An Army of Nightmares
In the third act of The Cabin in the Woods, all the monsters, and supernatural characters kept in the facility are unleashed, resulting in a bloody massacre. The characters and creatures were brought to the screen through both computer-generated imagery and practical effects, although the AFX Studio crew focused primarily on the latter technique. “I’ve never been in a crew that was trying to make so many creatures for a single film,” said David Leroy Anderson, lead of AFX Studio. “[I have] never been involved in something that was so all-encompassing. I have no way of even calculating how many zombies or mutants we did, because once we were in the thick of things, it came down to as many as we could possibly make in a single day! I think the hard number for types of creatures was somewhere around sixty, but it was well into the hundreds, probably close to a thousand, in individual people turned into various things.”
Most of the horror characters and monsters were homages or references to various films of the genre. “Everything had a reference,” said Anderson in a SciFi Now interview, “everything was an homage, so the Merman is an homage to the Creature from the Black Lagoon ( this goes in contrast with what Drew Goddard said; see below). There’s a Ring homage, an Exorcist homage; our alien was always thought of as a Giger-esque home Alien homage, so they were all ideas that paid tribute to things that that had an effect on him when he was young. Drew is terrified of scarecrows, so that was one thing that had to be in. He had seen every scarecrow movie, and coincidentally, Norman Cabrera had created the actual scarecrow Drew was referring to, so I said, ‘Let me have Norman make these scarecrows for you!’ In a lot of cases, we had some of the actual artists involved in the making of the characters he had loved historically.”
One of the fundamental objectives the filmmakers set out was to use practical elements for most of the effects work. Some of the monsters were created exclusively with computer graphic imagery. “In the very first meeting I had with Joss and Drew,” Anderson said, “the very first thing out of their mouths was, ‘We want to do this all practically.’ I hadn’t heard that in 20 years, but after reading the script I knew it was going to be awesome. I never once, throughout the entire shoot, considered any of the visual FX aspects of it. Everything was practical and blood-tubed on set. We did shoot an alien puppet on green screen, but, for the most part, it was real blood, with real people wearing real suits and make-up running around.”
Cages of varying sizes were built for the scene where Dana and Marty are trapped in the massive selection mechanisms. The smallest cages were used for actual arthropods — among which leaf bugs and millipedes — and small scale animatronics. Filmed with green screen, the cages would be later composited in the final shot, creating the illusion of a much larger size for those creatures.
Anderson noted that many of the monsters were made ‘on the fly’, mainly for background roles. The special effects crew had to make as many as they could in the shortest possible time. He stated: “Shawna [Trpcic] and Scott [Wheeler] made all these bizarre costumes that she had pulled out and assembled into some sort of character. They were fitting extras in anything that would fit, and then Scott would pick one of our masks because we created a stockpile of generic masks, intended to be deep background.”
The ‘Giger’ Alien Beast was designed by David Leroy Anderson and Michael Broom. Early artistic incarnations of the monster conceived a suit performer with the lower half of their body covered in green clothing to be erased in post-production, whereas others had the performer hanging from a platform. Those ideas were discarded, and the monster was finally created as an animatronic rod puppet, sustained by three puppeteers and a harness. Sculpted by Hiroshi Katagiri, it featured articulated eyes and pupils, mandibles, fingers and various appendages. It was also able to turn articulated tentacles outward from its mouth opening. The puppeteers wore greenscreen outfits, and the supporting rods were painted green, in order to be removed in post-production; this technique achieved the desired hanging stance or floating movement of the character. A brief sequence introducing the Alien was in the script of the film; it was filmed [see picture above] but ultimately discarded for the final cut of The Cabin in the Woods, where the Alien was replaced by the Wraith.
“[…] The elevator moves sideways again, revealing an ALIEN hanging from the ceiling behind them. It jumps onto the glass and sticks there, freaking them out again, making them move to the middle of the small space, looking around for the next horror.”
In the final film, the Alien’s role remains as that of a simple background character — seen leaping on a soldier. The creature was labeled as ‘the Giger Alien’ as an homage to swiss Surrealist designer H.R. Giger. “Everything in Cabin was an homage to something and this is the design picked to fill the need to acknowledge Giger. So Mike Broom had to channel Giger,” said Anderson. Michael Broom added: “We did about 30 or 40 designs, some of which were very, VERY Giger-y; bear in mind that every other director wants ‘Giger’ inspired aliens in their movie… but [the final design piece] was what they selected.”
Labeled as ‘Ballerina Dentata‘ by the director Drew Goddard, saidcreature is triggered by the carillon with a dancer on top. The idea came from Joss Whedon; he stated: “The Ballerina with the ring mouth was just the sort of thing I like to think about. And you know me, I like Ballerinas and I like ring mouths. So that gave you two for one here.”
The Ballerina was created with foam rubber make-up over a twelve-year-old child actress, named Phoebe Galvan. David Anderson was very involved in this particular character. He said: “I’ve been involved in scenes before with kids, and my parental protective nature comes out. She had definitely never worn appliances before. I think I put her in that make-up about four different times. It’s just a big mouth over the whole face. I designed it so that the mouth was a foam rubber appliance, and the lips that go around the edge of the appliance were foam rubber and blended onto her skin. The interior of the mouth was a big silicone piece that fit underneath, so she could take it off by flipping it up like a baseball catcher’s mask, and when she dropped it down, there was a little nubbin that I made that she could bite and hold it in, to keep the silicone piece in place.”
Despite the appearance, the make-up was not overly difficult to use or frustrating for the performer inside. it featured small holes in order for her to breathe and see. Anderson continues: “it had nose holes that weren’t a problem, because they were in a little dark recess, but the eye holes were right in a prominent area, so they had to be tiny, they were literally the size of the head of a pin that she could see through. She was so tough, this little girl. I said, ‘they called CUT, they’re going to set up for another take, do you want to take this off?’, and she’s like, ‘nah, that’s okay!’. In the film, close-up shots of the Ballerina’s maw were enhanced digitally.
The Blob, largely unseen in the final cut of the film, was designed by Joe Pepe, sculpted by Joel Ellis and built by Brian Blair. The monster, “basically a bunch of guts and organs that have been composited together,” was created as a small-scale miniature animatronic creature. The core was made of fiberglass, over which an understructure composed of eight-ten bladders was added. The animatronic was then covered with a thin layer of silicone skin. It could be puppeteered by inflating and deflating the bladders, but also via rods that would enter two holes in the fiberglass. “We wanted something very organic and nasty,” said David Anderson.
The Dismemberment Goblins were described by Goddard as ” two happy friends who like to dismember people” — hence their name. They were created as two suits with animatronic heads. The director continues: “They just delighted me to no end, those little guys running around with these big smiles on their faces, ripping people apart.” They are mostly seen in the background doing what they are best at — dismembering people — and using a golf cart. Joss Whedon added: “The Goblins had this incredible personality, both of the guys. They had wings and these fun tails and these great big smiles and — I don’t know if it shows in the movie, but they were driving around in the golf cart and kind of knocking people over!”
Triggered by the conch shell, the Merman was originally conceived as a wholly different being — a Wendigo. However, the filmmakers realized a Merman would be more well known. “Originally, it was a Wendigo,” said Goddard in the Visual Companion book, “because we thought it would be great if one of the guys always wanted to see something. He always wanted to see a Wendigo, but never got the chance to, and then later the Wendigo came out. But then we realized that nobody knew what a Wendigo was. It was like, even Joss and I — I sort of remember what a Wendigo is, but I didn’t quite, so we had to pick something that you hadn’t seen, I can’t remember seeing a Merman in a horror film, but still, if I say ‘Merman’ to you, you at least know what it is, whereas if I say ‘Wendigo’, to most people, they’d say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’.”
Earlier designs for the Merman were heavily influenced by the Gillman in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The monster would, however, progressively lean towards a legless, more fish-like configuration. The final Merman was designed by Joe Pepe. His concepts were photoshop collages obtained from high-resolution photographs of various elements, including shark jaws, humanoid foreheads and long hair.
The Merman was brought to the screen as a creature suit, performed by Rich Cetrone. The suit was composed of two main parts: the body and the upper jaw, which was attached to the actor’s forehead. The lower part of his head would be seen inside the monster’s mouth; the problem was solved with a green mask. David Anderson explained: “when the Merman opens his mouth, what was there on the day of filming was the lower half of Rich Cetrone’s face, under the roof of the Merman’s mouth. When the Merman’s mouth opened, there was Rich’s chin and the bottom of his nose. Visual effects had to erase all that and illustrate the interior of the mouth. So Rich wore a green-screen cover over his chin It’s a foam rubber appliance over his whole forehead that blends off over his nose, which creates the upper lip.”
Rich Cetrone would have to stay inside the suit for extended periods of time. Anderson added in another interview: “For the performer on set, it was definitely the most painful makeup. He was completely immobile. He was basically a fish for 12 hours and had to be carried around on a stretcher. When he was laying on the floor, we’d give him a little pillow, and he’d kind of curl up in a fetal position and go to sleep. There [are] a lot of really cute pictures of the merman napping. We’d go gently wake him up and say, ‘It’s time to kill.'”
The gruesome detail of the blood being spilled out of the Merman’s blow-hole was Anderson’s idea. He remarked: “There originally wasn’t going to be any blood. I said, ‘How about when the merman bites down on him, the blood actually starts coming out of the blow-hole?’ and Drew said, ‘Perfect!’ so the catch-phrase of the day was ‘the bloody blow-hole.’ I love the wide shot in the behind-the-scenes video where the blood keeps going and going — because it reminds me of that night, which was just hysterical. I kept thinking, ‘How are they going to use this? He’s sitting there flapping like a fish, and it looks like a hose spraying blood everywhere!’ but the way they cut it together was perfect.”
The Unicorn was, in the first stages of production, an uncertain addition to the film. Lance Anderson designed the legendary horned horse. “When David saw how complex this job would be,” said Heather Langenkamp Anderson, “the first call he made was to his dad.” The Unicorn was an actual horse with blue eyes; the horn, attached to its forehead, was a prosthetic piece. “It was soft and flexible,” David Anderson said, “so if in fact it did run into somebody, it wasn’t going to gore him and kill him. I didn’t want to go there [laughs], and I didn’t want to hurt the horse, so we innovated a breakaway soft horn. The core was a segmented plastic ball-and-socket spine.”
The infamous stabbing sequence was achieved with an insert puppet head, which featured an actual rigid horn. It was mounted on a gimbal, and the puppeteers would just have to ram it back and forth. The actor playing the victim had his head and shoulders sticking out from a hole in the wall; a dummy of the rest of the body was made to receive the damage from the horn.
The first monster Dana and Marty encounter in the cages sequence is the Werewolf. Following Drew Goddard’s unfortunate experience with the Buffy werewolf, he made sure that this time he would helm a design that would be 100% effective. David Anderson noted: “I think with something like Buffy, one of the reasons they ended up with a big hairy possum is you can get too many cooks in the kitchen, with too many ideas and too many egos standing there, but I knew where my place was. I would stand there with Drew, Constantine, and Norman Cabrera, knowing I was fourth on the list at that point, so I only threw in my two cents when I absolutely felt like it was important.”
According to David Anderson, “Drew and Joss’ main emphasis was, ‘this Werewolf has to be fast, it has to kick ass, and it has to be all practical.” The Werewolf was designed by Constantine Sekeris, an artist “who is obsessed with werewolves.” The design process actually started with Sekeris showing Goddard an array of werewolf creatures he had precedently designed. Due to his experience on Buffy, Goddard had a precise idea of what the Werewolf ought to look like. “He knew exactly what he wanted to see,” said David Anderson, “and he put Constantine Sekeris through the wringer. Constantine probably did a dozen complete finished looks, and Drew would say, ‘The eyes are too far apart!’ or, ‘The nose isn’t quite right,’ but looking back on it those subtle changes were so necessary.”
The Werewolf was sculpted by a team of artists led by Norman Cabrera. Two creature suits were built. Depending on the scene that had to be shot, two heads could be mounted on each: a mechanized head and a lightweight stunt head. In addition to the suit, AFX Studio built an insert puppet of the Werewolf’s upper body, complete with a fully mechanized hero head. Rich Cetrone was the actor who performed inside the suit. “when we had him in the first mock-up, everybody got really excited because his movements were so beautiful and powerful. In the end, it proved to be more useful to use him in wider shots with the full figure and use all of his gestures, rather than coming in tight on the mechanical head.”
The Werewolf’s legs were attached to the sides of the performer’s real legs — which wore a green outfit in order to be erased in post-production. The legs of the Werewolf would be puppeteered with the movements of the actor inside the suit. The technique made the suit simpler to perform in and excluded the necessity to use computer generated legs; legs with different attachment areas were made, and used depending on the requirements of the shot.
Allegedly, the Werewolf was originally supposed to be killed by bullets at the end of the film. Not wanting the monster to die, Whedon found an appropriate excuse: “I had a favourite moment of writing, which was when I was writing the last scene and Drew was working on another scene, and I came upstairs and I went, ‘Drew, they have a gun without silver bullets. Can the Werewolf just run away?’ And Drew, without looking back, just said ‘I was worried about that, too.’ That was the moment I went, ‘I love my life.'”
Actress Sigourney Weaver, who plays the dorectpr in the film, “had never been in a movie with a werewolf, let alone one where she gets an ax in her head. So she had a lot of fun.” She was apparently very excited about starring alongside a werewolf. “I have never seen anyone more excited about working with a werewolf than Sigourney Weaver,” said Goddard. “She would ask everyday ‘is the Werewolf gonna be here, when is the Werewolf showing up, can I please get a picture taken with the Werewolf?’
For more images of the monsters, visit the Monster Gallery.