Harbinger of the End
Marcus Nispel — originally at the helm of End of Days — was fired from the project after various disputes regarding budgetary and creative matters. Replacing him was Peter Hyams (director of The Relic), with visual effects supervisors Eric Durst and Kurt Williams still attached to the project after Nispel’s dismissal. As a result of the situation, Hyams was allowed a short preparation time for the film — spanning only four weeks. Stan Winston Studio was hired to bring to life the film’s visceral portrayal of Satan, aided by Rhythm & Hues on the visual effects front.
Satan’s winged and monstrous form was designed by Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery. Due to Hyams’s late attachment to the project, the finale of the film still had to be scripturally defined. To resolve the issue, filming of the third act — where the practical version of Satan would be employed — was pushed back at the end of the production schedule, allowing more time to develop both the dynamics of the finale and the design of the Monster. Stan Winston recalled in an interview with Cinefex: “Crash spent months designing the beast while in consultation with Peter Hyams. Ultimately, he was able to conceptualize the devil in a way that was both cinematic and demonic. We didn’t want to play to some cliché image of Satan — red skin and horns just wouldn’t have worked — but the character did have to conform to some of the iconic mythology. Crash managed to touch on the key elements that identified the beast, while bringing something fresh and new to it.”
Crash’s design was then translated into a three-foot tall maquette, sculpted by Joey Orosco, John Rosengrant, and Trevor Hensley. The maquette served both as the base of the Satan suit and the digital Satan created by R&H. The latter is first seen early in the film, although in a refractive form to conceal its appearance — which would be only revealed in full view in the finale. “There was a lot of discussion about how tangible he was supposed to appear,” Durst related. “Peter liked a refractive effect that really showed just the contours, so we worked on that, trying to figure out what the levels of refraction would be in a night city environment. We did sketches and it became clear very quickly that we needed to see it in motion, because the refraction changed once the thing started to move. So we went to animatics on it right away, as soon as scan data from the Winston maquette became available. There was a lot of modeling involved, with many structural details in the contours that had to match.”
This was not Hyams’s first use of refractive digital effects, as observed by visual effects supervisor John DesJardin: “the early Satan shots used a variation on the somewhat simple time-travel shader from Timecop. This time we added many properties, smudging some of the refraction and cleaning up other aspects.” The resulting effect, however, was deemed too similar to the cloaking effects seen in the Predator films. The effects team thus further elaborated the program. DesJardin continues: “we softened the highlights, making a point of only bringing them up at key movements to suggest the beast’s actual definition. Then we’d take it back down again and motion-blur the image, which made him blend back into the street action.”
Regarding actual creature animation, Hyams dictated that Satan’s wings should remain tucked against its body during the early street scenes, only opening when the creature had to make a sharp turn. DesJardin said: “he was basically just a trunk. We developed root-like tentacles below the trunk with the idea [that] he could use them to propel himself along. Peter sat in with character animator Erick Lee and picked static postures of the creature with its head forward to represent it in motion, then suggested we use the tentacles to trail behind, flicking around a little. Peter also relented on the wings a bit, letting them open on occasion as the thing cornered, which we used to make its form more dynamic and expressive.”
Satan is fully revealed in the film’s finale, when he bursts from the floor of the Cathedral Jericho and Christine had sought refuge. For the first breakthrough shot, a break-apart floor rig was devised, with hinged and pneumatically-actuated plywood leaves forming a flower shape. At the center of the system was a scored plaster plug, with an air mortar diaphragm beneath that would blow debris upward as the plywood sections opened. When Satan first rises through the broken floor, a green screen shape — which would be replaced with the digital Satan in post-production — was employed.
For the following shots of Satan, a full-size, fully-articulated creature suit — over seven feet tall, with a 12-foot wingspan — was built by Winston Studio. The maquette was digitally scaled up — and milled into a rough urethane foam sculpture, which was then manually refined by the same artists that had sculpted the maquette. The skin was cast in foam latex, as well as translucent urethane for the wing membranes. Stan Winston recalled: “our demon towered over Arnold. It was really quite astounding to see this imposing visual of an actual demon interacting with him. Six to nine puppeteers were outside the beast to control various function, with John Rosengrant inside to provide focus and direction for the creature performance.” The suit featured an internal camera, which provided the point of view of the main shooting camera — allowing Rosengrant to have a better sense of his surroundings whilst inside the creature.
Performing in the Satan suit was an arduous experience for Rosengrant. “The Satan creature was probably the toughest suit I was ever in,” Rosengrant recalled in The Winston Effect, “mainly because of the position my body had to be in to make it work. My arms were outstretched, and my feet were locked together in ski boots, on a little base on a boom arm so that I could be raised and lowered. I looked as if I was being crucified. Then, I had to lean far forward, which put a lot of pressure on my back, because the suit and the head were very heavy. I had to train really long and hard to sustain that kind of pressure on my back. It was also very claustrophobic in this suit. Once it was sealed up, there was no way to breathe, so I had to be fed air from a tube. It was dark in there, too, so I couldn’t see a thing until the monitor inside was turned on.” He also added: “One of the things that drove me was that I was performing in front of Arnold, the fitness champion of the world. There was no way I was going to to let myself fail in being able to physically perform in that suit.”
The experience was also stressful — as well as bizarre — for the other crewmembers. Rob Ramsdell, one of the puppeteers, recalled: “we were all really concerned about John’s safety inside that suit, because of the precarious position he was in. There was also something creepy about shooting this Satan scene in a real church. It rang as awkward.” Trevor Hensley, part of the crew, agreed: “we all felt kind of weird shooting in that church. We had to tone down the usual cussing that goes on. And we were puppeteering Satan in there, which was weird in itself. I remember somebody made a little nametag for John that said, ‘Hello, my name is Satan.'”
Following an early test screening, however, Hyams decreed to increase Satan’s size to massive proportions — far larger than those of the suit. The practical creature was thus replaced for most of the sequence with the digital Satan — with only two shots of the practical version visible in the final cut. The Winston Studio crewmembers were widely disheartened with the decision. Hensley said: “we were disappointed to see how little of our work showed up in the final movie. We’d shot that thing for two very long days, and they ended up using only a couple of pieces of it. Those decisions are always disappointing. But we also realize that’s not our call. We’re hired to do what we do. We do the best we can. And then the filmmakers decide how they’re going to use it. It’s just part of the job.”
“By going CG,” Durst elaborated, “we could take it up to twenty feet mor more in height — like a T.rex in relation to a man — and also utilize that nice big wingspan to work with the widescreen aspect ratio.” After widely-approved initial tests, Hyams also altered some of the actions performed by Satan, taking advantage of the flexibility of the digital model. To compose the upscaled beast into the film, the practical footage was first reviewed, and the shots recreated with virtual cameras. First preliminary shots were included in the film for the final cut, then taken back to the visual effects team for finalization. The digital model was further refined for the sequence with textures photographed from the puppet version. R&H also enhanced the appearance of Satan by channeling the earlier refractive version — using particle systems to create refraction elements around and beneath the wings of the Devil.
In an early cut of the film, Satan and Jericho had a prolonged dialogue scene, eventually excised for the final version — where Satan quickly throws Jericho against the wall and possesses him. Afterwards, when Jericho impales himself on a sword wielded by an angel statue, Satan bursts from his body in a massive, fiery form — dubbed by the creative team as the ‘firebeast’. For the sequence, an array of practical elements — flamethrowers and pyrotechnics orchestrated by John Stirber — were first shot for gross fire action. The actual firebeast effect underwent a long development. DesJardin explained: “Peter had suggested that we see the entire beast on fire, so 3D digital artists Scott Giegler and Ivan DeWolf animated a version with wings out, completely engulfed in flame, which up until mid-August was the concept — it even turned up in a trailer for the movie [see the 2:06 mark in the above video]. But at the point where it gets sucked down into the hole, this firebeast began looking like a flaming chicken — so that was out.”
The problem was resolved by creating a version of the firebeast that essentially consisted in just the flaming head of the Satan creature. “They supplied 2D digital artists Sean McPherson and Sean Lee with colourful renders for the facial details. From there, we could separate red, green or blue image channels to pull out certain details. That allowed the 2D fire elements to be warped around the face before adding the detail back in. It was a fine line to walk in order to keep dark areas within the flame, which were needed to define planes of the face.”
For more images of Satan, visit the Monster Gallery.