Tara DiLullo scares up the secrets behind the creepy effects in The Ring Two.
In Hollywood, evil never dies; it just comes back with bigger visual effects. Such is the case with The Ring Two, the sequel to the American film The Ring, which itself was based on the immensely popular Japanese horror series, Ringu. Firmly entrenched in the Japanese aesthetic of less gore and more creep, The Ring relied mostly on subtle visual effects to reveal the scary tale of Samara, a troubled little girl infused with so much rage and anger that she was able to bypass the constraints of her death to transfer her evil onto the images of a seemingly harmless videotape. Once watched, the tape seals the deadly fate of the viewer in a mere seven days. While the majority of the original films vfx revolved around the haunting videotape images, the climax of the film presented an amazing scene of Samara crab-crawling out from a well and then, literally, breaking the fourth wall by climbing out of the television into the real world. It was a stunning shot that defined the film and became the obvious vfx benchmark when developing the sequel.
The sequence was a huge motivator for Rhythm & Hues Studio, the Los Angeles-based effects house hired to do the principle work for the sequel. Betsy Paterson, visual effects supervisor for R&H on The Ring Two, explains that their prior experience with the original film helped secure their position on the sequel. Some of the producers on the film had worked with us before, so they were anxious to work with us on this one. My digital supervisor, Mark Rydal, was the digital sup on the first film. We did a few shots on the first movie, the CG fly and a little bit of the burning tree.
Interestingly enough, Hideo Nakata, the Japanese director of the Ringu series, directed The Ring Two. He was tapped at the last minute to helm the DreamWorks sequel, thus giving the film the unique cache of being an American remake franchise that is being handed back to the Japanese originator. The artistic dynamic meant that there was a lot of pre-production discussion between R&H and Nakata about how to put his visual stamp on the Americanized version of his original series. The very nature of it being a sequel also meant there needed to be more visual effects to appease the studio. There are a couple of segments that are big scenes in this that they really didnt have, effects-wise, in the first one, Paterson adds. That was important mostly to the studio, to make sure we had something to draw people into the sequel and make it worth their while, so Hideo understood it was important to up the ante. We talked about a lot of different ways to do the pulling into the TV shots because it happens again. Surprise! she chuckles.
Gabriel Beristain, the DP, had some ideas and between him and Peter Chesney, the special effects coordinator, and myself, we combined some pretty cool looking shots. We used a lot of motion control and rigging to get the right angles and it worked really well. We also came up with some slight variations on the look of Well World [Samaras lair] itself. We spent a bit more time in Well World in this movie, so Hideo wanted to expand on those visuals. We came up with a distinctive look for what happens when someone is crossing the border between our world and theirs.
Paterson says working with Nakata, despite the inherent east vs. west filmmaking differences, was an easy collaboration. He speaks English very well and [he] considered everything very carefully, especially during the first few weeks of shooting. He thought quite a bit about the difference between American-style shooting and Japanese-style shooting. He was very used to shooting just a little bit of dialogue that he needed in the order of the script. In American studio films, you have to shoot the whole scene from every camera angle, so it took him a bit to get used to it. Yet he started to enjoy it quite a bit when he realize that he had the freedom to do it. It was a much bigger budget than what he was used to working with, but he was a fast study. He was pretty focused on what he wanted and once he settled on what he wanted it to be, he went in that direction. He used the freedom that the budget gave him to go back and refine things rather than adding new things. It turned out really nice for us because we got chances to make it right.
As for achieving his aesthetic style, she explains, His most important concern was that [the effects] feel very naturalistic. He didnt want an effects for effects sake kind of movie. His style is clean. He wanted to keep things very subdued, where a lot of American directors want to go over the top. He didnt want the Wow. He wanted eerie and spooky, but not gory. It was very important that everything feel like it is part of the world he is creating and not some big sci-fi thing that was happening.
With that in mind, the film only has two obvious visual effects centerpieces, one involving a herd of deer that surround the car of returning stars, Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller and David Dorfman, as her son Aidan. The other is a frightening sequence in their bathroom, where Samara commands water to defy gravity. The rest of the effects are little things, like going in an out of the TV and Rachel has visions that we see as one or two shots here and there.
The complications of the deer sequence meant that the R&H team began work on it, in earnest, during pre-production. We started modeling during pre-production in March/April of last year, Paterson details. There was a lot of talk at the beginning of using as many real deer as possible, but as soon as we started talking to deer trainers, we realized it wasnt going to happen that way. They dont train easily and at that time of year, they dont have antlers. Even if we had used real deer we would have had to tie on fake antlers or use CGI antlers, so it would have been a nightmare. The decision was made early on to go all CG with the deer, even though there are one or two real deer, which hopefully no one will be able to tell, she smiles. So during [pre-production], we started modeling our hero deer. He was modeled on a hero whitetail buck. Hideo wanted the buck to be a little bit threatening and not so dainty. Real deer have a tendency to be skinny. We used a lot of hunting reference books, because the hunters try to find the biggest, nastiest bucks.
Creating the deer and making them look realistic, ended up being a deceptive challenge for R&H. Weve made a lot of advances in the last few years and we can do animals really well nowadays. So it wasnt so much the look that was difficult, but their actions. They had to feel real, but they were doing some very unrealistic things, so it was finding that balance of feeling like this is a real deer in the forest throwing itself at a car. Its very difficult to strike the right balance in animation that reads real. It almost never does, because a real deer would never do that, so it was the most challenging thing. We were tweaking up to the last minute just for that issue, having one land one heavier here or there for realism.
As for the sequence planning, Paterson explains their particular approach. We did an animatic, but because we wanted it done really quickly so we could bring the 2nd unit director and the special effects coordinator into it, we decided to do a practical animatic with Barbie dolls and toy cars and toy deer. The special effects coordinator built a mini-set and second-unit director, Mark Vargo, shot it with little lipstick cameras. We did a couple versions of that until we nailed down what the sequence was going to be and we knew what to shoot for plates. We were also trying to schedule out the shoot. We were on location in Oregon and only had a limited time with the stars on that road with the car, so we had to minimize what sections had to be shot on location and what could be pulled out and done later with green screen. Then is was just a matter of shooting and making sure we had very detailed plate data so that we could recreate the camera moves and the lighting situations later.
For the first pass, we just matched the animatic and we were tweaking from there with the editor, she continues. We completed about 45 shots of deer, but I dont think they will all be in the final cut. We are tightening and tightening. Hideo actually wants to do a longer version for the Japanese cut. Hes still lobbying for it, so he had us do all the shots so he has that option later.
The other major sequence, the anti-gravity water scene, occurs when the water filling a bathtub literally overtakes the room in a dramatic display of hellish power. The water sequence is the centerpiece for me, Paterson admits. It was the one we were most worried about going in, but we had a great team on it and it went surprisingly well. Hideos the type of director that wants it to look real and we knew we would be held up to a high standard. We had some great animators and lighters working on it and they pulled off an amazing thing fairly quickly. The first pass, Hideo wanted it super naturalistic, so it was only going as if gravity had just switched, water going directly from the floor to the ceiling in a straight line. It did look very naturalistic, but it wasnt quite eerie and exciting enough. We ended up redoing the sequence as if there were vortexes and swirling air in the room, almost like there were emanating waves in the air in the room. It was much more effective in terms of the Ooh! factor, she chuckles.
In putting the scene together, Paterson says, We did shoot a lot of practical water that was mostly for reference. In the earlier versions of the cut, they were mixed in together, but as soon as Hideo decided the water should go in more than one direction, we couldnt use the practical water anymore. We have been working hard on our tools for water. We use Houdini a lot, but we also have a lot of other tools that we mix in, mostly for the large volume stuff. There are one or two shots with collected water on the ceiling that has a lot of waves and drops bouncing off the walls, so it was quite a bit of calculation. The drops coming off the tub edge are mostly straight Houdini, but then we render everything in our propriety software. We use our software called Voodoo, which is our house software and our renderer is called Wren.
Aside from those segments, Paterson says The Ring Two also pushed them to a new level with their animation skills. The most challenging thing we did was a few CG shots with hair. It was Samaras long hair that had to animate, which was very new for us. We had to write software and revise our software to handle it. Its something we hadnt done before and not something Ive seen done before, specifically with long hair. We finished those shots last. Extraordinarily pleased with the results, Paterson adds, We are already starting to use that in other projects and the guys that figured it out are hard at work on other projects. It was very good for us and we hadnt expected it going into the project.
Reflecting on their overall experience on The Ring Two, Paterson offers, All together, we did about 75 effects shots. There are some other miscellaneous blue-screens and wire removals that went to other houses (Hammerhead) to keep us focused. We worked really well with the director and the editor. Our animation director, Keith Roberts, managed to focus in on what Hideo was looking for with the deer. We all felt we were working on the same side and the same page, which is really nice because that doesnt always happen.
Tara DiLullo is an East Coast-based writer whose articles have appeared in publications such as SCI-FI Magazine, Dreamwatch and ScreenTalk, as well as the websites atnzone.com and ritzfilmbill.com.