Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Visual Effects Supervisor: Brian M. Jennings
Creature Design by: TyRuben Ellingson
Creature Advisor: Rob Bottin

Visual Effects Produced by:

   Digital Effects Supervisor: Bob Munroe
   Animation Directors: John Mariella, Kyle Menzies
   Senior Animators: David Willows, Colin Cunningham, Ed Ng and Ralph Savazlian
   2D/Flint Supervisor: Claude Theriault





Nominated for one 1997 VFX HQ Awards: Special Achievement Award.

Guillermo Del Toro directs the newest horror flick from Dimension Films, MIMIC, a tale of an experiment gone terribly wrong. Scientist Mira Sorvino genetically engineers a new insect that devours New York cockroaches, which are spreading a deadly disease. The new species of insects, dubbed Judas, mutates once it is released into the city, and undergoes three years of evolution and mutation, until the insects are seven foot tall flying, killer insects.

The massive amount of visual effects for MIMIC were produced with animatronic, full-scale creatures, computer generated animation, as well as model miniature photography. Brian M. Jennings, formerly the president of Todd AO Digital Images, supervised the film's visual effects, produced mainly in Canada, where principal photography took place. CG duties went to Toronto's C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures and Montreal's Hybride, while Gajdecki Visual Effects out of Toronto produced the film's model miniatures. The MIMIC bugs as well as the other creatures in the film come from the designs of TyRuben Ellingson, a former ILM art director.

All of these groups came together to create some terrific visual effects for MIMIC, most of which takes place under extremely low-light conditions. Nearly all of the effects occur underneath the city in the catacombs of New York. The lack of light is used quite effectively in MIMIC, and it was an interesting challenge for the effects artists to create CG creatures under these conditions.

Many of the early shots of the CG Judas creatures are in near-darkness. While many directors and supervisors wish to 'show off' their CG creatures with perfect lighting and dead-center frame compositions, the MIMIC team made a courageous creative decision: I truly appreciate the fact that they designed bug shots to take place in these dark sequences, with the camera a great distance away from the subject. Director Toro treated his bugs like shadowy stalkers from film noir, characters that live only within the shadows. Until a pivotal moment in the middle of the film, the Judas bugs were only seen in silhouette. This decision is a prime example of visual effects working for the benefit of the narrative, becoming part of the storytelling process instead of trying to dazzle the audience into submission. It helped the film maintain a level of mystery that doesnŐt exist in many of todayŐs creature/horror films.

The animation in the first half of the Judas shots are really nice to watch. The animation needed to drive the sequence; since textures and colors could not be seen in the dark sequences, the animation had to ÔsellŐ the Judas characters. The bugsŐ movements are quite naturalistic and organic. My favorite of these shots is a wide shot of a bug dropping from the ceiling of a tunnel, in reaction to hearing a humanŐs movements.

The aformentioned pivotal scene where a Judas bug reveals herself to the camera is a stunning sequence containing several effects shots. The reveal shot is a head-on shot, with a complicated camera move that dollys into the creature. For the first time, albiet for a couple of seconds, we get to see the Judas in all her glory. Strange, slimy organs cover her body, while pincers and joints open and close... and then she attacks. As Sorvino flees, the Judas bug catches up with her, jumps on her and carries her off as Judas flies down a subway tunnel.

The sequence contains some of things that make effects artistsŐ lives more difficult: a constantly moving camera, things passing in front of the creature, and a complicated interactive lighting situtation. With flourescent lights flickering, careful attention to lighting the CG Judas to match the background plate was necessary to pull off the effect. The sequence ends with Judas flying off with Sorvino in tow--the animation here is a bit unnatural, and thereŐs something about the wings and their lack of blur that make the shot stand out.

A terrific shot occurs as Sorvino is being lifted out of danger through a small hole. One of the rescuers drops his flourescent glow stick while hoisting Sorvino up. As the light drops below into the darkness, it illuminates a bug for a brief moment. This is one of the scariest shots of the film, and it looks quite realistic. Another great shot is a point-of-view shot of Charles Dutton; as he looks for Sorvino, he sees two bugs trying to knock down a door, while a third bug arrives to help. In many cases, these CG shots are edited right beside on-set creature effects.

Some of the finest CG work in the film revolves around the five-inch baby Judas bugs, which make two major appearances in the movie. The first sequence takes place as Mira Sorvino analyzes the (relatively) tiny cockroach. In a series of shots that would traditionally be handled with an actual, on-set animatronic bug, a CG bug was animated and match-moved into the scene. The tracking, lighting and animation in these shots are incredible; the bug actually appears as if it was on the set, interacting with Sorvino. Later in the film, another baby climbs through a little hole, while the camera cranes up and follow the action... only to have Charles Dutton step on the little critter. In this quick, two-shot sequence, the CG baby Judas was once again impeccably animated, lit and match-moved to the background plates.

For a few CG sequences near the end, the animation ceased to be naturalistic and smooth, and became mechanical and jerky. One example is the down-angle shot looking to the ground through the elevator shaft. A bug quickly enters the shaft, looks around, then begins to climb the shaft. This complicated set of decisions and actions seemed to occur far too quickly to be believed. The final confrontation between Sorvino and the male Judas also suffered from a synthetic, mechanical feel to the animation. Successful in that final showdown is the compositing and interactive lighting of the male bug.

MIMIC is a scary film--it soars over EVENT HORIZON with many more scary sequences, and more importantly, MIMIC was wonderfully directed and photographed. Director Toro did a terrific job setting the mood for this dark movie, and created some likeable characters for the audience to follow. Although the ending is unsatisfying and a bit preposterous, MIMIC is an enjoyable thriller with clever and natural-looking visual effects.

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All text Copyright © 1998 Todd Vaziri, unless otherwise noted