VFX supe Scott Farrar breaks down ILM’s work for the John Krasinski and Emily Blunt scenes.
The opening scenes of John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place Part II take us back to the moment that alien creatures arrive in the film’s town and immediately wreak havoc on its inhabitants.
We follow Krasinki’s character, Lee, as he exits his car to discuss what is happening with a police officer before a creature smashes into the police vehicle, and then we follow Emily Blunt’s character, Evelyn, as she drives through the mayhem—in a single uninterrupted shot—before crashing into a bus, from which emerges one of the monsters.
Both of those moments are played as ‘oners’, requiring careful choreography during filming to execute and then meticulous visual effects work by Industrial Light & Magic to pull off the final scenes.
befores & afters spoke to production visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar, who also oversaw the first Quiet Place, to find out what VFX aspects were involved in making these tense oners a reality.
The making of the police car scene
In the first oner, Lee is seen inside his own vehicle with his daughter before noticing a police car coming up behind them. He exits his vehicle, chats to the officer, when a creature smashes into the police car, and into a shop, with Lee running back to his vehicle—all in one shot.
“The tricky part here was that the police car has to drive up and then it’s got to be mounted on a device that slips it into the building,” outlines Farrar. “The special effects riggers [overseen by special effects supervisor Dan Sudick] had to come in and drive the real cop car out and put in the fake one on a flipper unit.”
“That rigging change-over takes about an hour or so,” adds Farrar. “Everybody’s got to just wait, and then you’ve got to realign the camera. So there’s a cut there. It’s got to be an invisible cut. We had to do a wipe with the cameras going from part A to part B. We chose to do the wipe while John is sliding out of his car.”
Under the watchful eyes of ILM visual effects supervisor Jason Snell and animation supervisor Rick O’Connor, the ILM crew would then stitch together the plates, paint out any parts of the frame that shouldn’t be seen until they needed to be seen, and paint out parts of the rigging on the car. The studio also, of course, crafted the CG creature and integrated it into the crash for the dazzling moment that kicks off the chaos.
Driving down the street (with monsters)
We segue into a new oner with Evelyn and her sons in their car, following along as she makes her way down the panicked street, including past one of the creatures. A smashed up bus coming right for the car forces Evelyn to quickly reverse, and we see a creature emerge from the front of the bus just as the car smashes.
The idea with that scene, relates Farrar, was that the audience at that stage “does not know any more than what Emily’s character and the kids know in the car,” adding to the intrigue and suspense about what might happen.
To orchestrate the stunt, production rigged the car—a Volvo buck ‘pod’ with no wheels—on a low trailer platform. “It’s a motorized platform, all electric, so it makes no noise,” describes Farrar. “The driver actually sits up on top of a big framework of rigging that sits on top of the Volvo. There’s a driver up there, he’s in control of the car and Emily just mimes driving.”
Inside the car, a series of camera rigs were employed, including a CMOCOS (Camera Motion Control System), a robotic arm that could be pre-programmed with specific moves to slowly move around and show the action. “It stuck to the top of the Volvo and could pan around and look everywhere,” says Farrar. “There’s the camera team and grips and stunt drivers backing everything up around the street, but Emily’s there, alone, on a really great stunt ride.”
There was even an air-bag gag that was rigged to simulate the bus hitting the car, and it happened to make the camera ‘break’, a moment that was kept in the shot because it happened to go closer on Blunt and fit the mayhem of the scene.
ILM was then called upon to seam together missing parts of the car’s roof and craft the creature shots in this oner. Here, Farrar says they generally didn’t rely on any particular creature stand-in or stuffie (a stand-in known as ‘Happy’ was used for some shots in the film, however). “On the first film we always had a stunt actor in a green or blue or marker suit, and even John dressed up in that. But in this second film, everyone was kind of familiar with how to do it. So we would use someone or something for composition for the camera operator but most of the time we shot it clean with nobody in there.”
Ultimately, the street driving scene came to be via a massive collaboration of stunts, practical and digital effects with two days of rehearsal and a one day shoot. “I think we did two really good takes,” comments Farrar. “John kept asking all of us, which one do you like? I liked the one that’s in the movie the best, because we got so close to that bus. It was much scarier, it was incredible. So that’s what ended up in the movie.”
Oners and VFX: Farrar’s faves
Over the years, Farrar has overseen several oners while at ILM where visual effects were involved—whether they be long Steven Spielberg shots in Minority Report, or elaborate moments in Michael Bay’s Transformers films. But one particularly challenging set of oners Farrar recalls were those crafted for Back to the Future Part III that would see the same actors performing multiple roles in the same scene. Here, ILM had developed what was essentially a portable motion control dolly system they dubbed the ILM VistaGlide.
“We could do these 40 foot dollies with it,” explains Farrar, “and we were doing them where we’d have Michael J. Fox playing two different characters, walking side by side with himself, and then we’d create A and B plates for the splits. We’d have to do these long walk and talks and have the timing just right. I don’t know if it’d be any easier today, to be honest. It’d still have to be a motion controlled rig.”
The system would go on to be recognized with an Academy Sci-Tech Award in 1998. Tthe full award citation is: “To Michael MacKenzie, Mike Bolles, Udo Pampel and Joseph Fulmer of Industrial Light & Magic for their pioneering work in motion-controlled, silent camera dollies. This silent, high-speed motion control modification of a Panther dolly makes it possible to film moving-camera composite shots of actors while recording live dialogue”.
“It came off beautifully because Michael was so good and so precise on what he did, and Lea Thompson was, too,” continues Farrar. “We just had so much fun with the actors trying to pull something off and then you’re doing it all together as a team. Just like working with John, here. He loves collaboration. That’s the most exciting part of working with him, just coming up with all these new ideas that might actually end up in the movie and scare the heck out of people.”
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