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How the creepy models were made in 'Hereditary'

One of the scariest and most disturbing movies of the year centres around an artist, played by Toni Collette, who makes miniature models while dark things start happening all around her. While there’s plenty of stuff in “Hereditary” which will make you uncomfortable, these models play a big role in the creep factor. We spoke with Steve Newburn, the owner of Applied Arts FX Studio in Canada, to find out what was involved in making these tiny, detailed works of art. Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: “Hereditary”” has been called, “The Scariest Movie of the Year”

Mum? – I don’t like this. Dad, I don’t like this. – What’s Happening? – Peter!

Narrator: And one reason for that is these creepy model houses.

Steve Newburn: In this movie, the models almost became a character in the movie in a sense.

Narrator: Steve Newburn is the owner of Applied Arts FX Studio in Canada. He’s done visual effects for “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception.”

Newburn: My team and I, we built all the prosthetics and models for “Hereditary.”

Narrator: If you haven’t seen it yet, turn back now, because there’s some possible spoilers ahead.

Miniature models are used all the time in movies. Filmed in a way to make them look like a life-sized object.

Newburn: Usually with miniature work, the intent is not to see it. It’s intended to duplicate a real thing.

Narrator: But in “Hereditary”, the miniatures were actually part of the story. Toni Collette’s character creates the models in preparation for a gallery. Steve and his crew were tasked with making about 15 of them to match the life-sized film sets.

Newburn: We had a thousand pieces at one point and really didn’t know exactly how they went together.

Narrator: The whole process took quite a bit of time to complete.

Newburn: Ten weeks with a crew of about half a dozen people.

Narrator: The buildings included a funeral home, a preschool, a hospice and an accident scene. The largest of the models was a copy of the family home. And its exteriors were modelled after a real house.

Newburn: Yeah, I went down in 6-8 weeks before they started filming and just kind of surveyed the house. Took several hundred photos, a bunch of measurements, that sort of thing.

Narrator: He worked with the director to nail down all the details.

Newburn: Flooring, they’d sent us samples, wallpaper, they would send up samples. All that stuff would be taken and scaled down to the appropriate scale.

Narrator: The house was built in nine separate pieces.

Newburn: We built the entire thing as a giant puzzle where you could remove sections of it to shoot from that location.

Narrator: The models that didn’t need to resemble the set, were built using generic images online as a guide. Like the preschool. All of the furniture was either handmade or 3D printed depending on the complexity.

Newburn: If they were a wood finish, odds are we actually made them out of wood. If they were something that was metal or super detailed, 3D printed quite often.

Narrator: They had multiple in-house 3D printers working simultaneously, while outsourcing some of the work. They also had to create some creepy looking figurines of the characters.

Newburn: The people were, they were all 3D printed. Some of them were sculpted. Toni Collette for example, we took that from a digital scan of Toni we did in New York. The grandmother was a scan of somebody else.

Narrator: The car used in the most disturbing scene in the movie also had to look just like the one in the film.

Newburn: The car we modelled and 3D printed. It was a Volvo, I believe it was a V70. It’s the exact model car they used in the movie.

Narrator: Some of the models were finished and then taken apart to make them look like they were in progress.

Newburn: There was a lot of pieces of furniture, for example, that we made that we just like, let’s leave that out on the side and it’s on a shelf somewhere. She hasn’t quite finished it. That kind of thing.

Narrator: Another important set piece was a house sinking into the ground. It was made with card foam and covered in real dirt and soil.

Newburn: Supposed to be showcasing time passing. And like, these things have been sinking into the ground like quicksand kind of thing. And as they get further down, they’re also a lot more deteriorated.

Narrator: After all the hard work, many of the models were ultimately destroyed by Toni Collette’s character as she starts breaking down.

Don’t you ever raise your voice at me! I am your mother!

Newburn: They were all built to be smashed.

Narrator: Steve says that they actually filmed the scene for smashing the models, which ended up being cut from the film.

Newburn: Some of the ones that were actually intended to be break-away and come apart and get squished were built out of basswood and balsa wood. Other ones that weren’t intended to be smashed where MDF, which is a high-density fibre, like cardboard kind of wood.

Narrator: But Steve says watching his masterpieces get destroyed is all just part of the job.

Newburn: It’s kind of run of the mill for the miniature side of things. Most of the time when you’re building a miniature, it’s for the purpose of it being blown up, or smashed, or destroyed in some respect. It’s actually the thing you kind of look forward to.

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