Directed by Peter Jackson
Digital Effects Producer: Charlie McClellan

Visual Effects Produced by:


1996 VFX HQ
Award Winner

Produced completely in New Zealand, THE FRIGHTENERS is an absolutely fantastic film, directed by Peter Jackson, and written by Jackson and Fran Walsh. The movie stars Michael J. Fox as a crooked paranormal investigator who is actually conpiring with spirits of the dead to drum up business. What he stumbles upon is The Soul Collector, a spirit shape shrouded in black robes and steals the life from the living.

For the film, Jackson created Weta Ltd. and followed in the footsteps of other pioneering filmmakers like James Cameron (Digital Domain) and George Lucas (ILM). Jackson experimented with the power of digital effects in his 1994 effort, HEAVENLY CREATURES. With that experience, he was driven to enter the world of digital effects. During the production of CREATURES, Jackson began his digital empire, purchasing SGI workstations and hiring visual effects artists, including longtime ILM artist Wes Takahashi

Over 500 effects shots appear in THE FRIGHTENERS, and a combination of techniques were used, including CG, 2-D warping, and bluescreen composites with exceptional rotoscoping. The spirits appear as semi-transparent glowing figures. Each spirit element was shot separately on a bluescreen stage. Motion-control and motion-tracking were critical in many sequences where the camera moves, pans and tilts. The overall look of the spirits was solid, and most of the composites were balanced.

The film features hundreds
of composites, including many
with spirits interacting with the living.

The completely CG Soul
Collector is absolutely frightening,
with a terrific model and great animation.

Easily, the most stunning character of the film is The Soul Collector, whose movements (along with a terrific sound design) draw upon our basic fears of death. The CG character, with its flowing robes, looks fantastic, although some scenes were animated a bit too quickly. The overall movement was beautiful, and viscerally exciting.

Also fantastic were the elegant transitions that appear at the end of the film, with Fox's character moving in and out of time. The climax is filled with composite after composite, with some brilliant CG animation for the representation of The Light, and Hell.

This is certainly the most creative film of the year so far, and I highly recommend it.

Check out Cinefex 67 and American Cinematographer August '96.

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