By Mark London Williams
If Stephen KingÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s novella The Mist is about people spending compressed yet infinite-seeming time trapped in a grocery store during the end of the world as malignant critters emerge from an all-encompassing fog, well, the filmÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s visual effects supervisor had a similar experience working on the film.
In this case it took the form of a single quick event ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ a mere six weeks of actual production ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ followed by the sensation of time slowing down, which would be the six-month postproduction phase that followed.
VFX supervisor Everett Burrell describes the whole experience as ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½pretty intense,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ starting with the shoot itself, wherein director Frank Darabont ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ himself no stranger to Stephen King source material, having helmed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ using a lot of handheld camera work, with both A and B units a-blazinÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½, all requiring much more arduous shot-matching than originally planned for.
Another thing that changed was the proportion of practical to digital effects. Burrell is no stranger to either, having started out doing makeup effects for shows like Babylon 5 and films like Batman Returns and George RomeroÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s King adaptation The Dark Half. He has overseen digital effects for the likes of Sin City, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, and many others, and was full supervisor on PanÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s Labyrinth, while based at CafÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½FX.
For this film, he was expecting 50 percent makeup and practical effects (in the mix are some particularly scary big bugs) and 50 percent CG. ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½IÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½m a big fan of practical effects,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ he said, but there wound up being a lot more CG in the end.
He added that they ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½had an inkling that some things werenÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½t going to workÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ on the practical side. Darabont thought the big bugs, with their cables and rods, were moving a tad slow for his liking ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ his liking being maximum jeopardy for his stranded characters.
As the digital docket grew, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½Frank wanted ILM qualityÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ on the filmÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s comparatively limited budget and, Burrell said, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½IÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½d have to bring him down to reality.ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½
Burrell noted that ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½producers will say, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½we want TransformersÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ in terms of FX quality, and he needs to remind them that those FX came about as the result of a $90 million budget.
But, he says, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½IÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½m up to the challenge!ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½
Part of meeting that challenge included building a pipeline composed of Autodesk Maya software and its Mudbox for layering and 3D, a little of AvidÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s Softimage/XSI package for more 3D work, and getting the help of other houses, including Digital Dream and Look Effects ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ the latter for continuity and clean-up.
ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ItÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s show business, not show art,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ he verbally shrugs, and with that insight came other realizations: ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½I was taught a long time ago the directorÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s never wrong, so IÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½m the one whoÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s going to be wrongÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ about there being any restraints on the filmmaking vision.
But then Burrell also figured out, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½if I make it about money, they get really pissed,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ but if he makes it about ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½quality,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ the director is more amenable to practical changes.
One of the challenges was to get Shreveport, La., where the film was shot, to look like KingÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s Maine setting. That wasnÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½t overly hard given the extensive use of interiors, and the fact that fog machines were deployed to create practical mist before the fluid-dynamics software kicked in for augmentation later on.
Comparing his work to that in Labyrinth, he says that ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½in Mist we didnÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½t have any guys in suitsÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ pretending to be creatures ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ la Doug Jones as the Faun and the Pale Man ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ with which they could augment performances in post. Instead, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½we had entirely created creatures.ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½
He notes one of the blessings of a medium budget is that the studio ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ in this case, Dimension Films ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ wasnÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½t micromanaging, since, one assumes, the fiduciary panic factor was somewhat reduced.
That came in handy since there were originally 150 budgeted FX shots, which doubled to 300.
But despite the six months of post, as the shot list grew, the actual time was reduced because, he says, ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½studios want finals for test screenings,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ instead of shots still being worked on.
So Burrell found himself needing to work faster to get images finished earlier in the process than he intended.
We talked to him about a week before the filmÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s release, and the other ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½fluid dynamicÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ he was aware of is the always-unfinished nature of such digital work. Things can always be tweaked. ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½I still think the cut isnÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½t locked,ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ he told us.
This soon before release?
ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½We can always change it for the DVD.ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ Since, after all, who knows whatÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s really in the mist?
Written by Mark London Williams