Given David Sander‘s newfound Golden Skull trophy thanks to Screamfest’s Best Special Effects Award for The Tunnel, we thought we’d invite him to give us a little insight into some of his experience working on the film. If you read between the lines, you can see we didn’t quite make it easy for him at times!
When I was first asked about doing visual effects for “The Tunnel”, I was excited enough, but hadn’t reckoned on a couple of the shots the production threw at me. One of them was what came to be referred to as the “Neck Break Shot”, a rather gruesome sequence witnessed by our heroic crew via their night-vision camera, as Stalker (Goran Kleut) slowly twists the head of an already blinded security guard (Ben Maclaine) far further than nature ever intended.
To achieve the vision in one unedited sequence, both Ben and Goran took a dive into Willoughby Aquatic Centre’s pool at night, surrounded by props that glimpsed in the dark implied the dank, water-filled tunnels under Sydney. Goran performed the sequence with Ben, but rather than actually snapping Ben’s neck, Goran let go of Ben and continued his action, finally dragging Ben below the surface and submerging himself only to emerge a moment later to rush the camera.
The trick was when Ben’s head could turn no further, the camera was stopped, and he was turned around, his clothing reversed, and by himself continued the head-turn move to its grisly conclusion.
When the source material finally made it to me, Goran’s shoulder, arm and hand had to be heavily rotoscoped, Ben’s head (and body) had to be matched between the two shots of him and seamlessly meshed together (using hand-held source footage), and the whole scene had to have all its myriad layers integrated with nothing showing suggesting it was a visual effects shot. One rather sizeable challenge was the simple fact the entire shot was about as grainy as could be by virtue of the night-vision camera. Rotoscoping is hard enough with clear footage, imagine the challenge of rotoscoping this stuff! This sequence became the most difficult and time-consuming of all shots in the movie, with rotoscoping, motion tracking, grain matching and compositing taking over two weeks in total.
One of the aims of the production was the less-is-more approach, which often meant seeing even less of Stalker as we saw in the raw footage. I reckoned we still needed to see those eyes of his, and have them stand out as retinal reflections, as if to say he’s locked on to where the camera is, which is being held by one of our heroes. The result was everywhere we saw Stalker he needed to be minimised – the skin of his face and arms could stand out a little, as Goran’s insidious performance was most expressive there, but the rest should be mysteriously blending into the inky blackness of the tunnels themselves. This treatment was applied to this sequence, leaving it to appear as sinister and terrifying as could be.
Special Visual Effects tools included: Adobe After Effects (CS5), Adobe Photoshop (CS5), ElectricImage (3D), Apple Mac Pro.
Frames of David’s work on The Tunnel are still available to buy (including the one above) at www.thetunnelmovie.net/buyout. Your frame will be personalised, and selection is random, but you might score one on the cool pics of our Stalker.