"[He] approached houses like ILM and the big giants, but what they were going to charge was way out of his budget" Bong and his producers spent $3 million on the effects for the film "so it was a great opportunity for us."
The Host is many things: a comedy-drama about a fractured family brought together by catastrophe, a political critique, a horror movie, a revenge tale. But above all it's about a monster and quite a monster. Equally capable of frightening grace and endearing clumsiness, the creature and its parts don't resemble anything in the animal kingdom so much as everything in the animal kingdom: reptile, amphibian, fish, worm, monkey, and at least one bit of human anatomy. Having just dabbled in small-scale creature work with films such as Hellboy and Jeepers Creepers 2, the Orphanage accepted a daunting task when it agreed to animate Bong's monster, the main character of his film. "We were kind of looking at this project as one where [we] could really develop a creature department," sequence supervisor Brian Kulig says. "On top of that, the creature is running around in darkness, in broad daylight, it's on fire, it's drooling, it's in the rain, it's swimming. Everything that could possibly happen to this creature pretty much did."
As Finger, Kulig, and fellow sequence supervisor Michael Spaw discuss their work on The Host, the interview site a stately room just above the rest of the company's creative team gives a snapshot of the Orphanage in action. Its headquarters strongly resembles an older part of the Presidio's history: an army intelligence bunker. Rows of people sit diligently at their computers, with only a sliver of natural light seeping through the occasional ground-level window. One gets the distinct impression that the company has expanded rapidly in recent years and may soon outgrow its home.
Much of this growth can be attributed to The Host and its creature team, whose mastermind was Kevin Rafferty, the visual F/X supervisor. Rafferty, another ILM veteran who has supervised the effects on numerous Hollywood blockbusters, spent much of The Host' s shoot on set with Bong and his crew. This level of on-set presence is rare in the F/X world, according to Finger, Kulig, and Spaw all three of whom also logged hours in Seoul. Oftentimes, as Spaw put it, the F/X team "is only associated after principal photography is done, and you're handed plates, and you make everything work. Actually being on set was an invaluable experience." When the trio speak about their time in Korea, they say Bong, the cast, and the crew were eager to collaborate, accessible and gracious in a way unknown in Hollywood, and game for whatever it took to capture a shot.
Having first dreamed up the idea for The Host in high school, Bong had the nature of his beast largely worked out in his head a vision he articulated to the Orphanage during a two-week visit prior to the shoot. "Director Bong treated the creature like one of his actors. He worked with the animators one-on-one to dial in the expressions and emotions of the character," Finger says, the reference to "Director Bong" a sign of his and his cohorts' reverence for the filmmaker. Spaw adds, "Director Bong made it clear to us that sure, you have this monster film, a horror film or however you want to classify this rather interesting piece of cinema but if you didn't understand how [the creature] was thinking or how the real physical actors were reutf8g to it, it wouldn't work."
For the movement of the monster, the Orphanage team used a variety of reference points, including Jurassic Park. But due to the unique nature of Bong's creature, none was definitive.