The Ruins The Vines and Visual Effects

With cast and locations locked down, focus was placed on the movie's most difficult component: the deadly vines.

“My initial reaction was, oh gosh, how are we gonna do this?” laughs director Smith. “I mean, a killer vine in a book is one thing, but film audiences are more likely to question and challenge that.” Smith and the producers knew they needed a top-notch team to bring their unnatural antagonist to life, so they hired famed creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, whose credits include “I Am Legend” and “10,000 B.C.”; production designer Grant Major, who won numerous awards including an Oscar for his work on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy; and visual effects supervisor Greg McMurry, whose most recent credits were the blockbuster “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” and “Death Sentence.”

Rather than expend onscreen exposition to provide contrived explanations of how the vines came to be, Smith decided to keep their origins a mystery and focus on slipping in clues that would make audiences hypothesize on their own. “We came up with a version of this vine that is based very much in the real world,” Smith says. “Everything the vine does is something real plants do in one form or another. We asked ourselves, where does it get its nutrients? How do the locals keep it from spreading out? What does it do with the bodies once the flesh is consumed? All those questions helped us wrap our heads around the `creature' so we could move forward. Our main job became figuring out how the vine looks, sounds, and moves.”

Using Tatopoulos' designs, Major called in Gary Cameron to sculpt, cast the molds and produce these seemingly delicate vines, leaves and flowers. “We looked at lots and lots of plants trying to work out the movement and how it would work in real life if someone walked by or touched them,” Cameron explains. “We ended up using pumpkin vines as a basis of how it would actually grow and crawl along.”

For the “hero” vines - the ones the audience sees in close-up - Major set up a 12-person workshop to produce the entire plant. From the casting, painting and assembling of each leaf or flower to the tendrils, it was all done by hand. “It was a very labor-intensive exercise, but well worth it in the end,” says Major.

“Not only do the vines look really great but they really helped with our performances,” says Joe Anderson, who portrays Mathias, the German traveller who brings the four Americans to the Mayan ruins. “They complete this three-dimensional space, making it look real, feel real. There are hairs on the plants and little barbs-they didn't really hurt but when you felt them, it really got you into the moment. The first major thing that happens to me is that I start digging through the vines, get these cuts and the sap burns my hands. There's always a question of how big to play your reaction to this, but when you're on a set that looks and feels so real, you somehow know instinctively what to do - which helps to create a mounting tension, so that when my legs get broken and the vines start invading my body, the reaction becomes really big, really intense.”

The job of actually making the vines move fell to visual effects supervisor Gregory L. McMurry, ASC. “Originally there was talk of creating a puppet for certain moments, but we ended up moving away from that idea, opting instead for digital animation,” he explains. “The first part of the story is the group's isolation on top of the hill; then the vines start intruding on them. You don't want to start out with the tendrils moving all around because that would ruin the element of surprise. So instead, you make people wonder what's happening and start to anticipate the bigger attack they know will inevitably come. Visually, the leaves look like normal set dressing. Then the kids realize the plants have a texture to them. Then we start seeing them move when the characters aren't looking, but it's not clear if that's being caused by the wind or some other logical reason. It's only when Stacy is lowered into the ruin that we suspect they're moving of their own accord, but because it's been so gradual that up to that point, the audience is strapped in and ready for the thrill ride.”

No comments: