How 'The Invisible Man' made a terrifying villain that you can't even see

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: In this scene in Universal's 2020 film "The Invisible Man," Elisabeth Moss' character is thrown across the dining-room table by the monster.

Nailing this shot wasn't easy. It involved two stunt performers, one of whom was in a green suit; various ropes; a VFX team; and the precise movements of a robotic, motion-controlled camera.

Now compare that to the original 1933 film. The main character is also "invisible," and while they did use some practical effects to move objects around, for most of the movie, he's simply covered in bandages.

The new movie couldn't rely on just hidden strings and bandages for a cheap scare. It shakes you to the core by using innovative effects and smart filmmaking techniques to make the audience terrified of something they can't even see. An upgrade to a classic monster that is much more real and terrifying this time around.


Now, warning: spoilers ahead if you haven't seen the movie.

To see how far we've come, we have to look back to 1933 and to this man, Claude Rains. He's the actor who played the invisible man in that film.

To create the illusion that Rains was invisible, the filmmakers wrapped parts of him in black velvet and filmed him in front of a black background. This made whatever part of his body that was supposed to be invisible seem to disappear.

Officer: Look, he's all eaten away.

Narrator: Otherwise, the rest of his clothes appeared to float in the air, a gimmicky look they tried to avoid in the new film. For the 2020 remake, they decided to make the invisible man, Adrian Griffin, completely invisible, making him a more mysterious and unknown figure. And thanks to technological advances in the decades between the two films, they could do it.

But Elisabeth Moss and the rest of the cast still had to have something to react to. This required a stunt performer in a green suit. The stuntman would help guide the actors and interact with them for the fight scenes, like the one in the kitchen.

They used a robotic camera rig that could be programmed to shoot each take with the exact same timing and movement. This allowed them to capture both the take with the stuntman and one clean take without him. Editors could then merge the two shots and digitally erase him afterwards.

Let's look at that kitchen scene again as an example of how this technique would work. First, they would film Moss as she was about to be thrown. Then they would swap her out with a stuntwoman. She would be attached to a rope for support, and the stuntman in the green suit would throw her across the table. They would swap in Moss again and stitch the three shots together, removing the stuntman and rope from the clip.

Removing an actor in a green suit, however, was difficult to do perfectly with so many moving parts. So they also digitally reconstructed some of the background to make the final shot cleaner. As director Leigh Whannell said in an interview with "The Big Picture" podcast, "It's actually easier to add in a werewolf later than it is to subtract a stunt performer in a green suit."

By rendering him completely invisible, it was up to the audience to guess where he was, without a floating hat or sunglasses to guide them. And when he made himself known through violence, it felt more like a real person was actually there attacking, which made the new film much more unsettling than the original.

But not every scene required the actor in a green suit. Some of the most tension-filled moments were the ambiguous ones, when the audience doesn't know if Adrian is there or not. This required some clever cinematography.

One way they made the invisible man seem so real without using any VFX was through frequent, calculated panning shots. In most films, regardless of the genre, the camera pans to a specific character or object to focus the audience's attention. Take a look at this scene from "The Revenant." The camera pans to the left to show the bear approaching Hugh from the woods. And in "The Shining," while Danny is hiding in the maze, we see the camera pan to the path, showing his father limping around with an ax.

We as the audience have come to expect someone or something to be in this space after a pan. But "The Invisible Man" subverts our expectations and pans to nothingness. Just an empty space. When the camera stops, Adrian should be there, but he isn't. And this creates a sense of uneasiness for the viewer, putting us in the mind of Cecilia, where we also feel haunted by an invisible threat.

The other key to making the cinematography scary was to use the negative space. Basically, they filmed lots of empty spaces where the character might be, even though you can't actually see him, and the audience is never quite sure.

Much of this was accomplished through unusual framing, leaving extra space around or behind Cecilia. You assume he's standing in the corner or sitting in the chair, which makes the audience uneasy.

For example, look at the interrogation scene. The corner of the room is bare and in frame. Cecilia and the audience assume he's standing right there in the shot, listening to everything. One of the kitchen scenes is a wide still shot. It lingers there for a long time after Cecilia leaves the frame. This was intended to be a moment for the audience to frantically search the image for any signs of Adrian. Whannell says he wanted you to be afraid you would miss something.

The director confirmed that the invisible man is in most of those shots, but only he knows exactly which ones. And there are only a few where the character is not present where we think he might be.

Aside from using the camera to film negative spaces, they also used it as if it was a character of its own at certain points in the movie. The same robotic, motion-controlled camera used for the kitchen scene we mentioned earlier had precise, controlled movements, just like Adrian, since the camera represents his presence in a lot of the movie.

For example, in the hallway scene at the psychiatric hospital, watch as it quickly darts back and forth and even bends to the side. You feel like you're looking through Adrian's eyes as he goes on his murder spree. It has quicker movements than handheld cameras, with odd, jarring angles.

Using a robotic camera meant that actors had to get their timing right and hit their marks perfectly, because the camera doesn't stop. It's programmed to go through a specific set of motions at a specific pace.

By combining all of these elements, Whannell created a believable, terrifying character that we think is on screen but hardly ever see, without requiring any gimmicky bandages or clichéd, spooky, dark sets.

"The Invisible Man" managed to turn a small $7 million budget into a big scare. And it worked, ultimately, because it's often what isn't there that can scare you the most.

Read the original article on Insider