- New Line Cinema
- Samuel Bayer
- VFX Supervisor (Method Studios)
- Sean Faden
- VFX Producer (Method Studios)
- Stephanie Gilgar
- Method Studios
- Los Angeles
Riding a wave a hugely successful horror movie remakes, New Line Cinema decided in 2010 to resurrect its most popular villain and one of the most iconic baddies in cinema history: Freddy Krueger. Merely bringing him back was not enough to satiate Freddy fans across the world. Oscar-nominated actor Jackie Earle-Hayley stepped into the role that had been famously defined by Robert Englund, and with it came a complete re-imagining of Freddy's personality and look. To achieve this, New Line enlisted renowned music video and commercials director Samuel Bayer, who looked to Method Studios to help conceive the new Freddy throughout all stages of Nightmare's development.
Making over one of horror's most recognizable faces presented the project's biggest creative challenge. Early in the film (and for the first time in the Nightmare mythos) we witness Fred Krueger's horrific death. The scene features a make up-less Earle-Hayley burned alive at the hands of an angry mob. He emerges horribly disfigured, and to remain consistent with Earle-Hayley's organic approach to the character, his new vfx-enhanced look needed to be achieved completely photo-realistically. Method VFX Supervisor Sean Faden explains, "Freddy's face required a considerable amount of planning to ensure that we maximized the practical makeup potential while still allowing for CG enhancement to take it to the next level."
The challenge was ideally suited for Method's brand of expertise. "It was a perfect show for Method" says Faden, "we have lot of very creative people who are highly skilled at organic lighting and texturing as well as compositors trained in complex CG integration." Throughout the course of post-production, director Samuel Bayer's vision for Freddy evolved. Method, in turn, adapted to help Bayer realize his vision. According to Faden, "The face enhancement, originally intended to be added to a few greened out holes on one hero side of the face, grew over the course of the post production schedule to include adding CG recesses to both sides of the face, often in areas with less trackable markers." To solve this, Faden and his team developed a tool that allowed Nuke compositors to use '2D magnets' to make the CG to stick with the practical make up, ensuring that it would never slide against the actor's performance. This, combined with complex subsurface lighting and rendering techniques through a Houdini / Renderman pipeline, resulted in seamless transitions between Freddy's practical make up and VFX -enhanced make up and an astonishingly realistic look for the character. Freddy was reborn.
DON'T FALL ASLEEP
In addition to the 80+ facial enhancement shots on Nightmare On Elm Street, Bayer looked to Method to help design some of the haunting and hallucinatory scenes for the film, including a re-imagining of the memorable 'stretchy wall' sequence from the original. As executed in 1984, the scene features its main character Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp) falling asleep as Freddy appears in the wall above her, taunting her into slumber in an effort to make her one of his victims. The scene is an elegant practical effect and one of the franchise's most memorable images.
Bayer wanted to update the sequence by paying homage to the original film without simply copying it. Faden explains, "We needed to use our current technology to push it where it could never have gone in 1984. However, in doing this, we still wanted to maintain a sense of realism, balancing what was possible with the current tools with what looked like something that could almost be shot in camera." The new scene is a more elaborate staging of the original, with actress Rooney Mara filling the role of Nancy. Freddy's head was animated in MAYA, driving a N-cloth simulation on wall geometry that was brought into Houdini to enhance portions of the sim that needed extra detail. It was then brought back into MAYA to render through V-ray, allowing total control in compositing for how much Freddy was visible versus wall distortion. This allowed Bayer to control the subtlety of the effect and build upon the famous original sequence.
Other nightmarish effects
Beyond haunting imagery and highly complex facial enhancements, Method's artists made other key contributions in bringing Nightmare back to audiences. In a pivotal death scene, artists used Houdini to create a hyper-realistic fire system that brought Fred Krueger to his demise. Artists also helped effect the deaths of the Jesse and Kris characters with a stable of compositors that executed detailed rig removal and paint work.
The project marks director Samuel Bayer's first foray into studio-level feature filmmaking. His depth of experience in commercials and music videos required Method to maintain a flexible but efficient pipeline in order to help push through his vision for Nightmare. Says Faden, "Method was there throughout all stages of production to help guide Sam through complicated set ups and keep him focused on the bigger picture." As a result, Bayer and his collaborators successfully introduced a new audience to one of cinema's most brutal and beloved boogeymen.