. It's fascinating to see the tissue changing and to use CG for those elements, while using prosthetics for the bigger effects.”

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