The visual effects in Jordan Peele’s 2019 American psychological horror ‘US’ play just as important a role as the director’s social themes. They help reinforce the characters’ motivations, act as a visual metaphor, and keep the audience glued to their seats without them even noticing any of the post-production trickery that’s just happened.
And that’s when you can tell that the VFX have been done right; when people don’t notice anything at all.
Just in case you haven’t already seen it, spoilers ahead.
Seeing as the main premise of this movie is that everyone has an evil doppelganger, it was fundamental the shots showing both versions of a character at the same time looked flawless.
Now, instead of creating expensive digital doubles that sometimes don’t quite convincingly mimic the motion or nuances of an actors performance, they decided to use a different technique.
They shot every scene twice. Once with actors playing one character and then, having quickly gone through hair and makeup, their counterpart right after. Some scenes were also filmed using a body double in place of their counterpart.
The idea was to get as much real footage of the actors playing both of their roles in order to splice it all together in postproduction. Which is far more practical than strapping a mirror to a body double’s face.
Careful notes were taken for each camera movement, noting every camera position and rotation, in order to be able to recreate, as closely as possible, the same shot for each additional pass of the same scene.
Having multiple versions of the same shot made it easier to track heads from other takes onto stunt doubles.
The problem, however, with this method, arises when both doubles need to interact physically with each other.
For this, Industrial Light and Magic ended up having to play a bit of Frankenstein by chopping and cropping actors faces and slicing and splicing parts from stunt doubles in order to create a hybrid version that made the interactions look more convincing.
For the flashback where Red and Adalade first meet in the Hall of Mirrors,
Jordan Peele made things look even more creepy by having actor Madison Curry stand in front of her photo double, instead of simply putting her in front of a mirror, making it feel all the more unnatural.
When Adelaide’s counterpart reaches out and grabs Adelaide’s neck, Curry was filmed grabbing a green paper cup that was later replaced.
Her hands were also later replaced as well as a full head replacement for an added ‘surreal’ effect.
For the deserted tunnels under the US, hallways were designed with movable walls, some on rollers. This allowed for them to be adjusted on the move however they wanted and meant that they could also switch to a green screen backdrop, ready for LIM to chroma in endless maze-like corridors.
The ending areal shot in the movie was filmed in Nicasio, not too far from ILM studios. The only issue with the footage was that there were a lot of forested areas which meant that large parts had to be digitally removed in post-production for the line of tethered to be seen well enough.
To make the huge line of tethered feel more ‘tethered’ to the countryside, a team of 90 extras lined up in red jumpsuits on one of the hilltops. From there, ILM extended the rest of the line digitally to continue on as far as the eye can see.
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