Earlier this year, A Quiet Place scared theater audiences into absolute silence with its tense, sound-lite chills. The film received unanimous praise (it's Screen Rant's second favorite film of the year so far) for John Krasinski's tightly-wound direction and emotive performance, although a lot of the success likes in the look and texture of the film.
That comes down to the film's deft mix of practical and digital, with the former deceptively prominent and going a long way to give A Quiet Place its old school feel. Screen Rant recently caught up with special effects supervisor Mark Hawker for the film's home video release (A Quiet Place is available on digital download and Blu-ray and DVD now) to discuss his work on the film, taking in the balance of CGI and in-camera effects, the trials of "quickcorn" and how this compares to bigger budget fare.
Screen Rant: Let's go right back to the start. How was this movie pitched to you? Because it's got a great elevator pitch for audiences, but I wonder how you first were sold it.
Matt Hawker: First I was approached by the production designer: "Hey, we got this little movie, there's not really much going on. There's a little bit of corn but besides that, it's just smoke." And I said, "OK, I'm interested." And like a month later, I get a call from the new production manager and she sent me a script and then after reading the script and the whole concept of the movie - there's no dialogue and just the beginning of it, I was just like "Oh, I've got to do this movie". And then as it turns out after reading the script, there's a little more than just doing some corn in it. That's was pretty funny.
SR: So you didn't know about any of the creature stuff or that side of it until you got the script?
MH: Yeah, no. It's what happens from time to time. Some production designer... you'll get a call, "Hey, we got this movie, we've got a couple of things we need you to figure out, but then when you get the script and you read it, you're like, "What about all this other stuff?" "Oh, yeah yeah yeah, we got that too."
SR: There is corn in the movie, of course, but what was the biggest challenge on A Quiet Place?
MH: We've got the safe room with all the flooding and stuff, [and there were] some challenges there because it's terribly wide and trying to get the space for when we were shooting [was difficult]. And then the corn was very complicated. You know, I called it quickcorn. It went from kids sinking to the rig to getting really more involved than I was expecting, and the way it all turned I was really happy with. We have the truck, the motion base with the truck where the creature is attacking the truck. Of course, Scott Farrar with the visual effects is putting the creature in but we're doing all the environmental interaction that the creatures have. Like, with some of the corn falling and then the damage to the truck happening, things like that. We do as much practically, which [John] Krasinski wanted. He wanted practicality and for the actors to have something physical in front of them to react to instead of just acting to the air, and then we got Farrar to come in and just polishes it and make it great.
SR: So with the creatures, how much of that did you have to do physically on set? We don't see them, but they do have a presence.
MH: Well, like I was saying, the interaction with the environment in the basement of the house: Emily's got the shotgun and she shoots the creature and the creatures knocking over stuff, pulling stuff. We had pneumatic cylinders that are rigged to pull things on cables and yank stuff and throw stuff around. The other thing, too, is that usually on a larger budgeted movie we have time - we can take TV sets and we build lightweight versions of them and we throw those around. [On A Quiet Place] we had to take actual TVs and make sure the set was clear and safe and that nobody was around and pull those which requires more horsepower to move things and throw things. A lot of that stuff was real stuff that we're throwing around.
SR: You mention budget. You've worked on some of the most expensive movies ever made, so what's it like working on a project of this size? How much does it impact what you're able to do and how you do things?
MH: You kind of go back to the old way of doing a lot of things, like pulling things with wires and things of that nature, and also having to rethink how to do things that we used to have a larger budget for. Like the flooding, the safe room set. It would have been a much larger scale [with a bigger budget]. For our rig and the water, normally for something like that you build a large wall around the set and then you flood the whole set and then the area around the set. But we didn't have the space or the time so I came up with the idea of actually incorporating the walls of the set as being the part that holds back the water - it was a three-foot high wall - and then the construction built on top of that, and everything was dressed and decorated. Our walls normally would be much further back and the whole crew would be in the tank, now it's just Emily and a stunt performer in the set and everybody else is just outside with the cameras and everything staying dry. That was something that was kind of new and having the lower budget and the lack of space and lack of time was something that worked out really well.
SR: And you mentioned the corn scene, the scene you were first sold on. With that, it's very weird because you've got to have this solid that acts in multiple ways and the actors to play in it. What did you call upon to make that effect look realistic and work within the movie when there's so many other spinning plates?
MH: We did, it was like... usually I called that stuff quickcorn, but whenever we do a quicksand thing in the past it's like a rubber membrane, and you put a lightweight material that looks like sand, and you have a hole there and the actor goes through it, and it's pretty straightforward to do - we're done it many times. But with corn, the corn is very heavy and any rubber membrane the corn would just weigh down. I mean, corn, it's heavier than regular sand. So we had to do a special rig with a platform. We started out testing, figuring it didn't work but then we built the platform, wood platform, but a rubber latex just around that hole, and did some tests and John liked that, but then he's like "OK, now the person needs to walk six feet one direction." So now that complicates the whole rig, because now the hole that's in the plywood need to be mobile, so we had to do a whole sliding platform, latex, twelve inches of corn, and just test. We did probably five weeks of testing and showing John and then doing different versions of it, and then at the end the version that we ended up with in the movie came out really well and was one of the things where Scott Farrar may have had to do a little touch up but there was hardly any touch-up. I mean, the kids going down in there, underneath, getting sucked into the corn, all that stuff was shot in our rig. I'm very proud of the way it all came out.
SR: A lot of the movie looks practical - monsters aside. Was there much in the movie that wasn't practical? Was there anything you immediately handed over to the CGI guys?
MH: Let me see. What would that have been? I'm sure there's some stuff. I mean all that fires you see in there are practical fires we created and had to make sure, with the proximity of the kids next to it and all that, had to be very controlled and very precise. I mean definitely the creatures, obviously, for what was going on there. And then some of the damage done to the pickup truck. The pickup truck we had on a motion-base and we broke windows, we damaged some of it. Some of the bigger damage you see from the creature, Scott Farrar did that. But other than that, we did a lot of practical and a lot of practical ended up in the final product.
SR: And you've talked about John wanting the practical elements and how he'd push things like with the corn. How was he to work with as a director - this was his first time doing so horror and so sci-fi, and requiring some more complex forms of practical sets? How did he adapt to that sort of filmmaking?
MH: He adapted to it great. He's very passionate about this show but he was also very open to ideas. You know, you can say something and he'd go, "Oh, that's cool, let's try that", which I love about a director. He's definitely got a vision in his mind but he's open to ideas if it's going to make his vision cooler. He likes to use the people around him a lot in a way to make it even better. But as a director, yeah, he's great. I'd love to do another movie with him, yeah.
SR: I see that you've been working on The New Mutants, the new X-Men movie. Those are famously very CGI-heavy pictures, but this one, it's a lower budget, it's a horror similar to A Quiet Place. Did that provide you with a lot of opportunities to do some cool stuff in camera rather than augment CGI?
MH: Yeah, New Mutants, yeah. There's several CG characters but we did also with the whole horror style to that movie we did a lot of practical effects. That was the movie I was just finishing when A Quiet Place was starting up. It was a lot of practical. I also did Annabelle: Creation, which was... the amount of CG in that movie was very, very little, and so much practical. It's nice to go back into that old style of shooting, which I think A Quiet Place was. It was shot on film which was great because in between camera reloads we can reset our rigs, we lost that now we have digital. There's no break in the action because the cameras... in between takes there's no stopping because they don't have to reload cameras, so having the film back was really nice. And having to do practical effects like Emily stepping on the nail when she's going down the stairs - that was done practically with a retractable nail and then the nail bending we had a special nail that would bend straight and stop. All that stuff, I just love doing that. Doing stuff like that is what practical effects is about.
A Quiet Place is available on digital download and Blu-ray and DVD now.