VFX for indie horror: the making of ‘Revealer’

How a combination of invisible effects, digital blood and CG snakes helped expand the story and production value of an indie horror.

Tensions rise when a stripper and religious protester are trapped together in a peep show booth and must come together to survive the apocalypse in 1980’s Chicago–that’s the plot summary of Luke Boyce’s indie horror film, Revealer, released earlier this year on Shudder.

To help realize his vision, Boyce entrusted visual effects studio Turncoat Pictures and VFX supervisor Ryan Urban to aid in bringing some of the more horrific moments to the screen.

“We had been chatting with Luke and his team for a bit,” recalls Urban. “Actually, it was about another project, but the pandemic hit and obviously changed some plans for everyone. Fortunately Luke and team were able to make Revealer during the early days of the pandemic. The beauty of visual effects on a project like this, it can tastefully make any smaller film feel much more grand.”

Urban adds that he thought what the production pulled off in a short amount of time for the film was astonishing. “We got the script and had some preliminary discussions and they shot it. Then the editing began and it was time for the VFX turnovers and for our fun to begin.”

“Ryan helped us through some of the more challenging stuff and made the process very easy for us,” says Boyce of his relationship with the VFX process on Revealer.

Snakes!

Urban, through his Turncoat Pictures, set to work on crafting a custom plan that worked for the film. “We ran all the shots through Turncoat Pictures and had our team of artists tackle 100 of the 120 shots. Twenty of the shots had a demanding CG need. We had two independent, powerhouse CG generalists, Brandon Ballschmidt and Daniel DelPurgatorio, take on the snake-like creatures as other vendors for the show. I was really happy how it all came together across the teams and how we were able to use visual effects to help tell the story.”

Brandon and Daniel’s CG snake work was something Urban particularly admired. “Daniel’s snake work started with plate photography. He was able to expand upon the scanned snake, and further bring that to life. Being able to introduce the snake on her shoulder with CG really helped the shots following in the sequence where the two actresses interacted with the practical snake.”

Meanwhile, Ballschmidt worked on a specific scene that began with a scan of a tunnel set to create a couple of full CG shots. “Opposed to doing a pick up shoot for some shots that would make the edit stronger, they were able to add a few more full CG shots that showed more of what was happening in the tunnel with the snake creatures,” outlines Urban.

Tongue time

One hero split shot sequence involved Demon Ray’s tongue. “To create the tongue,” explains Urban, “Brandon repurposed the production’s scan of the practical snake. It was a good starting point to help the ‘creatures’ of the world feel more connected.”

“Working with Luke on concepts, Brandon added a split in the end for the tongue to fork, spikes, and some strings of saliva around as well. His CG renders were handed off to the comp team at Turncoat Pictures where they were polished and integrated into the plate photography.”

A storm is coming

Urban says one of his favorite sequences was when the storm cloud approaches. “It’s a vibrant red and has some gorgeous lightning. They filmed it against a blue, overcast sky. We set out to make it a bit more subtle out of caution that we wouldn’t be able to extract her from the sky without use of a clean blue screen or detailed roto. Senior compositor Samuel Jørgensen managed to pull an amazing key and preserve all her curly hair. As a result we doubled down and went a bit bigger with the storm.”

“We also added a subtle lighting gag over the door,” continues Urban. “It helped give the outside a more supernatural feel and better connect the interior with the large, red storm outside. Besides the storm cloud, snakes and tongue, this started out as a small, shot during lock down film. Among the invisible effects were continuity fixes, set extensions, adding in elements such as sparks, smoke, glass and blood.”

Blood, and more invisible effects

One of the Turncoat Pictures’ major contributions in post was blood. “It all worked so well,” states Urban, “and helped boost the production value and intensify the drama of a scene. They only had a 12 day shoot, and the practical gags could kill a schedule. So we relied on adding blood with visual effects. We added blood splatters in with the characters actions and also some that hit the lens. I didn’t want the blood on the lens to be a gimmick, but we found a way to do it naturally and pitched the idea to Luke and the director of photography. We were happy they went for it.”

Blood ended up being an invisible effect added to many shots, as were some classic TV screen comps, including for the film’s opening shot and scene. Says Urban: “We gave this scene a lot of love to push it as if it were filmed in-camera. Regardless of the creative, I find it extra important to give any opening scene that extra polish to help set the quality bar and vibe for the rest of the film.”

Final thoughts

Visual effects were also required for Revealer’s Main on Ends, where the camera pans up and showcases a vast landscape over the endless maze. This work was handled by Brandon Ballschmidt. “The titles utilized lots of characters wandering the maze, that were all motion captured,” notes Urban. “Some very epic work in there!”

“I still can’t believe that everything looks the way it does, knowing what we had to work with,” enthuses director Boyce. “And it’s entirely all due to the talent and incredible hard work of Turncoat Pictures and our CG artists.”

Turncoat Pictures has a dedicated Revealer page on its website with reels and additional stills. Revealer is now streaming on Shudder.

Brought to you by Turncoat Pictures:
This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.


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