Head stretching and stomach holes: re-visiting the visual effects of ‘Death Becomes Her’

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

“Bob had said to Meryl Streep: ‘Whatever Ken asks you to do, no matter how silly, just go with it. You can trust him.’ Because she must have been thinking, ‘What am I? What is this stupid thing?’ – Death Becomes Her visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston.

By the early 1990s, ILM had already been innovating in digital visual effects in a major way with films such as The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Then came along Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her. It would be released in 1992 and go on to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, thanks to more innovation from ILM and practical creature effects by Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.

Death Becomes Her celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, and vfxblog goes retro on all the head twisting and stretching and stomach hole making work in the film with visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston. We discuss his long-time collaboration with Zemeckis, coming up with on-set solutions, experimenting with software and human skin texturing, and what’s changed in visual effects from then up until today. Continue reading Head stretching and stomach holes: re-visiting the visual effects of ‘Death Becomes Her’

The famous mirror shot in ‘Contact’ was almost something else entirely

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Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Visual effects artists and aficionados are often asked which movie or shot was their biggest influence, a question that regularly evokes a response about films like Star Wars, Blade Runner or Jurassic Park.

Those films, of course, are all milestones in the VFX world. But in recent years, if that kind of question has come up in conversation, I have started noticing that the mirror shot in Robert Zemeckis’ Contact was being raised more and more – the one where a young Ellie races to the medicine cabinet, with the camera in front of her as she comes upstairs, only to reveal we have been watching her reflection in the mirror. Not only is it a shot considered a milestone in invisible and seamless visual effects, it is a scene that even VFX pros regularly admit they have no idea how it was pulled off.

Contact is now 20 years old, and its visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston sat down with vfxblog to revisit its fine effects work, which was primarily done by Sony Pictures Imageworks, and ranged from the invisible to the fantastical. In the process, I learnt something about that mirror shot I’d never heard anywhere before. Continue reading The famous mirror shot in ‘Contact’ was almost something else entirely