/News 31.01.24

Future Associate bring a monster to life for MGM’s Dark Harvest

With its rich cinematography and stunningly gory visuals, MGM’s fantasy horror Dark Harvest, is quickly becoming a genre cult classic. Set in rural 1960s America, the film brings the classic cornfield thriller into the 21st century, using a range of cutting edge VFX to bring the film’s creepy antagonist ‘Sawtooth Jack’ to life.

Integral to accomplishing these scenes were VFX company Future Associate, whose team were tapped by director David Slade to help realise his monster villain.

Jack’s skeletal frame proved an interesting initial challenge for Future Associate’s team, who needed to devise a way to digitally alter the character’s acted footage in post, bringing the vision closer what filmmakers had in mind.

3D scans of the actor in full costume were delivered to Future Associate, where their team then got to work sculpting the humanlike form into a more supernatural figure whose skin seems to wrap directly to a skeletal frame.

The finished 3D model of Sawtooth Jack

Rather than replacing the actor entirely in CG, this new model was instead used to warp the original character footage into a new shape. This process meant that much of the realism of what was captured in-camera could be retained, including lighting and movement, with CG models only being required to patch up shots where warping provided unsatisfactory results.

Both the initial and finished 3D models were plugged into a BlendShape setup in Nuke, which allowed animators to warp the existing character footage into a new shape

“We could use as much or as little CG as required,” explains Future Associate’s Lindsay Adams. “For some shots, Sawtooth Jack is fully CG, some he’s almost entirely what was captured in-camera.”

With the body digitally proportioned, additional CG elements could then be composited over the top, including a glowing head, fire and even facial animations in some close-up shots. These additional light sources required extra CGI work from Future Associate to allow realistic lighting to fall on Sawtooth Jack’s body.

“The lighting from the head proved tricky,” explains Adams when discussing one key scene. “The light now illuminated parts of Jack’s shoulders and upper chest that were previously in shadow. After a few rounds of feedback, we ended up leaving pants and hands untouched, warping the torso and chest, and adding CG for his much more angular shoulders, arms, underarms and sides.”

To keep this additional CGI work as seamless as possible a range of assets were used from production, including chrome balls, clean plates, LiDAR scans and footage of stunt performers. All of these allowed Future Associate to deliver a hyper-real monster that kept audiences immersed and on the edge of their seat.

You can watch the trailer for Dark Harvest courtesy of MGM below:

Dark Harvest is available to stream now on Amazon Prime