On this episode of the fxpodcast, we talk to Vico Sharabani VFX supervisor and Founder/CCO of The Artery. Yuval Levy, VFX Supervisor, and Parker Finn the Director of Smile. This is Parker Finn’s feature directorial debut, Smile is based on his 2020 short film Laura Hasn’t Slept.
Smile stars Sosie Bacon as a therapist named Rose Cotter, who witnesses the bizarre suicide of a patient, and goes through increasingly disturbing and daunting experiences, leading her to … (spoilers)
As you can hear in the podcast discussion, in the birthday party scene, Rose discovers her dead cat in a birthday present. On set, the team used a dummy cat but in the edit, Parker realized that the dummy cat looked too different from the real cat. A completely CG modeled Rose’s cat was made and matchmoved into Rose’s hands, and then carefully animated to simulate the cat as it sags and swings as a real dead animal would.
Early in the film, when Rose sees Laura kill herself, we travel into her eye and that takes us to the opening credits of the film. “The shot was significant creatively and technically,” explains Sharabani. “On the creative side, it is almost a POV of the trauma entering Rose after she sees Laura kill herself (the same trauma she would spend the rest of the film fighting). Technically, we had to stitch the camera motion from several plates in a smooth way, scan and model Rose’s face to get proper depth close up as we moved closer to the bridge of her nose, and a completely 3D model of the interior of Rose’s eye.” The interior of Rose’s eye was built after research on different eye structures and was intended to look a bit mysterious and ominous as the camera travels through it. The shot sets up the main conflict in a perfect visual way.
For the final fire scene, the team had a stunt performer replicating the moves in the fire. This provided a great start but the team also had to fully scan the actor and then simulate additional fire around him. “At first, we just had the monster going through the fire but we realized that the monster should be slowly melting as the shot progressed,” explains Vico Sharabani. CG creature designer, Joe Grundfast, modeled three completely different versions of the monster at different stages of burning, and then the team added the fluid and clothes simulation for when her skin is melting to the floor. “As she is crawling towards the door we decided to have eyes already burnt away,” he adds. “This gave the monster a haunting look as it stares right into the camera with nothing but empty smoking eye sockets.”
The (now) famous shot where Laura cuts her cheek while smiling was achieved with both practical and VFX. On set, the team had a prop shard against Laura’s cheek and a small amount of blood trickling down, but Parker Finn wanted the cut to be a certain shape and the blood flow to have the precise movement down the cheek, around the knife, and around Laura’s hand. To make this happen The Artery team extended the shard, matchmoved Laura’s face, and cheek, and simulated the blood to give it the exact feel that the director wanted.
The shot where Rose stabs her patient, Carl, was the last shot the team delivered and one of the most complex. In this shot, the crew filmed with a partial-practical knife handle and some packets of blood. “In post we had to creatively work with Parker Finn to determine the direction we wanted to take it. At first, we made it with much more blood gushing out, but in the edit, we realized it would look better as a dry stab,” recalls Sharabani. By the end of the VFX process, the team had revised the shot entirely several times before settling on a style that worked. “To pull it off, we had to model Carl’s chest and Rose’s arm, extend the knife handle, and then simulate more blood on top of that,” he explains. “Not only that, but Rose’s movements lacked the sort of friction and recoil that she would actually feel from pulling the knife out, so we also had to reanimate her arm to enhance her performance on the stab.” Pulling it off was a major technical feat but also required a creative partnership between The Artery and the Director to figure out what fit the story and the moment the best. You can hear more about this partnership in this week’s podcast.
Towards the end of the film, Rose uses a lantern to defend herself against the giant monster /demon. In the film, the audience can see her reaching into a lantern on fire and grabbing it. Of course, the production wanted to make sure no one was harmed on set so the lantern wasn’t actually on fire. “But, fire is dynamic – it would react to her hand movement and the lantern shifting,” Sharabani explains. Led by CG supervisor Dave Stewart, the CG team had to model the lantern and Rose’s hand completely. “We then had to matchmove both the hand and lantern perfectly,” he explains. “And simulating the fire, – the final results are a one-to-one photoreal CG replica of the shot.”