Shutter Island: VFX Method to the Madness
Adapted from Dennis Lehane's page turner about a web of deceit inside a fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts in 1954, the visual effects supervisor helped Scorsese conjure a B-movie feast -- and much more.
"It was so fascinating to work on the movie," Legato suggests. "My version of what Marty was doing is that this is his version of Vertigo: not doing Alfred Hitchcock, but it's a very mature work that delves into the psyche of someone above and beyond the plot. And that's Marty's favorite Hitchcock film as well."
Shutter Island contains nearly 650 artful vfx shots, which were divided between The Basement (run by Legato and partner Ron Ames), CafeFX and New Deal Studios. CafeFX added cliffs and water and did compositing work; New Deal Studios built the miniatures, including the lighthouse and the mysterious Ward C.
"As far as the island itself, it was very difficult to make a matte painting that didn't look like a matte painting. We shot a real island in Maine and then added our version and Marty kept saying, 'Don't make it look like Skull Island.' And where we shot a lot of the cliffs in Maine for the second unit and visual effects work we used to populate the island. It's really more the art of it than the technique and that goes for the whole movie.
"We shot at [the defunct] Medfield State Hospital and 'islandized' it to make it look like the same property and made the cliffs show up there and the lighthouse. And we had rocks that were built in Canada to shoot these various pieces. Again, Marty didn't want to do anything outrageous with helicopter camera moves. He'd rather do almost locked off pieces for an effect, not for anything else.
"The hard stuff for us was trying to integrate the miniature lighthouse that we did into real water. And anytime you work with Marty, you look at all the references in his visual canon and then, when you think of things, you tend to fall into these visual compositions and these ideas. That's his subtle direction. You subconsciously do what he does, which is to come up with this stuff but not as homage to Hitchcock like the commercial we did (The Key to Reserva)."