“What family doesn’t have its up and downs?” Katherine Hepburn famously asked, as Eleanor of Aquitaine, in The Lion in Winter. Those ups and downs—well, downs in this case—are given a suspense-and- horror twist in The Uninvited, a remake of a Korean original about a seemingly suspicious nanny trying to become a widowed father’s new girlfriend. Murder appears to be involved in her ascension, and many flashbacks—and flash forwards—ensue. This is the first feature directed by brothers Charles and Thomas Guard, whose backgrounds previously ran to commercials and short films. The effects on the movie were overseen by Bruce Woloshyn based at CIS, the former Rainmaker VFX, in Vancouver.
Woloshyn, who performed similar supervisory duty on 28 Weeks Later and for Rainmaker on Night at the Museum, among many others, describes this film as “a fairly small visual effects project for us,” which wound up feeling like “a larger job” because of the schedule involved. “First effects shots were delivered in February of 2008,” he recounts, “and the last shot was delivered in July.”
During this time, Woloshyn kept busy with his television work, including the series Stargate: Atlantis, and some episodes, unexpectedly, of The L Word.
That last credit speaks to the contention that pretty much every piece of “filmed” entertainment has digits in it now, but while you might expect something like The Uninvited to weigh in more on the Stargate side of things—of course a suspense thriller has effects!—it turns out the filmmaking aesthetic was closer to The L Word end of the scale. The effects, Woloshyn emphasizes, “play a supporting role—it’s not an ‘effects’ picture.”
“There are only 15 visual effects shots in the show,” he adds, “and most are invisible,” citing a lot of “greenscreen compositing,” so they can use real actresses in the film’s many stunts.
One of the more renowned of those 15 shots involves, as Woloshyn puts it, “a dead little girl,” who gives “a contortionist head spin,” as the lead character Anna (played by Emily Browning) discovers a corpse which appears to give her a premonition. The dead girl’s head “spins completely around” before she delivers her dialogue, and Woloshyn says the scene—among his personal favorites, of those he worked on—“still startles me.”
A head-spinning-girl-in-a-horror-film shot may of course evoke a certain “classic” special effect from the early days of “modern horror,” (i.e., the R-rated kind—though The Uninvited holds at a PG-13), when a certain possessed young teen in a Washington townhouse likewise alarmed chiropractors everywhere by seeming to spin her noggin a full 360. But, Woloshyn says of the similarity to The Exorcist, that one is careful “not to copy something else,” though also agrees that “everybody has common frames of reference (of) things that they’ve seen.”
For Woloshyn, that shot “evolved during the course of production,” and wasn’t in any of the preliminary discussions. The only thing he referenced, going in to it, was “the Korean original,” and not even all of that, watching the first part just to get the flavor of the story, but knowing an adaptation would be different enough to be its own animal. Or perhaps its own house.
“The location was a beautiful home off the coast of Vancouver,” Woloshyn recalls, saying he did his “due diligence by going and having a look.” He wanted to get a feel for the mansion and the grounds, which was good, since “feeling” became a key aspect of the rest of the non-head turning, more subtle FX.
He describes the brothers Guard as “really good fellows—we developed a great working relationship over the course of the project.” Since that course ran so many months, and since Woloshyn was also busy with his television work, he says that “in true 21st-century production form, [the Guards and I] only ever saw each other face-to-face while the cameras rolled. The rest of the time was spent using FTP sites, Cinesync, QuickTime… and the telephone.”
The shots themselves “were accomplished with 2-D or 2 1/2-D compositing techniques utilizing either Eyeon’s Digital Fusion or Autodesk’s Flame compositing platforms.”
And much of that was deployed to go after something as elusive as the aforementioned “feeling,” with Woloshyn recounting that a typical note would be that a scene “didn’t quite feel ‘dangerous’ enough.” He describes the Guards as “artists all the way—quite cognizant” of the emotive content of a moment or shot, so much of his work was on what might be called “tonal” aspects of the film.
He would try something to “see how it plays,” and often, results from different “playtimes” were put together for a new result. Woloshyn says there was some pre-vis done for a complicated climax sequence, which included “a beautiful cliff-top shot.” There was a specific kind of light the brothers were after—something that once would’ve required the narrow window of “magic hour,” and been successfully captured— or not. Now, Woloshyn says, they were able to use “sky from one take and action from another,” combining the two into “a perfect shot.”
“I enjoyed this job,” he enthuses, again underscoring how much he enjoyed working with the Guards, and their “strong visual sense,” comparing it to his time on Night at the Museum, where “the people made a difference.”
So if film crew—production and post—is like a family of its own, however temporary, this one seemed to mostly have its “ups.” In spite of the story they were brought together to tell.