Adrian de Wet on making the giant shark creature that eats up the screen in new blockbuster The Meg.
Last week we went small with a look at the VFX in Ant-Man and the Wasp; this week we go big with a look at The Meg, the latest Jason Statham vehicle which pits our man against one giant mother of shark.
Behind the gargantuan-sized effects at work in the movie was Adrian de Wet, an award-winning VFX supervisor with over 20 years' experience of working on high-end features such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the Hunger Games series. For The Meg, Adrian worked with effects studios like DNEG, Image Engine and Scanline VFX, bringing not only the film's aquatic underworld to startling life, but also the very beast that gives the film its name - the Megalodon, or Meg, a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark that calls the Pacific Ocean its home.
We caught up with Adrian recently on thankfully dry land to discuss his work on the film, and how the Meg itself is not an entirely imaginary creature (sort of, so don't get too scared now, reader).
GL: What was your role exactly for this film?
AW: "On the creative side, I'm the person who is the creative lead in terms of what all the visual effects houses are doing all over the world. I'm pretty much the link between the director and all these thousands of people that are working on the movie, so it's really a case of contact management on a huge scale.
"We had over two thousand visual effects shops in this movie and we had nine facilities, so that's a lot of people. I would say that the number of people that works in the visual effects on this movie sort of went into the thousands."
GL: Which production houses were involved in the process?
AW: "We had Scanline, we had DNEG, we had Sony Pictures Image Work, we had Image Engine, and we had Soho Visual Effects in Toronto. So, we had a real mixture of people, and the way we split the work was into thirds. So you had the first act mainly done at DNEG; the second one, which was probably the bit with the most work in it, mainly done by Scanline; and the end of the film was mostly done by Sony Pictures Image Work."
GL: Let's talk about the actual shark itself, the Meg. How was it designed with a view to scale, to capture that sense of 'hugeness' needed?
AW: "We were very fortunate to have really talented artists that could paint the appropriate amount of detail like physical creases and scars into the surface of this creature to give it the appropriate scale. Oftentimes, you film something and you can tell the computer that it's 75 foot long, but that's not enough. You have to actually go in and creatively give it the correct amount of detail to make it really, really big. If you don't have enough detail, it will just feel small."
GL: How realistic did you want the shark to be without it being so scary as such? This is a family-friendly film, after all.
AW: "The main thing is that it has to be believable. People have to actually believe that this thing is physically there, and it's physically frightening. That's actually quite hard; it would have been easier if we'd just made the shark look like a massive version of a great white. People are used to seeing a great white and they know what that type of shark looks like, so when they see it on the screen their brain tells them that what they're looking at is a great white and it's real.
"That would have been easier, but we actually chose the hard route for ourselves, which was to create a creature that had never been seen before, and that made it harder to make it something that people believe. I hope that people look at it and they do believe it's there. It's always a lofty ideal, I think, but hopefully we've done our job right."
GL: Wasn't the Meg's design based on an actual extinct creature?
AW: Well, kind of. Very loosely. The thing about the Meg, is that the only fossil record that we have from the extinct megalodon is its tooth. So scientists have told us what they think the megalodon looks like, and I have to say the creature that we built looks nothing like what the scientists imagined.
"We've basically taken poetic or dramatic license, whatever you want to call it, and designed something that we think looks cool and scary and awesome, rather than something that looks archeologically correct."
GL: For the film's subaquatic scenes, how did you go about those? Were they more reality-based?
AW: "We actually did quite a lot of research on hydrothermal vents that exist in these really deep oceanic trenches, such as the Marianna Trench. At the beginning of the movie, there's a dive scene descending towards the bottom of the trench, but which turns out isn't actually the bottom. They go through that, what we call the 'cloud layer', and it turns out that this layer is the precipitate of superheated water that comes out of these hydrothermal vents. It's actually hydrogen sulfite that's coming out as solution when the water travels through these vents, and we made this big sort of black smoke effect to represent that, all this black smoke sort of coagulating together to form what they thought was the bottom of the ocean.
"We then illuminated that when we go through it, and it's this undersea world that's never been discovered before, and there's all these amazing new creatures that nobody has ever seen, including a giant squid - and the Meg, of course."
GL: What was the biggest challenge with this project? And what are you most proud of?
AW: "The biggest challenge was the fact that there was so much work involved. 80% of the movie is these effects, and each one of those visual effects shots is a massively complex shot. There were no easy shots in this movie at all, because we have to change the entire background on virtually every shot. The scope was enormous; we had to add creatures to every shot. A lot of the shots we had nothing for, which just left scenes missing for minutes of the movie that we have to fill in the gaps on.
"The thing that I'm most proud of is the fact that there are thousands of people in these facilities all working together to create this movie. There's thousands of brains all working together like a massive hive mind. The project management aspect of this is just enormous, and that's what I'm really proud of."
GL: As enormous as the Meg itself, right?
The Meg is out now in cinemas across the UK.