The invisible man is the Rodney Dangerfield of movie legends, consistently getting no respect since his glorious introduction in 1933. The Invisible Man was a high point in Universal's classic monsters series, distinguished by James Whale's witty direction, Claude Rains' star-making turn in the title role, and, of course, John Fulton's marvelous special effects, supported by Arthur Edeson's distinguished photography.
But invisibility quickly became a cheap gag. Over the years, audiences have seen--or rather, not seen--The Invisible Woman and The Invisible Kid, and the Disney comedy Now You See Him, Now You Don't. The Invisible Man met Abbott and Costello (twice, in his own movie and the conclusion of Meet Frankenstein), and then it was all downhill, culminating in Steve Guttenberg--Steve Guttenberg!--as The Man Who Wasn't There, a flop 3D comedy in 1983. Chevy Chase was a modest improvement in Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), the most recent appearance by the chronically diminished character, but its box-office proved as invisible as Chase.
Hollow Man, which Columbia Pictures is scheduled to release on August 4, aims to pump new blood into the ailing mythos, and director Paul Verhoeven is certainly the helmer for the task. Blood--lots of it, and a mean humor besides--flows freely throughout his sci-fi oeuvre, which includes RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. All these Verhoeven epics, plus Spetters, Soldier of Orange, and Showgirls (see the October 1995 LD for the lowdown on its lap dancers), were shot by Jost Vacano, ASC. Hollow Man marks their seventh collaboration, and reteams other Verhoeven vets, among them producer Alan Marshall, production designer Allan Cameron, and Scott Anderson, visual effects supervisor of Sony Imageworks, which in postproduction added impressive spaceship effects into Starship Troopers.
This time, the goal was to subtract the star, Kevin Bacon, from every frame of footage, to create the most convincing invisible man ever. "I went for absolute realism," says Vacano. "The photography is about making the unbelievable believable for the audience."
Much of Hollow Man takes place deep beneath the Pentagon, in a high-tech lab built amidst the ruins of a long-abandoned atomic bomb shelter. There, a team of scientists develops a formula for invisibility, a discovery with obvious tactical advantages for Uncle Sam's soldiers. And, also, for group leader Sebastian Caine (Bacon). A team player on the surface, Caine nurses a secret grudge against fellow experimenters Linda Foster (Elisabeth Shue) and Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), for Kensington has displaced Caine in Foster's affections. Rendered invisible once the formula (if not the antidote) is perfected, Caine creates unseen mischief in the complex and aboveground. Once his colleagues figure out his game, Caine throws off the flesh-like latex appliances that allow them to see him, and goes on a homicidal rampage as his delusions of grandeur boil over into insanity.
Vacano says 85% of Hollow Man transpires within this elaborate underground set, built on the Sony lot's Stage 15, as the cat-and-mouse plot progresses. "It's a whole world down there, with many different rooms, and all connected by tunnels, hallways, and corridors. Some of them are straight, but many of them are as curved as a pretzel that you might find in a German bakery," laughs the DP, whom Lighting Dimensions contacted at his home in Munich. "And it's all colorless--everything is a shade of gray."
Though the set, which measured 250' long by 150' wide (76x46m), is underground, Vacano says it has an interior (the lab) and an exterior (the disused generators, air compressors, and the "rotten concrete stuff" of the test site). "The interior is steel and metal, but mainly glass. And the glass walls lean outside a little bit, so when the actors looked into them, they could see past the top of the set in the glass. Which meant, unlike a typical film set, we had to put a real ceiling in, and light it."
This practical consideration made the use of most film lighting instruments impossible. "I wanted the set to look as if it were being lit by available light, and, photographically, I wanted it to be shot as it appeared, without the use of additional gear. So the lights had to be built in, as part of the architecture Allan had designed. You can't use traditional equipment that way." But the DP, a fluorescents fan ("the film is lit by fluorescent light almost exclusively, even the faces") could use his favored Kino Flos--about 1,100 in all.
In preproduction, Vacano consulted with Cameron and the art department to develop custom-made Kino Flo fixtures that could be placed overhead and not conflict with the style of the set design. "I told them where I needed them to be placed, and that I needed four 3200K bulbs together in each one, mounted side by side, to give them enough lighting strength. They were always going to be seen by the audience, so they had to fit in with the set construction. As many of the corridors are curved, the fixtures had a curved design as well. We used different lengths, either 4', 6', or 8', depending on the set structure in a given area."
"If it was Kino Flo, we were using it," laughs gaffer Leslie Kovacs, who last worked with director Verhoeven on Basic Instinct, shot by Jan De Bont. "Everything from the Wall-O-Lites to the Image 80s, and its new product, the Digital Image 80s. It gives you remote control in the unit, so you can turn one off or strobe or chase them, as they go through a DMX controller."
And Vacano did want control. "I wanted the film to show the passage of time, from day to night, though of course there are no windows underground," he says. "I couldn't do much with the overhead lights, which, when the characters aren't working, are simply turned off. But I could suggest different times with states of lighting." For this, he used, appropriately, invisible lighting. "The side paneling in the tunnel walls has single or double Kino Flos installed along it, but these are covered with boards in front of them--you can only see the light produced, and not the fixtures themselves. There were always two tubes, and I had them separated: I would use the top ones to make light stream up the walls, and the bottom ones to make the light flow downwards. We could switch them on at high or low output, or take one or two of the bulbs out, so it would register as a different time in the film. Or I would kill the overhead ones completely, so I would just have this horizontal sidelight, outlining the tunnels in a 3D way."
"We did all these light changes," Kovacs recalls. "Apart from the eight-footers, Kino Flo only makes its fixtures in doubles, and the ballast could only take two eight-footers. Each fixture had four Kino Flos, but some had an additional two on the top (the ones with the six Kino Flos are part of the lab's ceiling). That's three ballasts, and they had to be tied together, which made for cabling craziness. It cruised when we finished it, but it took us a long time to do it." Vacano says it took four weeks to pre-rig the set, and four weeks to pre-light it (in some connecting tunnels, with Optima 32s that were less expensive than the Kino Flos), "but I had it all lit before we started shooting. We switched it all on, and we started right in."
The color temperature demarcated the "inside" and "outside" of the set. "In the old corridors, and in the background outside the lab, we used overhead Chinese lanterns with 2900K tungsten bulbs, and tungsten patterns on the walls. It all has a warm feel to it, as do the aboveground apartments where the characters live--cozier, with a lot of diffusion. This is in contrast to the lab, which is sterile and colder, and a little bit bluish, at 3200K with the Kino Flos."
As most of the film takes place within the "closed, compressed" confines of the underground set, Vacano (an Academy Award nominee for the ultimate expression of claustrophobia, the U-boat drama Das Boot) elected to shoot the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. "And with 540 effects shots to complete in the film, financially it was more sensible to go that way rather than anamorphic."
Most of those shots, of course, are given over to the invisible protagonist. Making him feel right at home in his palatial cavern was one of Vacano's primary aims. The DP worked as closely with Scott Anderson on these effects as he had with Cameron on the set lighting, and also with Bacon. "The role was hard to cast, to the point that we had to postpone shooting from September 1998 to April 1999, because most actors want to show their face"--apparently today's thespians did not recall how much the 1933 film boosted the visibility of its star. "But Kevin was really good, and so cooperative."
He had to be. Anderson's special effects formula (see "Illuminating invisibility," page 71) required the actor to be encased in green, blue, or black makeup, right up to matching contact lenses. The number of special effects shots ballooned from 400 to 540 as the project was nurtured: Imageworks handled the body effects, and the Tippett Studio, which created the bugs in Starship Troopers, did most of the 140 steam, smoke, and water shots.
"Mostly, we used green, the best color to use to pull mattes off Kevin's body," says Vacano. For scenes where the scientists literally try to smoke Caine out, revealing his corporeal form in the haze, blue was used to obtain the best mattes. "There is a murder scene where he's underwater in a swimming pool, and looks like a human-shaped air bubble. The water was a blue-green, so neither of those colors would work. So we used black, to contrast Kevin with the brighter water around him."
All this differs from traditional blue- and greenscreen photography, which the DP is well-versed in. "There, it's important to have the screen lit uniformly, so there are no contrasts. But a three-dimensional head or hand is not a constant, like a screen; they move. First, you light for the mood of the scene, and then the actors around him. They can get very close to him, but you have to avoid shadows, like the shadow of a nose across the green face. That makes the effects more difficult to achieve--the shadow blocks out the green. And then you have to fill in the green face, without that light touching the other actors. Often we would use more fill light than was necessary on the green face, which helped the computers reconstruct our lighting setups for the digital effects. More light made the face work as a kind of greenscreen and made it easier to pull mattes from it--you had to see the green first to take it out and properly adjust the shot to the correct lighting."
"Jost and I would talk about my technical requirements and the creative ones, and how we could work it all out. Jost really understands how to get what he needs and how to help us get what we need," says Anderson. "In the transformation scenes, either Elisabeth or Kevin is on the bed, and we're lighting it for an invisible man really being there, so you light it one way. Jost would give us extra shadows so that you could really show off the impressions in the bed; if the bed wasn't really indented, that wouldn't be apparent in the scene, and he'd say, 'I got it this way,' so I could be clued in, mentally, as to what the overall lighting intent was and work with it and replicate it in postproduction."
Anderson and Vacano, who manned Arriflex cameras for the shoot, decided to simplify the massive matting requirements by using Kodak's SFX 200T stock, a special 200ASA, throughout. "A 500ASA would be more convenient with all our fluorescent lights, but SFX 200T is specially made for pulling mattes, and with all we had to do I decided to stay with it the whole time," Vacano says.
As Hollow Man is a large-scale summer thriller, the meeting of a properly lit set, and a properly lit invisible man, can only end in bedlam. Kovacs describes a chase sequence, one of which sent Shue to the hospital during the course of the lengthy shoot. "She's chasing Kevin with this makeshift flamethrower, which sets off the sprinklers and floods the set. Everything we used had to go through a shock block. Interestingly, the hallway set was built with a 11/2" gap so it didn't go all the way to the floor; the water flowed underneath it. The effects department had built weir walls, and used sump pumps that recirculated the water back into the set. It wasn't like we said, 'Let's just use as much water as we can until we run out, and that's it;' it was a continuous immersion."
The Kino Flos play a starring role in the grand finale, which takes place in an old, but functional, elevator shaft (the only way in and out of the lab) as Caine grapples with his pursuers while explosions rip through the facility. "The old Sony lot has an eight-story parking structure; the construction crew built a 60'-tall (18m) shaft off it. To light the elevator cars, we put Kino Flos in each one and relied on Allan to create aged, haphazard-looking fixtures to house them," Kovacs says. "The problem with the shaft was, it was already built--the builders said, 'OK, boys, it's all yours.' So the effects guys installed an elevator car; we put a couple of inches of rubber across the top of that and we had them run us up and down as we attached our lights. It was a little crazy, as we ran miles of extension cord to a certain spot within the structure to enable central control, rather than have everything on a bunch of different floors with many people to coordinate it."
"I had a lot of units--which looked like rotting worklights--in all four corners of the old shaft. Some appear to be working, and others appear to be broken," Vacano elaborates. "I didn't want to overlight the shaft; I only wanted to use light wherever it was needed, and keep the others off. If I used a rotten one, the next one would be off, so you always have the feeling that some are on and some are off, but you never know which ones. I had the opportunity to play with existing lights without showing that they were all burning. I went for realism--I said, 'This is the old shaft, so some of the service lights are broken already, which is very atmospheric.' But sometimes, I would use the broken ones, and 'break' the good ones, so I could always manipulate the environment. In the shaft, as a general rule, I had three bulbs in each fixture, which could be used at high or low speed; I would just, for example, use one bulb, very dim, low output, minus any gels, to frontlight the actors, and usethe backlights at high speed, to really work with contrast. I think about 90% of the last 10 minutes of the film was shot that way, without any additional lighting."
Such is the bond between DP and director that Verhoeven approved this risky setup without hesitation. "I explained to him my feelings and he said, 'Oh? If you can manage it, it's great. Just do it,' " Vacano laughs. "Once I have an idea, I think through all the problems and manage it."
After months on the blazing or bedraggled sets, three weeks of night exteriors in Washington, DC, proved a comparative breeze. The exterior of a popular local restaurant was rebuilt and relocated to the top of the Department of Labor, and offered a spectacular balcony view of the city's most famous monuments at night. "But there's a big area around the Capitol where you can't put any lights, so we had to light it from far away, using two big Musco Lights and 6k and 12k HMIs. And we shot it the whole night long--no magic hour for us. Magic hour--always what you dream about but can never afford," Vacano laughs.
Reflecting upon his contribution to restore the invisible man to his proper place in the pantheon of cinema legends, the DP says, "Fluorescents are nothing new, but this is a pure fluorescent film. I've never made a film that depended on those lights as much as this one." Vacano will return to Los Angeles later this month to time the prints--the results of his work, and his Hollow Man collaborators, will be transparent for all to see in August.
DIRECTOR Paul Verhoeven
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY Jost Vacano, ASC
GAFFER Leslie Kovacs
BEST BOY/RIGGING GAFFER Benny McNulty
RIGGING/LIGHTING TECHNICIAN Thomas Holmes
LIGHTING CREW Kenny Ballantine, James Bradfield, Scott Gaal, John Haselbusch, Matt Hawkins, Jason Kilgore
PRODUCTION DESIGNER Allan Cameron
VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR Scott Anderson/Sony Imageworks
Underground Lab Facility (6) Kino Flo Wall-O-Lites with frame and eggcrate (16) Kino Flo Image 80s with frame and eggcrate (122) Kino Flo 8' 2Bank systems (46) Kino Flo 8' single bank systems (74) Kino Flo 6' single bank systems (66) Kino Flo 4' single bank systems (8) Kino Flo 4' 2Bank systems with extra extension (128) Kino Flo 4' 4Bank systems with extra extension (26) Kino Flo 2' single bank systems with extra extension (6) Kino Flo 2' 2Bank systems with extra extension (10) Kino Flo 2' 4Bank systems with extra extension (12) Kino Flo 9" Mini Flo kits with cigarette lighter adapter (14) Kino Flo 15" Mini Flo kits with cigarette lighter adapter (52) LTM Pepper 100W/200W globes
"There are two ways to create an invisible man," says Scott Anderson. "One is to shoot the scene without him and put in all the effects digitally, and the other is to take your actor, have him perform, and fix him. We decided to do the latter, and be dependent on his performance. I knew we would have really great animators for the show, but there's really only one Kevin. The choices we would make, and Paul would make, were all slightly different than ones Kevin would make. It's that collaboration that makes Kevin's performance consistent."
Anderson knows from invisible men. An Oscar winner for Babe, he was Industrial Light & Magic's lead animator and compositor on Memoirs of an Invisible Man. "This is a long way from Memoirs," he explains. "There was very basic digital compositing used, and simpler optical effects. Technology has finally caught up with the invisible man; you couldn't have made this film even a couple of years ago." Which is how long Anderson has been attached to this project.
Verhoeven likes an active camera; not for him the old door-opening-by-itself tricks of past invisibility yarns. "Here, the effects live in and around, and touch and grab, and affect, the real world." Hollow Man makes sophisticated use of thermal imaging, which the scientists use to track the killer Caine. "We used an actual digital thermal video camera, from Raytheon, that is used for military and surveillance applications,and worked with Jost and his crew to adapt it to motion picture technology. The camera department at Imageworks machined parts and adapted its rig to the bases of the Arriflex cameras, and Steadicam and pogo-cam, and even motion control." (Vacano adds that Bacon was photographed nude with this heat-seeking camera, though the abstract nature of the images should spare him any embarrassment.)
In the scene pictured above, Caine is being monitored with electrodes, as members of the effects and lighting crews, and Vacano (right, in the plaid shirt) set up the shot. "Basically, we're setting him up to take him out of the shot," says Anderson. "An invisible man throughout an entire picture is boring, so the electrodes will represent him here. In postproduction, we can repair the background for where he was sitting, if need be. And that does include digital effects, so some of the electrode wires will end up being practical, others digital, and it's a constant shifting world--no one technology is in play at any given time."
Anderson credits teamwork for the seamlessnesss of the final result. "It wasn't like we were in to do this and were out again--even if we weren't involved in a shot we had someone on the set, as our effects had to live in that world, which Jost photographed in such a strong style that allowed us to blend in. Everyone--the set, lighting, prop, makeup, and costume personnel--worked so closely with us."
Though teamwork may be the real secret of invisibility, Anderson does hope audiences will spare a moment or two to think of Imageworks and its 350 staffers. "The end sequence is coming together so well, and it feels so much like Kevin, that we're almost afraid they won't notice how hard it is. That is our job, of course, but we don't want it to go by too unnoticed," he laughs. "It's a phenomenal representation of the human body, and I think people will accept it, but it's astonishing to think that someone can look at that and not feel our pain."
Photos: Stephen Vaughan/SMPSP.