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.”
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).
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“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?”
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.
“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.'”