Meet the team behind the gory make-up FX
It’s a chilly December evening in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and this Shock writer is doing his best to both keep warm and out of the way by hiding out in video village, the station of monitors that’s set up for the director to watch footage as it’s being shot.
The location itself is unique enough, especially for a horror movie. We’re upstairs in one of the apartment complexes of Boundreaux & Thibodeaux, a building that on normal nights doubles as both a live music venue and a bar (or at least the first two floors do). Had the bar been open, I might’ve indulged in a shot or two to keep warm, but instead, I’m keeping quiet sitting behind filmmaker Victor Garcia (Return to House on Haunted Hill) as he watches actor Jon Michael Davis slowly pace through his kitchen and into his living room after catching a quick glimpse of something in his reflection in a mirror. Satisfied with this take, Garcia yells “Cut!” and the crew re-sets to do the exact same camera move again, only this time, visual FX supervisor Sean Findley runs over to the supposedly haunted mirror in question and starts tagging it up with green tape.
On the other side of the room, using one of the apartment’s closets as a workspace, KNB FX artists Kevin Wasner and Alex Diaz are prepping what appears to be a leg with the Achilles heel severed and an open chest cavity with fake blood and guts just eager to spill right out. Oh yes, fiends. As Leslie Vernon would say, things are going to get wet tonight.
At this point, the crew is prepping yet another version of the same exact camera angle but with Davis playing the “evil” version of himself in the mirror. I realize that Findley is supervising these multiple takes of the same shot himself because later on, he’ll composite them together via CGI to sell the effect. What’s interesting, however, is how coordinated and in tune both the visual and the practical FX teams are with this gag and several of the other gory set pieces that are in store for Mirrors 2, a sequel to the 2008 film directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes).
A dinner break is called and I take this opportunity to chat with the KNB guys outside on the balcony over a smoke and a hot cup of coffee. Kevin Wasner and Alex Diaz are both long term veterans for KNB and both worked a bit on the first Mirrors, when they were prepping that film’s gags in the shop. When asked if this is a direct sequel to Alex Aja’s original which starred Kiefer Sutherland, Diaz clarifies, “It’s basically the same feel as the first one, but a different story, different characters.”
“It’s not a continuation of the original, it’s a new story in the same world as that first movie,” finishes Wasner. Producer Todd Williams explained back in our original teaser report here that “the movie is actually much closer to the original Korean movie Into The Mirror than the first Mirrors is based on and this uses the idea of the first one as a template.”
In Mirrors 2, Max (Nick Stahl) is brought in by his father (William Kat) to oversee the opening of his new boutique shop in New Orleans where the previous night watchman had a mental breakdown. Slowly, Max starts being haunted by visions of a young girl in the mirrors. Emmanuelle Vaugier (Saw II) and Christy Charlson Romano also star.
“We had this ongoing joke in pre-production, how many times are we going to catch the reflection of ourselves from the mirror in the camera,” jokes producer Todd Williams. “But I think the group of people we’ve assembled to put this together, it took everybody’s efforts to pull these effects off. It was everyone from the KNB guys to Sean Findley and his visual FX crew to the cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore who’s worked with Victor before and also worked on a ton of big movies with Peter Wier. Basically everybody had to sit together and figure out these incredible complicated situations and at the same time realize Victor’s vision, because obviously he had a vision for this film. Victor is an ambitious guy and we’re ambitious producers, so we were hoping that we could put something great together.”
“I think the problem you have on other movies is the visual FX guys go do their thing, while the practical FX guys go do their thing,” Williams illustrates. “Everybody is making a different movie, but this movie wasn’t like that. This movie was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on set, because everybody was about the work, and everyone was here. Even though the schedule was tight, people got it. I think particularly Sean and the KNB guys working together and figuring out who does what, plus Victor being familiar with those elements. His background is in FX, so he knew when he didn’t need a CGI body or whatever it is. He has in his head what’s going on.”
“Victor is great, he’s very open minded,” gushes Diaz over his working relationship with Garcia. “He has an understanding of make-up FX, it’s his background, so it was easier to work with him because he always understood what we were talking about and what we were proposing would look like. That was a fairly easy step in the process because we didn’t have a lot of changes on this film.”
“A lot of people can’t envision what you’re saying,” adds Wasner. “They need to be shown every step of the way, and even then their confidence isn’t always there. He gave us a lot of trust. Victor’s like ‘yeah, yeah. I know what you mean.'”
“Trusting those people, that really helps you out and prevents you having nightmares while making a movie,” Garcia says, confidently describing his FX crew. “You’ve got a big day with special effects and you can sleep easy the night before with these guys because you know it’s going to work. It’ll be fine. That’s the great thing about them and so far, they’ve been delivering amazing gags and prosthetics.”
And one of the keys to that is how closely the practical and visual FX crew have worked together in prep for Mirrors 2. “Shaun [Findley] and Troy [Morgan] are very open-minded,” says Diaz, “and they approached us immediately about working together so we know exactly what they need for the scenes that require green screen. We sat down and talked about it, ideally that’s the way it should be.”
“There’s a marriage there that should be explored more,” continues Wasner. “A lot of times the CG guys will say, ‘we can do the whole thing.’ And a lot of times the make-up guys say the same thing. We really need to use that technology and they really need to use ours. You’re getting the best of both worlds.”
“We’re working out what’s going to look better on film,” Diaz affirms. “It’s not about whose stuff is going to show up on screen more, it’s about ‘this is what’s going to look best.’ Ultimately what’s on the screen is what matters.”
One particularly gory gag that called for a synchronicity between the practical and visual FX departments is the film’s sure to be infamous beheading scene. (Don’t worry, we won’t tell you which character it happens to.) “There’s a decapitation where we build up a dummy and the head was rigged up with a magnet, and on cue, the head would come off and the blood would go everywhere,” Diaz tells us enthusiastically about what is obviously his favorite gag in the movie.
“That’s a great example of marrying with digital,” asserts Wasner. “We matched the actor and all her actions just to the point where her head falls off, so you’re going to see her facial expressions in detail and then you’re going to see the head fall off.”
“When the shower door breaks, a large piece of glass breaks and decapitates one of our characters,” explains Findley. “KNB built this amazing body torso and a head that looks just like the actor that’s connected by a magnet and where the head connects to the body, there’s a thin line because it’s not blended there and we would then blend that line and get rid of the line where the head and torso are connected so then when the head falls off, it looks as though the glass actually penetrated the skin. It’s a great combination of special FX make-up and visual FX. As the glass is dropping, we have an actor laying there and 2 frames later we would put in the dummy, and 2 frames later, the head falls off and there’s blood all over the shower. We’ll take those three elements, blend them together and the final result takes place in about 8 frames and that’s her head being chopped off. The green mask we put over the actor’s face was not for the decapitation itself, but so we could do a long pull out on a jib arm and reveal her decapitated body and we needed the actual actor in there for the body. So she laid in there with the green hood and we’ll digitally take out the green face.”
Director Garcia also loved that particular gag. “I’m taking that head home! I’m arranging to bring it home because that’ll make a nice souvenir,” he laughs after flashing me a picture of the head on his iPhone. “That looked really, really good. We had a lot fun and a lot of blood for that.”
“I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed by the amount of blood we used in these gags,” laughs Williams. “It’s just a lot of fun. We lead up to a lot of whacked out, blood-soaked moments that you’d want from a movie like this. The way Victor shot it, it’s very creative. Luckily we were able to build sets so we were able to get the camera in the way we wanted for Victor’s shots and not oversell it.”
“It’s really cool and fun to work with blood,” says Garcia with dark affection, an obvious lifelong genre fan. “It took way too long to start shooting with blood because everything FX-wise was planned for the last 2 weeks of shooting. So we had to wait until now to do the prosthetics and blood. But once you have that on screen and you see that it’s working, that’s when you think ‘okay, now this is a horror movie.'”
Mirrors 2 hits DVD on October 19.
Source: Rob G.