VFX: <I>Dementia 13</I>
Issue: December 1, 2017

VFX: Dementia 13

Jeremy Wanek recently served as the lead VFX artist on NBC/Universal's remake of Dementia 13, Francis Ford Coppola’s first feature film. The film centers around a vengeful ghost, a mysterious killer, and a family full of secrets. Visual effects included wire removal and enhancements to production elements.

“The team I work with at Black Space VFX has worked with (writer/producer) Dan DeFilippo on a couple of other movies in the past,” Wanek explains. “We also worked with Richard Lemay, the director of Dementia 13, on his upcoming movie, Blood Bound, starring Eden Brolin.”

As the sole VFX company, the team was responsible for completing approximately 60 shots. The feature was shot anamorphic, primarily with the Arri Alexa, along with the Red Epic for some elements.

“About half of the shots that were created were for the character of Kathleen,” Wanek explains. “I handled all of these shots. The character of Kathleen died mysteriously many years ago as a child. On-set, she had some ghostly makeup applied that was a great foundation. I enhanced the makeup digitally by further darkening around her eyes, blackening her eyes and adding reflections, and then adding the dark smokey substance that flows around her body. The smoke effect was the largest alteration and the most complicated part to achieve.”

Wanek used Red Giant's Trapcode Particular to create the smokey look. “With the number of shots, and tight turnaround, it proved to be an amazing tool,” he recalls. “Originally, Richard suggested a look that was similar to Enchantress in Suicide Squad. The basic idea ended up being the same, but we went for a lighter color and a different quality to the movement that was a bit more ethereal.”

The post process involved creating a frame-by-frame rotoscope of Kathleen to create a matte. This matte was used as a light wrap, which helped blend the smoke into her body. “I tracked Kathleen using Mocha AE, so the emitter of the particle effect stayed with her movements, while the individual particles could then move within the physics created by the plug-in. To give the smoke a more realistic look, I chose to use sprites that were textured with practical footage of smoke. And then to make the effect look a little more out of this world, I used some subtle turbulent displacement distortion. I ended up creating two to five separate emitters for each shot to get the specific look I was going for.”

Most of the blood effects were created practically, but there was one in that was enhanced with Particular to create a gushing effect. “The plug-in gave us the control we needed to do whatever we wanted instead of trying to manipulate the live-action blood,” he explains. 

There were several wire removal shots that were all done inside of After Effects and Photoshop. “I prefer removing wires/objects using the tools in Photoshop, tracking in Mocha AE, and then using After Effects to composite,” says Wanek. “It's a simple and fast process that allows me to work fast and get great results.”

In another scene, a woman is clinging to the end of a dock and is suddenly pulled into the water by a pair of hands. “We just had the shot of the actress pretending to be pulled into the water,” Wanek recalls. “Since we didn't have a live action plate of hands, we created CG hands and comped them in. We used Particular, once again, but this time to create the water splash as the hands come out of the water.”

View the film’s VFX reel HERE.