With John Carpenter’s The Thing–based on Christian Nyby’s 1951 movie The Thing From Another World and the original John Campbell short novel, Who Goes There?–we got to see a director at the peak of his powers. Carpenter was able to combine Rob Bottin’s extraordinary creature effects with a taut story of an otherworldly threat that had the ability to mimic whomever it killed.
So you can imagine that when Universal Pictures decided to do a sequel in 2011–without Carpenter’s input–that fans would probably not be too keen on it.
And that’s a bit of an understatement, with many–myself included–hating the movie on general principal.
Having recently re-watched Matthijs van Heijningen’s prequel, it’s actually pretty good. And while I wished that it had more in the way of practical effects–though as far as I can tell the CGI is based on designs from Alec Gillis and Bob Woodruff (who are credited) and while it’s not as innovative as the practical special effects of Rob Bottin, They’re okay.
Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, of Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (ADI) aren’t names that most people are familiar with, though if you have seen Alien, Predator, The Thing (2011), Monster Squad, Mortal Combat, The Fly, The Fly II among many, many others, then you are more familiar with their work than you think.
Despite such a pedigree, the film industry have for quite a few years been moving toward computer-generated images (CGI) instead of practical effects, like animatronics and models. A problem that accompanies CGI is that they are put into images after the film is shot. This means that the actors, when working with computer-generated images, are often performing against a stand-in (which is sometimes a tennis ball on a pole) because the actors need to have something to focus their attention on.
So, if you’re watching a movie like Transformers or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and wonder what the actors are acting against when Smaug makes an appearance, it’s often not much at all.