Playing Peek-A Boo in Super 8
Step back in time to 1979 for J.J. Abrams' ode to super 8 movie making, his mentor Steven Spielberg (the film's producer) and creature features. Basically, it's E.T. meets Alien in a Deer Hunter-like mining town, only wrapped in Abrams' most personal story about scary adolescence. And in keeping with this old-school, guerilla approach, Industrial Light & Magic had four months to churn out 400 cutting-edge VFX shots (in collaboration with Scanline VFX, Pixomondo, Evil Eye, Base FX and Abrams' Bad Robot).
So, to pull off Super 8, ILM played tag-team vfx supervision with Kim Libreri (the onset supervisor), Russell Earl and the legendary Dennis Muren.
"It was so strange being on the set of the movie because I'm the same age as the kids," Libreri admits. "It's really about Joe and his friends and his dad; and we just tried not to get in the way. J.J.'s very organic in the way that he shoots: multiple cameras, really going with the moment. There wasn't a lot of previs [from Pixomondo], a lot of the major scenes were in J.J.'s head and we took every day as it came. And I think it actually helps the movie be real, especially when you're dealing with kids. You know, many of them weren't super experienced actors, so the fact that everything was new for all of us, added to the energy level and spontaneity on set.
"Our visual effects strategy was to use as few bluescreens as possible, plenty of roto, lots of image-based lighting, which everybody does nowadays. J.J. wanted to keep the nature of the creature [designed by Neville Page] quite secret to the very end, so when we were shooting the creature scenes there was no maquette -- there was only a pole for how big the creature was to make sure we shot everything correctly. But other than that, it was a lot of make believe for the kids."
The major sequences involve a train crash (done mostly by Scanline under ILM's supervision), a showdown in a bus, the discovery of the creature in its underground lair and a fantastical finale.