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In Splice, two scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) cross the ethical cloning line with terrifying results by combining human and animal DNA. It's director Vincenzo Natali's Frankenstein, which took him a decade to make. Longtime Natali collaborator, Bob Munroe, the visual effects supervisor (formerly with the now defunct C.O.R.E. Digital), was on the project from the very beginning. He admits that Dren (nerd spelled backwards) is the reason it took so long to make Splice: "Dren is complex and evolves very quickly from a little, hairless, bird-like, lizard creature to a very attractive, young female in almost no time. Thankfully, we had a lot of great creature designers, especially Amro Attia.
The child Dren was the most difficult challenge, with Image Metrics providing Eye ADR and C.O.R.E. animating most of the face. All images courtesy of Warner Bros.
"I think what [Natali] was after from day one was a sympathetic character that didn't draw attention to itself as a monster, but as a creation of two monsters. The look of Dren is [subtractive] -- the bald head, the eyes slightly far apart and slanted, only three fingers and a thumb on each hand, a tail that only moves when necessary to conserve energy. And the way we supported that from a visual effects standpoint was to constantly make things as subtle as possible."
C.O.R.E. did the bulk of the animation in Toronto using Houdini, with Paris-based Buf Compagnie and Mac Guff Ligne animating Dren as a baby/ toddler and the pre-Dren slugs, Fred and Ginger, respectively.
Munroe suggests that a test was made 10 years ago, but it wasn't technology that held them back. "The reason we could not have made this 10 years ago is because we didn't have Delphine Chanéac. She informed the character at every stage of its evolution," he explains. "She came back from Paris to Toronto after we wrapped and I videotaped her in a small studio acting out the baby and toddler Dren actions for the benefit of the animators, even though they were all-CG characters. And Delphine worked with Abigail Chu, who plays the child Dru, for a couple of weeks helping her understand how her performance was going to come across on screen to support the evolution of Dren: The fact that the eyes are on the side of her head, how she could tilt her head to one side to look straight ahead; the recoiling action when she gets scared or the aggressive action when she gets angry."
Buf animated Dren as a baby, with eye support from Image Metrics.
Munroe credits CG Supervisor Terry Bradley with devising the techniques for pulling off the different Drens. The child Dren, though, offered the most complex challenge since most of her face is CG. "We had to blend skin tones right in the middle of her face and make it work," Munroe continues. The eyes, skull and ears are CG. We had her wearing a prosthetic built by KNB for lighting reference."
Not surprisingly, the child's eyes were the biggest challenge, and it was Bradley's suggestion to once again rely on Chanéac. "When we finished editing all of the scenes of the child Dren, at the same time that we brought Delphine back for reference, we did what we called Eye ADR.