The Thing From Another World – Part 2
The Thing is first seen imitating a
Swedish Norwegian dog. The part was played by a trained animal actor — a half wolf, half Alaskan malamute dog named Jed, trained by his owner Clint Rowe. He performed in most sequences with the exception of the beginning chase scene, where another dog, painted to be indistinguishable from Jed, was filmed.
Having gone to the Norwegian camp to investigate, MacReady and Copper find a deformed corpse and bring it back to have it examined. The ‘Split-Face’ Thing, as it was called by the crew, was created as a static model moulded in fiberglass, with urethane and foam latex portions, as well as foam latex innards for the autopsy scene.
Once the Norwegian dog enters the kennel, it sits down still. It is here that Jed is replaced by the first creature effect in the film — the “phony dog” as Carpenter calls it — a puppet portraying the Thing’s first transformation in the film. The phony dog was the first of two Dog-Thing puppets whose mechanical components were devised by Arbogast, and featured some of the most complex mechanics in the project.
As originally storyboarded, the dog would have gone through a frantic epileptic seizure before its head — whose mechanics were designed by Bob Worthington — peeled back, making its fiberglass skull fall off. Eventually, Carpenter decided that the sequence would be more startling if the dog’s head were to split open suddenly — and cut the seizure sequences.
After the dog’s head peels back, the sequence cuts to the second Dog-Thing animatronic designed by Arbogast — dubbed by the crew the “meat-hole dog” for its lack of a discernible head. It was wire and cable-operated, and needed up to 17 technicians to operate. In the scene, thin and long tentacles erupt from the dog’s body — an effect shot in reverse with urethane tentacles being whipped about and then pulled inside the animatronic body. The puppet was also designed to grow spider-like legs and spit a pressurized viscous fluid on the dogs.
The next stage in the transformation — the main Dog-Thing — was actually designed and built by Stan Winston and his crew. Winston had been contacted by Bottin earlier in production to ask if he would be ready if needed. Overwhelmed by the workload, Bottin eventually did summon Winston to help with the Dog-Thing. “There was a rather intricate effect which was needed, that Rob felt he didn’t have the time to do,” Winston said. “The studio told Rob to just hire more people, but Rob didn’t feel he had the time to supervise a bigger crew. So he wanted me to design the effect; otherwise they were going to have to drop it from the film.”
Having previously worked on the werewolves from The Howling, Bottin was glad to pass the Dog-Thing over to Winston. He said: “it got to the point where I was thinking ‘if I have to do another stinking mechanical dog, I’ll go nuts!'” In another interview, he said: “I’d already done The Howling, and I didn’t want to see another dog! I didn’t care if it was mutated, I didn’t care if it was riding a skateboard. And I did not want to do Cujo either. No more dogs!”
With little time available, Winston quickly discarded an elaborate animatronic, and instead designed the Dog-Thing as a hand puppet. He started with a photograph of himself with his hand raised, over which he drew the shape of the Dog-Thing. “I designed the character to fit the puppeteer, basically,” Winston said. “I literally drew the picture of the puppeteer, and then designed the character over the puppeteer; and that became the Dog-Thing.”
Once the practical approach was established, the Dog-Thing had to be visually designed — and Winston carefully observed Bottin’s other effects to maintain continuity. “I had two problems to contend with,” Winston said. “One was to design a creature that was definitely a dog-thing, but at the same time was definitely not a dog. It also had to balance with the other effects. It couldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.” Early concept art had been provided by Huebner, but the creature was redesigned from scratch by Lance Anderson and Jim Kagel, who sculpted it as a progression of the earlier ‘meat-hole’ dog — furless, with more deformed dog legs and a monstrous, asymmetrical dog head emerging from its back.
The puppet was constructed by Anderson and Michiko Tagawa — and featured radio-controlled eyes and cable-operated leg movements and lip snarling. Winston explained: “the gross body movement was just operated manually by the puppeteer inside this thing. Lance Anderson puppeteered it from below an elevated kennel set, actually wearing this Dog-Thing puppet over his head and upper body.”
The tentacles and tendrils slithering out of the main body — a Bottin effect — were actually shot in reverse, dragged underneath the elevated set; the same approach was used for the shot of the whimpering dog being enveloped in the Thing’s tendrils. After it is wounded by shotguns, the Thing grows two humanoid arms to grab onto the ceiling of the kennel — an effect designed by Bottin and built by Jim Kagel. Bottin himself wore the foam latex arms for the insert shots.
Once the Thing has attached itself to the ceiling, it attempts one last attack before being burned. A new main body was crafted, with the earlier monstrous dog head as well as other mouthed appendages, eyes and protuberances alike. It featured cable and wire-controlled functions, as well as air bladders. The body splits open to reveal a flower-like maw — dubbed the “pissed-off cabbage” by Bottin — which lunges at Childs before being burned.
Bottin designed the effect because footage was already filmed of the camera reaching Keith David and the rest of the cast. Bottin first envisioned a stalk with a lamprey-like mouth, but the final design — crafted by Diaz — was eventually inspired by the creature in the 1980 film Blood Beach: a flower-like mouth on an extended neck. Diaz based the anatomy of the monstrous form on the mouths of real dogs: its 12 petals were crafted to look like dog tongues, and lined with multiple rows of canine teeth.
The stalk that houses the dog-tongue flower-mouth was taken from a mould made for the Norris-Thing neck stretching shots, which Diaz found lying around the creature effects shop. Vince Prentice, part of the crew, said: “by the end of the project, we could walk into the foam room and make a whole monster out of all the parts that were there. We were able to save a lot of time by just scavenging stuff we’d already made.” What follows is the burned Dog-Thing — an incomprehensible mass of flesh, limbs, mouths and teeth, tentacles and dog parts. It was moulded in urethane with soft parts crafted in foam latex and urethane.
Only apparently dead, the ‘Split-Face’ attacks Bennings from underneath a blanket. Tentacles shot in reverse and food thickener created the illusion of Bennings being assimilated; and when the Bennings-Thing is discovered in the midst of its transformation, the monstrous hands were actually gloves crafted from moulds created for the Palmer-Thing’s hands. In the following shot, a dummy was set on fire.
I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.
In Lancaster’s script, the Norris transformation scene was much more quiet than the final version — which became one of the film’s major set pieces. Ploog initially wanted to focus on tentacles erupting from Norris’s feet; Bottin differed: he had the idea of the Norris-Thing splitting its chest to reveal toothed jaws. The effects artist elaborated the concept trying to impersonate the Thing — to think as if he himself were the alien: “Well, if I were a Thing from outer space, and I’d been shocked over and over with paddles, what would I do? Well, I’d rip open my chest and bite off the doctor’s arms with my ribcage!” He also added: “when the guy’s stomach suddenly splits open and changes into a big mouth and bites the guy’s arms off — if you think about it, it’s logical. The doctor is bugging him and it’s trying to play possum. What’s it going to do? Best thing to do is just let the guy fall in and bite him.”
Effects technician Archie Gillett devised a mechanical false body for Charles Hallahan — with an inner armature of fiberglass and foam latex skin and innards. The teeth were moulded in acrylic with a razor-sharp edge. Originally, the chest-splitting mechanism was conceived as a relatively scissor-type lever operating the fiberglass jaws; however, the technician lying beneath the table did not have enough leverage or strength for the mechanism to work. To solve that issue, Gillett added a hydraulic ram that could open and close the body cavity. It was originally intended to have the body spitting blood and ichor before it gnawed on Copper’s arms, but problems during shooting prevented the gag from appearing in the film.
Hallahan was also underneath the table on which the fake body was put, with his head and shoulders extending above and blended with the fake torso. The jaws bit through specially-prepared replica arms made in gelatin (for the skin and flesh, with blood tubes inserted) and dental acrylic (for the bones), suspended by a brace for the close-up shot. For the next shot, another fake body was constructed in foam latex and fiberglass, and the now armless Copper was played by real amputee Joe Carone, endowed with a mask that reproduced Richard Dysart’s facial connotations.
A third fake body violently spits out green ichor thanks to small explosive charges, while thin urethane tentacles — operated from underneath — writhe about. In the next shot, the camera pans up to reveal that a monstrous form has emerged from the Norris-Thing’s chest — with spider-like legs, deformed humanoid limbs, and a monstrous head with Hallahan’s likeness on the front end of a serpentine, intestine-like neck. Suspended by cables, this creature was devised as a marionette operated by wires from above. Bob Worthington supervised the construction of six different puppet heads, each with individual functions and ranges of expression. The head, whatever the version, was maneuvered through a hole in the false ceiling (concealed by the head itself through appropriate camera angles) and its facial expressions were all radio-controlled.
MacReady is quick to torch the monstrosity to death, and the Norris-Thing gruesomely detaches its own head, which falls on the floor. A half-dozen of different Norris heads were sculpted and built — each with its range of radio-controlled expressions, again engineered by Worthington. Most of the facial expressions were radio-controlled, and the eye movement was instead cable-operated — with a rig designed by Gillett.
Hallahan’s head and neck were again reproduced in foam latex and fiberglass — and divided at the neck. A puppeteer under the table could move the head from side to side and control the mouth, combined with the radio-controlled facial expressions. The stretching neck effect was achieved with a manually-operated shaft of steel hidden within the innards of the neck itself, which was pushed with the hips of an off-camera operator.
The stretching flesh was fashioned with a concoction of heated plastic and Bubble Yum bubble gum — something that led to accidents on set. “We set it up,” Bottin said, “got the lighting perfect; John was on top of the camera checking the angle one last time. Everything was ready to go — except that there was supposed to be fire in the scene, so we called in one of the effects guys to set up a fire-bar, which is a hollow metal bar with holes in it, hooked up to a tank of butane.” The toxic fumes emitted by the heated plastic were also unexpectedly flammable, and had filled the room. “John gave the cues,” Bottin continues, “and when the fire-bar finally ignited, a huge ball of fire — it must’ve been eight feet in diameter — engulfed the puppet. I just stood there, dumbfounded. All I could say was it’s– it’s on fire…’ after a beat everyone started yelling ‘put it out, you idiot!’ We had to shut down for two hours to clean up the mess. Every now and then, John will look at me and say, ‘it’s– it’s on fire…” Although no injuries were involved, a second take obviously had to be made.
The head slowly falls with simple gravity. Once on the floor, the head wraps a long tentacle or tongue around a table leg — another use of reverse filming with puppeteers pulling cables back — and then drags itself across the floor. To perform the action, technicians beneath the table pulled on cables and monofilament fishing line.
The transformation culminates in the Norris head-Thing growing arthropod-like legs and eyestalks — an element conceived because Bottin wanted a darkly comic relief. “I thought it would be fun to go ahead and throw that in,” Bottin said. The initial shot of the growing parts was achieved on an elevated set — with the legs and eyestalks being pushed from underneath a hollow dummy head. In the next shot, the Norris head-Thing is a cable-operated and radio-controlled puppet with mouth and limb movements.
Extrapolating from Bottin’s concepts, Gillett elaborated a feasible mechanical design to portray the walking creature: the false head was mounted on a custom-built radio-controlled wheeled device. The movement of the legs — which were built in thin-guage aluminium tubing — were linked directly with the motor that drove the wheels. As the wheels sped up, so did the legs — which were connected to cam shafts with one control lobe each, giving the illusion of random writhing. “I’d be embarrassed to tell you how much work and how much time was spent on those heads,” Bottin said. “People would shit! Most people would think it just wasn’t worth it. I don’t even think the producers know how much it took.”
For more pictures of the Thing, visit the Monster Gallery.