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HOLLOW MAN: Paul Verhoeven - Part I

The director discusses the techniques and difficulties involved in turning Kevin Bacon invisible

By Craig D. Reid     August 03, 2000

If one was to philosophically understand what Paul Verhoeven is trying to accomplish with the much anticipated Hollow Man, perhaps you could sum it up as, 'The art of invisibility without being invisible.' Hollywood is again revisiting the past by re-inventing a classic, the 1933 Claude Raines film The Invisible Man, which itself is an engrossing adaptation of author H.G. Wells' tale of a mad scientist rendered invisible by the experimental drug monocaine. However, during a recent trip to Sony Pictures, where I witnessed a very gory yet extremely engaging demonstration of Kevin Bacon's disappearing act, one quickly sees that this film is nothing like its progenitors.

The story focuses on the arrogant and brilliant scientist Sebastian Caine (Bacon) who perfects a formula for invisibility at a secret, underground, Frankensteinian laboratory. When he tests the drug on himself and can't reverse the effects, Caine's tendency towards megalomania becomes more sinister as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the powers of invisibility. His colleagues, including Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue), Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin) and Kennedy (Kim Dawson), try to find a cure. But they find themselves at odds with Caine as he maniacally descends into madness and eventually views them as a threat to his survival that must therefore be exterminated.

In addition to dealing with Bacon's incredible ordeal with makeup, which included keeping the actor on the set even when his character was invisible, Verhoeven was faced with an important decision halfway through the shoot. While exercising on a trampoline, Elisabeth Shue tore her Achilles tendon. There was talk of replacing her, but Verhoeven was adamant in keeping her in the film, so the production went on hiatus for three months.

FANDOM: AFTER THE THREE MONTH BREAK, WAS IT DIFFICULT RE-STARTING PRODUCTION AND REVVING UP THE ACTORS AGAIN?

Verhoeven: No, it was okay. I think we were smart enough to make sure we didn't start where we finished, that is the laboratory, which perhaps would have been kind of depressing. We started off in Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon for the first two weeks. So if was a positive thing to start off under a different situation than when we finished.

EVERYONE FELL BACK INTO THEIR CHARACTER?

Yes, no problems. However, maybe you will see something when you watch the film.

EVERY GENRE TRIES TO REINVENT ITSELF IN A CERTAIN WAY. WHAT DID YOU BRING FRESH TO HOLLOW MAN?

Lots of special effects.

IS THAT THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE, MEANING YOU HAVE TO HAVE A LOT OF THEM FOR A FILM TO BE SUCCESSFUL?

No, not necessarily. You can create success with the characters, but this is but one way to do it. As techniques improve and get better, there will be lots more of these films. Just to point out, our writer for this, Andrew Marlowe, told me when he came to the script he had been investigating the state of the art. At that time, he wrote Hollow Man with special effects in mind that weren't readily available yet, but possibly could be in the future. So in essence, he challenged us to do this film with special effects that were not within reach at the time he began.

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT FOR YOU AS A DIRECTOR TO DIRECT SPECIAL EFFECTS?

Well, let's take the scene when he injects the serum. You have six people standing around at the operating table and something terrible happens, a man becomes invisible, and the man is screaming and they have to act with nothing there, except me sitting there with a microphone going like this [Verhoeven picks up my recorder and screams into the microphone), 'Aaaaaarrrrrggghhh.' It's tough, of course, for them, plus you have to remain connected to the actors. You can't do this as a special effects shot and the actors do something else, like the camera starts with the actors, then special effect, back to actors, special effect, actors, and so on. It then looks more like it is cut in and isolated. But I tried to keep it as much a part of the shot as possible so time and spatial feelings are the same, because the moment you cut and adjust to another angle, the time and space are different.

Although Kevin was often there, you can't see his transformation. In the film, you slowly see the layers peeling, the skin, then you see the muscles, tendons, lung, heart and eventually you only see the skeleton and that's alive and writhing around till that disappears. Of course Kevin acts this whole thing out, and it's a painful process and he's in turmoil. So because they can't see when he's just a muscular man, they need lots of fantasy to fill in what they can't see. Same thing with Starship Troopers, where actors run out and shoot guns at thin air, being frightened by me yelling and screaming.

It's tough for actors. My special effects supervisor Scott [Anderson] stressed the importance of Kevin being in all the scenes, even if he was invisible. All the scenes were done with Kevin, as to have as much interaction with the other actors as possible. It's important for the camera, too, to see more or less what Kevin is doing. That's why we had to paint Kevin's face or body black, blue or green, or wear same colored suits. So if an actor fights an invisible or partially visible man, like if he's fighting and trying to kill Elisabeth Shue and it's raining or the sprinklers are on, you can see his outline. It's good to have Kevin there for each shot because if not, it makes the other actors feel stupid. Plus, with a fight, how do you have a fight when you need contact and things move around? How do you get these movements? It's gigantic because you have all these mathematical curves that have to be calculated by computers as mathematical curves in a three-dimensional place.

HOW DID YOU CONVINCE KEVIN THAT HE WAS GOING TO GIVE AN ACTUAL FULL PERFORMANCE IN A FILM WHERE HE IS INVISIBLE?

That comes down to [the fact] that he must trust me, that what he's doing is essential to the film and that he doesn't feel like a fool when he sees the movie. When you see the movie, it will be clear why we did it the way we did. It's all about movement. It's essentially a pantomime, about body movement like the old Chaplin films. No one talks, so everything is expressed by behavior and movement, which is important in expressing the character. So even if he's outlined by sprinkling water, you can tell it's Kevin because we've sculpted him in water according to the 3-D model we have of him constructed in the computer.

We scanned in everything about him into the computer--thicknesses of his nails, eyebrows, everything. So when he acts and moves, and his green suit or body has these blue dots on him, the computer can alter the frame and see exactly what kind of movements he's doing by tracing these different 15-20 dots that are moving around. In this way, the computer basically can give precise movements of what Kevin is doing. His performance is translated physically into a 3-D model into the computer. That's why it looks in all the scenes that it is still Sebastian, even when his skin comes off or he's partially visible by smoke or water, you can still tell from the features it's Sebastian. When I read the script I thought we'd just create a digital model later and have Kevin there 30 percent of the time. Fortunately, Scott convinced me that would be an error and insisted it should always be Kevin.

WHEN AND WHY DID PHIL TIPPET COME ON?

He came in around November. Ultimately, the first idea was that Sony Imageworks would do all the shots, which turned out to be 550 shots or so. But we found out in October that the amount of work and degree of difficulty of the shots was enormous. The 300 people who worked at Imageworks were still not sufficient to do all the shots. One third of the shots were given to Phil. So it's basically just a question that the work turned out to be more complex and time consuming. And the amount of computers that were in the building that had to be used to render all that stuff, like 2,500 little elements in the body, just wasn't enough. I mean, we're talking like a muscle--if it moves, it moves according to the body's structure. The muscle changes when you move, gets longer or shorter, and all the things that make it work. It was such a huge amount of digital information that the computers in the building couldn't handle it.

WHEN YOU DIRECT, YOU OFTEN HAVE A VERY MOBILE CAMERA. HOW MUCH IMPACT DID THAT HAVE ON YOUR SPECIAL EFFECTS AND VICE-VERSA?

Well, regardless, I still have a lot of moving around, so let me explain the problem. If I shoot Kevin against that wall there, in a black or green suit and I have to paint him out--because ultimately he will be invisible as smoke or water or a living waterfall with the rain coming down on him--then that means I now have a hole in the wall, because the camera doesn't see behind. So when I roto him out, whatever was behind him is invisible and blackened out. I need that piece of wall later so I can look through him and see the missing wall. So what I do with the establishing shot is shoot it with Kevin, then without Kevin, with or without rain. Therefore, that will give me the part of the wall missing in the first shot from the second pass.

So now if he moves from here to there, it becomes more complicated, because now I have a lot of missing pieces of wall. If the camera can repeat his movement from here to there precisely, like a motion control camera, then I can just pick out the elements from the camera shot. It is essential that the camera does the exact same movement as Kevin. With a hand-held camera, it will be extremely difficult to get the precise movement, so you have to use a motion control camera. And as you said, I like to use a lot of camera movement. What adds to that difficulty is if you have to do pans, tilts and raises within the same shot or at the same time in one motion. Again, motion control cameras can register all the movements needed to repeat the shot with and without Kevin. Then maybe you have to do seven to eight takes and each take must be precisely the same. So now we are talking about camera work that no human can do. Even with the computer, it's still time consuming. You can see now why this film was much more difficult than Starship Troopers.

NOW THAT THE FILM IS FINISHED, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAD TO RE- EDIT OR CHANGE THAT DIDN'T WORK THE WAY YOU WANTED IT TO?

I haven't gotten any thing out of place. I have avoided that silly thing of things floating in the air, because instead of scaring people it might make people laugh or something. The movie is supposed to be tense and scary. Although at the beginning of the film it is lighter, but then we see that scientific experiment slowly deteriorating into ultimate evil. But you don't want silly things moving around because it looks idiotic having things moving around in the air.

HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO MAKE THE FIGHT FEEL REAL?

By doing them with Kevin actually being there and Kevin doing the actual fighting with them. So basically it's physically done, then we just have to paint Kevin out of the shot and replace him with whatever form of invisibleness we use during that scene.

SPIELBERG SAYS THAT FILMS HE SAW DURING HIS CHILDHOOD LEFT IMPRESSIONS ON HIM THAT INFLUENCE THE FILM STYLES HE USES. WHAT FILMS DID YOU GROW UP WITH THAT MAKES YOU DO THIS KIND OF HORROR?

Ah, you mean like Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man? [Laughs] I was actually scared more by Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I was 7 or 8 at the time and I thought it was extremely scary. War of the Worlds also influenced me, and of course that was later made as Independence Day...kind off. Right? [Laughs]

THERE ARE CLICHES IN THOSE KINDS OF FILMS.

Well, Hollow Man, this is the ultimate cliche, yes?

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