CGSociety :: Production Focus
30 October 2013, by Meleah Maynard
There’s Something Out There - Eric Demeusy on the making of the trailer for his horror comedy, Mulberry Woods.
Visual effects are impressive, but they don’t stand the test of time the way a good story does. Eric Demeusy learned that while studying directing at the New York Film Academy in Burbank, California nearly a decade ago, and he’s never forgotten it. Known for his work on the castle opener for Disney’s Tron: Legacy and the Emmy-winning title sequence for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Demeusy earns his living as an animation and VFX artist while being a filmmaker at heart.
Eric Demeusy directs a zombie (who was also the makeup artist) as he emerges from a grave in the woods. A gravestone was added later in CINEMA 4D
This month, he released the trailer for his first feature-length film, Mulberry Woods, a horror comedy that is very much a departure from 3113, a sci-fi short that debuted last year about an android sent on a mission to rescue an endangered species in a distant galaxy. As with 3113, Demeusy wrote the script for the film and trailer with his friend and writing partner Kyle McIntyre before directing the shooting himself with McIntyre acting as producer. Maxon’s CINEMA 4D was used for modeling, VFX and animation.
Something for everyone
Demeusy dreamed up the concept behind Mulberry Woods five years ago and has since been developing the plot and characters with help from McIntyre. “Coming up with an idea for a movie is easier than creating a good story that people will remember 20 years from now, long after they’ve forgotten the special effects, which will seem cheesy after a while anyway,” he explains.
A blacksmith sells his soul to the devil and becomes a force of evil in Mulberry Woods. Greenscreen footage of the actor was composited with a rock wall made in CINEMA 4D along with fume effects fire and smoke to create this fiery scene.
Set in the 1970’s, Mulberry Woods is the story of what happens when a young man named Danny and his two best friends discover menacing beasts living in the woods surrounding their small, mountain town. Their determination to stop the beasts dredges up long-buried secrets, unleashing a powerful force of evil, zombified victims and other horrors they must fight if they want to survive. “It all goes back to a blacksmith in the 1900s who sold his soul to the devil, and there’s horror, comedy and adventure so there’s something for everybody,” Demeusy says, laughing.
For the love of film
On his Mulberry Woods website, Demeusy says that the trailer for the film was made with “love and care with the things available to us.” Listening to him describe the process, it’s hard to imagine a more apt description. He had always planned on shooting a trailer, but was daunted by the thought that he would likely need to raise around $30,000 to make it. Then, last year, while recuperating from surgery after his right lung collapsed spontaneously, he thought: “Let’s just go out and shoot this with whatever we have.”
Demeusy chose Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” for the score because it seemed “eerie and creepy,” especially when sung by a choir from the University of Southern California. Next, he wrote a treatment and came up with a shot list before putting out a call for local actors.
Referencing the Army of the Dead from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Demeusy shot actors in zombie makeup against a greenscreen and then rotomated 3D skeletons to match the actors’ movements for this scene.
The response was overwhelming and soon the actors and crew - Demeusy, McIntyre and their friend and cameraman, Jason Mitcheltree - headed to Demeusy’s hometown near Yosemite for four days of shooting. “We were honest with people that we didn’t have any money, but a lot of them had seen 3113 and just wanted to help out because they love movies as much as I do and are really passionate about filmmaking,” he recalls.
On set, an old village that Demeusy had used for film projects in the past, McIntyre acted as assistant director, working with the actors, dealing with makeup and keeping everything on schedule. Wardrobe came from local theater shops and a vintage museum in the area. “We even got a blacksmith to come in and fire up the furnace for us and show the actors what they needed to do in the shot,” he says.
A bit of trickery
Lacking a lot of the camera equipment that would normally be used for a shoot like theirs, Demeusy and his friends improvised a lot, knowing that they could work some magic in post-production. Using a RED camera, they shot most of their footage handheld at 4K, knowing that they would scale it down to 2K later.
Though he’d originally intended for this shot to include the hands of zombies reaching toward the actress, Demeusy took them out thinking that her terrified face was plenty.
Because they were shooting hand-held, many shots needed to be stabilized in post production. The only shot that was too shaky to stabilize was the scene in which the camera races up to a house in the woods. To get the move to look as if a steady cam had been used, Demeusy used C4D to rebuild the house in 3D and then projected an image of the house onto the geometry so he could make the move with a 3D camera. “It’s all trickery, really, but it worked out really well,” he says.
Lacking a Steadycam, Demeusy opted to create a fast-moving camera move in CINEMA 4D.
Post-production lasted several months, in part because it was the first time Demeusy had worked with RED footage, and he didn’t have the latest version of Adobe’s Premiere Pro. “I had to edit everything as proxies and once I had the rough edit, I picture locked it and went in and exported all of the clips at full HD so I could do the color correction inside REDCINE-X PRO (http://www.red.com/products/redcine-x) and After Effects.
Once he had a full HD cut, he was able to start doing the 50 or so visual effects he needed, including a gruesome shot of a zombie with a gaping hole in his chest so large it exposes its ribcage. “All of the zombies have ripped open chests because the main beast feeds on human hearts to survive,” Demeusy explains.
For this scene, Demeusy and his crew shot two different plates, one with and one without the zombies in the foreground and combined the two in post-production.
To create the effect, he first got a close-up shot of the zombie’s chest as the actor wore a dirty, bloody shirt that was open to reveal a clean white shirt underneath. Next, they tracked a 3D ribcage onto his body and rendered everything out before using the clean white shirt as a map to cut the ribs out. “We basically made a matte so all you see is a small portion of the ribs even though we modeled a whole ribcage,” he says. “I think it’s a really cool shot.”
In addition to the trailer, Demeusy has also finished a process video, as well as a script and concept book for the feature-length film. He is currently showing the film to several producers, and whether a studio picks it up of not, filming should be underway in the near future. “For me, the most important thing is to keep making films. That’s the only way to get better,” Demeusy says. “I have a strong vision for Mulberry Woods and it’s a film I want to see. That’s what drives me and that’s why I will make it.”
Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.