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Supervisor Series-The Mist-CafeFX-Everett Burrell


By Mark London Williams
If Stephen King�s 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 film�s visual effects supervisor had a similar experience working on the film.
In this case it took the form of a single quick event � a mere six weeks of actual production � 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 �pretty intense,� starting with the shoot itself, wherein director Frank Darabont � himself no stranger to Stephen King source material, having helmed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile � using a lot of handheld camera work, with both A and B units a-blazin�, 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 Romero�s 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 Pan�s Labyrinth, while based at Caf�FX.
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. �I�m a big fan of practical effects,� he said, but there wound up being a lot more CG in the end.
He added that they �had an inkling that some things weren�t going to work� on the practical side. Darabont thought the big bugs, with their cables and rods, were moving a tad slow for his liking � his liking being maximum jeopardy for his stranded characters.
As the digital docket grew, �Frank wanted ILM quality� on the film�s comparatively limited budget and, Burrell said, �I�d have to bring him down to reality.�
Burrell noted that �producers will say, �we want Transformers�� 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, �I�m up to the challenge!�
Part of meeting that challenge included building a pipeline composed of Autodesk Maya software and its Mudbox for layering and 3D, a little of Avid�s Softimage/XSI package for more 3D work, and getting the help of other houses, including Digital Dream and Look Effects � the latter for continuity and clean-up.
�It�s show business, not show art,� he verbally shrugs, and with that insight came other realizations: �I was taught a long time ago the director�s never wrong, so I�m the one who�s going to be wrong� about there being any restraints on the filmmaking vision.
But then Burrell also figured out, �if I make it about money, they get really pissed,� but if he makes it about �quality,� 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 King�s Maine setting. That wasn�t 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 �in Mist we didn�t have any guys in suits� pretending to be creatures � � la Doug Jones as the Faun and the Pale Man � with which they could augment performances in post. Instead, �we had entirely created creatures.�
He notes one of the blessings of a medium budget is that the studio � in this case, Dimension Films � wasn�t 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, �studios want finals for test screenings,� 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 film�s release, and the other �fluid dynamic� he was aware of is the always-unfinished nature of such digital work. Things can always be tweaked. �I still think the cut isn�t locked,� he told us.
This soon before release?
�We can always change it for the DVD.� Since, after all, who knows what�s really in the mist?

Written by Mark London Williams

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