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December 20
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

BUILDING A POST-MODERN PARADISE FOR DON’T WORRY DARLING

By JOE FORDHAM

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) are the perfect couple in the mysterious thriller Don’t Worry Darling.

Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles) are the perfect couple in the mysterious thriller Don’t Worry Darling.

After the critical and commercial success of Olivia Wilde’s feature film directorial debut with the coming-of-age drama Booksmart, the filmmaker seized on a challenging assignment for her next project in Don’t Worry Darling. The Warner Bros. release, based on a screenplay by Carey and Shane Van Dyke retooled by Booksmart screenwriter Katie Silberman, was a high-concept science fiction thriller of gender identity and paranoia. The story focused on Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) who resides, with her sexy executive husband Jack (Harry Styles), in a 1950s post-Modern paradise known as The Victory Project. Production Designer Katie Byron and Cinematographer Matthew Libatique created Alice’s pristine yet threatening Stepford Wives-like community using a palette of pastel shades and space-age architecture shot largely on location in and around Palm Springs, California.

Alice and her neighbors see their husbands off to work in the 1950s post-Modern paradise of the Victory Project.

Alice and her neighbors see their husbands off to work in the 1950s post-Modern paradise of the Victory Project.

While preparing breakfast, Alice discovers evidence that her world is not what it seems, including hollow eggshells that contain no egg. (Photo: Merrick Morton)

While preparing breakfast, Alice discovers evidence that her world is not what it seems, including hollow eggshells that contain no egg. (Photo: Merrick Morton)

Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Schrecker (The Fountain, Black Swan, Mother!) added to the surreal setup, enhancing details of the idealized world as Alice begins to question the nature of her all-too-perfect lifestyle and the motives of Victory Project CEO Frank (Chris Pine). “Early on,” says Schrecker, “it was all about problem-solving, figuring out where production couldn’t bridge the gap between what Olivia wanted and what was going to be feasible. I must give a big shout-out to the locations team because they found the best places to shoot. All the Victory town sites, the house where Jack and Alice live, and that cul-de-sac were all real, in Palm Springs.”

Alice’s neighbor, Bunny (Olivia Wilde), flirts with Victory Project patriarch Frank (Chris Pine) at the CEO’s home. The production set the majority of the film’s exteriors on location in Palm Springs, California.

Alice’s neighbor, Bunny (Olivia Wilde), flirts with Victory Project patriarch Frank (Chris Pine) at the CEO’s home. The production set the majority of the film’s exteriors on location in Palm Springs, California.

Alice attempts an unauthorized visit to her husband’s workplace and experiences a sensory overload at the exterior of the futuristic building. The production filmed Victory HQ scenes at the Volcano House in Newberry, California.

Alice attempts an unauthorized visit to her husband’s workplace and experiences a sensory overload at the exterior of the futuristic building. The production filmed Victory HQ scenes at the Volcano House in Newberry, California.

Architect William Krisel’s 1962 Canyon View Estates served as the setting for the main protagonists’ home, whereas architect Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann home served as Frank’s California dream house. For the Victory headquarters, atop a mountain peak across the desert from Alice’s home, the production selected architect Harold James Bissner Jr.’s futuristic dome-roofed Volcano House in Newberry, California. “All those places exist,” Schrecker notes. “Katie Byron did a great job of building that reality. I’d worked with Matty Libatique before, so I knew he was going to make it look great. They created the look. We filled in the gaps.”

While cleaning her home, Alice experiences a disorienting hallucination as a corridor wall crushes her into a window. Special effects staged the moving wall as an in-camera mechanical effect.

While cleaning her home, Alice experiences a disorienting hallucination as a corridor wall crushes her into a window. Special effects staged the moving wall as an in-camera mechanical effect.

Alice commandeers Jack’s Corvette and flees toward the Victory Headquarters. Raynault VFX provided digital matte painting effects to create a more desolate arid landscape surrounding the isolated desert community.

Alice commandeers Jack’s Corvette and flees toward the Victory Headquarters. Raynault VFX provided digital matte painting effects to create a more desolate arid landscape surrounding the isolated desert community.

Raynault VFX provided the majority of visual effects, while Mavericks VFX joined the team toward the end of post-production. FX WRX and Break+Enter provided additional effects, and Schrecker and his Visual Effects Coordinator Preston Mohr handled in-house visual effects.

“We wanted to give the desert [landscape surrounding the Victory Project] a more consistent and barren feel. Raynault did a little cleanup around the mountains. There was not a lot of that. And we never altered the skies. Shooting in Palm Springs in January, when the sun set behind the mountains at around 3:30 p.m., the light was just fantastic.”

—Dan Schrecker, Visual Effects Supervisor

Raynault VFX’s work included subtle environment enhancements and digital cleanup of the desert landscape surrounding the Victory Project. “We wanted to give the desert a more consistent and barren feel,” Schrecker explains. “Raynault did a little cleanup around the mountains. There was not a lot of that. And we never altered the skies. Shooting in Palm Springs in January, when the sun set behind the mountains at around 3:30 p.m., the light was just fantastic.”

During a party at Frank’s house, Alice views a table-top diorama of the Victory Project depicting the town layout as radiating circles of cul-de-sacs and curving boulevards nested in the desert. The practical prop guided shot design with minimal digital assistance. “Raynault did a few enhancements to help continuity of locations,” Schrecker observes. “That included some aerial drone shots of Alice running up the mountain. But the locations didn’t require a ton of visual effects.”

Visual effects added environmental details and signage to Palm Springs production plates to subtly reinforce Production Designer Katie Byron’s stylized 1950s settings.

Visual effects added environmental details and signage to Palm Springs production plates to subtly reinforce Production Designer Katie Byron’s stylized 1950s settings.

While attending dance class, Alice observes the image of her disturbed neighbor Margaret (KiKi Layne) replacing her reflection. Visual effects staged the reflection using a greenscreen element of Margaret’s mirror image.

While attending dance class, Alice observes the image of her disturbed neighbor Margaret (KiKi Layne) replacing her reflection. Visual effects staged the reflection using a greenscreen element of Margaret’s mirror image.

While attending dance class, Alice observes the image of her disturbed neighbor Margaret (KiKi Layne) replacing her reflection. Visual effects staged the reflection using a greenscreen element of Margaret’s mirror image.

Alice’s world begins to unravel when she witnesses a plane crash over the Victory headquarters. Raynault provided matte painting to integrate the mountaintop HQ into the Palm Springs locale, and generated the distant aircraft, subtly tying the event to another disturbed character, Margaret (KiKi Layne), whom Alice observes acting erratically in her social circle. “That was a CG plane based on the toy plane that Margaret’s son was holding,” Schrecker reveals. “Olivia wanted an underwater feel to the effect. Raynault came up with a distortion wave effect that went over the plane. The idea was that Alice was seeing a disruption in the Victory thought-matrix, seeing something is not how it is supposed to be. That was a recurring theme. When she’s in her kitchen, she cracks eggs and finds the shells are empty. And in her ballet lessons, Alice sees Margaret’s reflection looking back at her.”

For mirror hallucinations, and Alice’s reaction to smashing her aberrant dancehall reflection, the production shot element passes. “We shot Margaret separately against greenscreen,” Schrecker says. “Raynault created the matte to figure out the correct angle because we couldn’t shoot her as a reflection, we had to shoot her as a clean pass and put her into the mirror. As they mocked up that shot, Raynault came up with the idea of fragmenting Margaret’s reflection in the shards so that she was disjointed, and her eye almost became like a Picasso painting.” For a mirror hallucination in Alice’s bathtub, where Alice observes her reflection out of phase with her reality, Schrecker’s in-house team blended repeat performances using rotoscope and split screens.

“That [plane that crashed over the Victory headquarters] was a CG plane based on the toy plane that Margaret’s son was holding. Olivia [director Olivia Wilde] wanted an underwater feel to the effect. Raynault [VFX] came up with a distortion wave effect that went over the plane. The idea was that Alice was seeing a disruption in the Victory thought-matrix, seeing something is not how it is supposed to be. That was a recurring theme. When she’s in her kitchen, she cracks eggs and finds the shells are empty. And in her ballet lessons, Alice sees Margaret’s reflection looking back at her.”

—Dan Schrecker, Visual Effects Supervisor

Raynault VFX composited Margaret’s reflection into the dance hall mirror with a shattered glass effect resembling a Cubist painting.

Raynault VFX composited Margaret’s reflection into the dance hall mirror with a shattered glass effect resembling a Cubist painting.

Raynault VFX composited Margaret’s reflection into the dance hall mirror with a shattered glass effect resembling a Cubist painting.

Visual effects provided subtle enhancements to mechanical effects that Special Effects Supervisor Jeremy Hays created for seismic disruptions that interrupt Alice’s world, including a tremor that rattles a department store where Alice is on a shopping spree. Hays’ team also constructed a hydraulic rig for an in-camera effect where the wall of Alice’s home compresses her against a window as she is cleaning.

“[For mirror hallucinations and smashing the reflection] we shot Margaret separately against greenscreen. Raynault created the matte to figure out the correct angle because we couldn’t shoot her as a reflection, we had to shoot her as a clean pass and put her into the mirror. As they mocked up that shot, Raynault came up with the idea of fragmenting Margaret’s reflection in the shards so that she was disjointed, and her eye almost became like a Picasso painting.”

—Dan Schrecker, Visual Effects Supervisor

Staccato montage effects lead up to Alice’s nervous breakdown, combining macro-closeups of Alice’s eye and a strange recurring dream of a Busby Berkeley dance routine. The production created the kaleidoscopic dance number on a soundstage set with editorial effects and minimal digital cleanup. Visual effects provided a computer-generated eye to replicate Alice’s dilating pupil. FX WRX in Brooklyn staged practical fluid suspension effects, including colored dye in glycerin as montage shots. They also created in-camera optical effects by manipulating some of the film’s original footage with practical techniques. Several of these shots can be seen in succession at the film’s dramatic climax.

The paring back of visual concepts to refine storytelling beats was an essential part of defining Alice’s mental disintegration. “At the end of the film, after Alice attacks Jack,” Schrecker reveals, “we had planned to show cracks opening up in the wall and on the street. As Alice walked out into the cul-de-sac, she was going to see a crack in the middle of the street. And we shot it like that. We painted a crack on the ground so Florence knew where to could walk around it. In post-production, that idea got cut. So, we digitally painted out of the lines that we had painted on the ground. That was a normal part of the editing process. As they started cutting, and we did a couple of mock-ups, and they felt that they didn’t need it.”

“[The Victory virtual reality simulation] was a practical eyepiece on the actors. Raynault added laser effects over Alice’s and Jack’s eyes. That was one of our bigger volumes of shots. All told, it was about a year of work – we started prep in September 2020 and wrapped by Thanksgiving 2021. It was kudos to Matty  [Cinematographer Matthew Libatique] and Katie [Production Designer Katie Byron], as we were building on the work they did to realize Olivia’s vision for this dystopian world.”

—Dan Schrecker, Visual Effects Supervisor

The film’s finale plays out with Alice fleeing a nightclub celebration. COVID-19 precautions required the production to film the nightclub scene with minimal performer and crowd interactions. Visual effects provided a solution by shooting angles of the crowd as tiled plates. Schrecker and Mohr then digitally reassembled the scene to add revelers around principal performers.

Alice ventures into a forbidden zone in the desert after she observes a plane crash out behind her husband’s workplace. Raynault VFX modified the environment to situate Victory Headquarters in closer proximity to the town.

Alice ventures into a forbidden zone in the desert after she observes a plane crash out behind her husband’s workplace. Raynault VFX modified the environment to situate Victory Headquarters in closer proximity to the town.

Alice ventures into a forbidden zone in the desert after she observes a plane crash out behind her husband’s workplace. Raynault VFX modified the environment to situate Victory Headquarters in closer proximity to the town.

Alice ventures into a forbidden zone in the desert after she observes a plane crash out behind her husband’s workplace. Raynault VFX modified the environment to situate Victory Headquarters in closer proximity to the town.

Director/producer Olivia Wilde sets up a bluescreen shot with Florence Pugh on location in the Californian desert. (Photo: Merrick Morton) Visual effects later added location plates of a car crash pinwheeling behind the performer.

Director/producer Olivia Wilde sets up a bluescreen shot with Florence Pugh on location in the Californian desert. (Photo: Merrick Morton) Visual effects later added location plates of a car crash pinwheeling behind the performer.

Director/producer Olivia Wilde sets up a bluescreen shot with Florence Pugh on location in the Californian desert. (Photo: Merrick Morton) Visual effects later added location plates of a car crash pinwheeling behind the performer.

Alice’s escape, using Jack’s Corvette to lead a chase across the desert as she seeks Victory headquarters, featured practical stunts and mechanical effects on location. Mavericks VFX digitally erased tire tracks, distant structures and trains, creating the illusion of a pristine desert, and generated digital face replacements to add Florence Pugh’s likeness to a stunt driver. A bluescreen composite staged on location allowed Mavericks to layer a car explosion behind Pugh at the wheel of her speeding vehicle.

Wilde confers with Harry Styles in the set of the Chambers home. Visual effects placed bluescreen material in the front doorway of the Los Angeles soundstage set to allow digital composites of Palm Spring exteriors. (Photo: Merrick Morton)

Wilde confers with Harry Styles in the set of the Chambers home. Visual effects placed bluescreen material in the front doorway of the Los Angeles soundstage set to allow digital composites of Palm Spring exteriors. (Photo: Merrick Morton)

Wilde orchestrates a dance number with Harry Styles and Chris Pine in a nightclub setting. Visual effects used digital effects to integrate crowd members into the scene assisting COVID-19 safety protocols. (Photo: Merrick Morton)

Wilde orchestrates a dance number with Harry Styles and Chris Pine in a nightclub setting. Visual effects used digital effects to integrate crowd members into the scene assisting COVID-19 safety protocols. (Photo: Merrick Morton)

Raynault VFX provided visual effects for the final reveal of Alice, back in her contemporary real-life existence, where her possessive boyfriend (Harry Styles) has hooked her up to the Victory virtual reality simulation. “That was a practical eyepiece on the actors,” says Schrecker. “Raynault added laser effects over Alice’s and Jack’s eyes. That was one of our bigger volumes of shots. All told, it was about a year of work – we started prep in September 2020 and wrapped by Thanksgiving 2021. It was kudos to Matty and Katie, as we were building on the work they did to realize Olivia’s vision for this dystopian world.”


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