Behind the scenes on series two with Odd Studio and its practical Isla Fisher wolf effects.
In the second season of Wolf Like Me, the character Mary (Isla Fisher) is pregnant. And yes–spoiler alert–she gives birth to a wolf child.
The season sees Mary in pregnant wolf form make a number of attacks, including against Gary (Josh Gad). We also see her transform from human to wolf. These sequences, plus the presence of a baby wolf, were helped made possible via a combination of practical wolf effects orchestrated by Odd Studio, and digital work overseen by visual effects supervisor Jay Hawkins, with a CG wolf crafted by Alt.vfx.
Here, befores & afters catches up with Odd Studio’s Adam Johansen and Damian Martin to find out how some of the on-set practical effects were created that drew upon and extended what had been done on the first season.
This included the wolf animatronics, the ‘change-o-face’ appliance made to show Fisher’s character’s snout pushing through to become a wolf, and the various baby wolf animatronics that were made.
Taking wolf animatronics further
For season one of Wolf Like Me, Odd built an animatronic wolf head, back to just past the shoulders, which they were able to use again for season two.
“We used that for all the hero shots of jaw opening, snarling, blinking and frowning,” explains Johansen. “There was also a three-quarter length werewolf suit that creature performer, Andrew Crawford, was in on season one, which we again used for season two. However, we built more of it, as in the full length. We had hind legs on it. We really only saw it in the last episode in season one, walking around the car. In this season, we knew we were going to see more of the full length.”
This necessitated a back-half build by Odd that also showed that the character was pregnant. “We had to redesign the body and come up with a big pregnant belly,” notes Johansen. “We gave the suit some breasts, too.”
“We also learned from season one the limitations Andrew had performing in the suit. So, we really did change the functionality of how he could walk around in that suit. It gave creator Abe Forsythe more freedom in the length of shot that we see. Andrew could walk further in this suit, it was more comfortable for him, and therefore, his performance was better.”
When a wolf attacks
At one point, Mary in wolf form attacks Gary in their house. This would be a heavy stunt sequence, and made use of Odd’s wolf suit builds as much as possible. A specific stunt wolf head was built for this moment. “We called it Snappy,” offers Martin, noting the main task the stunt head would perform. In fact, that scary moment when Mary pushes Gary off a table and leans over snapping down at him was filmed with Johansen holding the head and making it snap very quickly.
“It was just rubber teeth,” says Johansen, “but that was great for the bashing and thrashing around of a soft poly foam and silicone version of the head. The rest of the performance was Andrew in the suit, with other scenes filmed using an animatronic version that was me with a harness on and our team operating the facial movements.”
Full body and frenetic moments were achieved using the Alt.vfx CG wolf. “Jay Hawkins is a great visual effects supervisor, I think we really compliment each other,” states Johansen. “I think there’s a great understanding between Jay, myself and Abe of what needs to happen. Still, Abe just loves having everything on set and shooting everything first, and I think Jay does too, really.”
The art of a change-o-face
About to give birth, Mary starts transforming into wolf form. Parts of her body and face become wolf-like. “It was such a dream for us, as the whole Odd Studio crew are huge American Werewolf in London and Rick Baker fans,” marvels Martin.
The transformation starts with Mary’s hand. Here, Odd made a hand that was in two stages. “There was a cut point, but we have a moment when it’s Isla’s hand, and then we cut to a copy of the hand and the fingers start breaking,” outlines Johansen. “Then there’s another hand that has partially started to grow from the palm–we just pushed that out. It was something Rick Baker had established so many years ago, it’s a cable-controlled change-o-hand.”
We also see Mary’s spine change, which was achieved via a bladder effect, says Johansen. “We sculpted a slightly bulging spine prosthetic that we applied. Then, there’s a combination of screaming, bending over and inflating that spine to produce the final effect.”
The key moment in the transformation showcases Mary’s wolf snout pushing through her face in the back of an ambulance–something the team called a ‘change-o-face’, again in honor of Rick Baker’s work. “This was a head and shoulders bust with an internal skull that could stretch and change the bone structure from underneath,” discusses Martin. “Our team did a beautiful paint job on this.”
Further Odd effects for the transformation sequence included prosthetic legs for Fisher’s stunt double that appeared to be partially grown, essentially long legs with feet beginning to grow. There was also a glove version of the transformed hand and another incarnation of the change-o-head to show it slightly further long in the transformation.
“Finally,” says Johansen, “we created an entire dummy of a three-quarter transformed Isla werewolf. That was what they were carrying through the house, which was really big, more than six feet long. We called it the three-quarter transformation puppet and was basically a big silicone articulated dummy.”
Season two features two different baby wolves. One was for a scene of Mary having a premonition that she is going to give birth to a ‘nightmare’ wolf pup, and the other was the actual wolf pup she births.
“We had a blast creating what we were referring to as a Gizmo and a Spike,” details Johansen. “The Spike was a really nasty, mutated version of what it could be for that nightmare scene. We really had a lot of fun with that, for example, just making it too big. It was oversized, it was bigger than the actual one.”
Martin observes that the nightmare pup was “turned up to 11 at every level,” and was crafted as a hand puppet. The team made a mechanical stomach that birthed open, almost like an egg from Alien. Fisher stood in front of this rig that cracked open and spurted her with fake blood.
“We shot that as an insert element in the car park of the studio,” says Johansen. “It was just gallons of blood firing out with our hand puppet wolf going crazy. It was all brought together with our work and Alt.vfx’s work for the nightmare pup.”
The pup that Mary really births was, of course, a much more beautiful creation. “It was the opposite sort of brief,” notes Martin. “It had to be something the father falls in love with straight away. The soft gentleness of a newborn pup. Again, it was a cable-controlled puppet with four of us puppeteering it with an umbilical to get all that movement in-camera. It was actually quite touching being on set that day.”
Johansen adds that “it could breathe, with a little eye just starting to open and a little mouth. Josh Gad was so into it and really did fall in love with the puppet. There was this real maternal bond, and I think he probably wanted to take it home with him,”
“No, we’re fighting for custody at the moment,” jokes Martin.