The image of a seemingly perfect family shows its cracks in director Hanna Bergholm’s Hatching.
The film follows Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), a 12-year-old aspiring gymnast desperate to maintain her Mother’s (Sophia Heikkila) tireless demands of perfection and poise. The pressures morph into something otherworldly and dangerous when Tinja finds a strange egg in the woods and decides to nurture it at home. It hatches, giving birth to a monstrous thing that irrevocably shatters the picture of perfection.
To bring the creature to life, Bergholm sought out animatronics designer and creature fx artist Gustav Hoegen (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Prometheus).
Hoegen chatted with Bloody Disgusting about the conception and creation of Hatching’s birdlike monster.
It turns out that Bergholm had a strong vision of her movie monster before even reaching out to the creature fx supervisor. Hoegen explained, “When she first reached out, I have to say it was one of the most complete briefs accompanying her email. [Bergholm] gave a quick description of what she wanted to do; she had all the artwork prepared. She knew what she wanted from the crew in every scene. That alone and the whole concept, story, and the look of the creature; I didn’t hesitate.”
The creature develops throughout the film, changing according to Tinja’s mindset as the social and familial pressures mount.
Hoegen stated, “There were many stages of the metamorphosis; the very first creature you see that hatches from the egg, that was what I built. Then it starts to evolve and change into her doppelganger. Goal Conor O’Sullivan, who did prosthetics, took care of it when it started evolving from the creature that you first see hatching from the big egg I built. So, I believe that there were another four stages, going from very grotesque to more subtle. All of my focus was pretty much on the hatchling, the bird you see when it reveals itself.”
The creature’s design takes heavy cues from nature, in which baby birds have large, bulbous heads compared to their tiny, frail bodies. Hoegen’s answer elaborated on the puppet’s design and movement when asked whether that disproportion created any challenges.
“I’ll start from the very start, basically: you sculpt it, and if it’s not too out of bounds, you can make it work mechanically. What really helped us with this is that this puppet is not internally driven, meaning that motors move the arms or the neck. So, you have the freedom knowing that a puppeteer will support the body plus the head. That’s why you can make the head so ridiculously big with a tiny neck and a very spindly body. It’s good to know, on the day, that a well-trained puppeteer will be able to hold the weight and will later be digitally removed, so we had that to our advantage. Knowing that, within limits, we didn’t have that much constraint as to how disproportionate we could make the creature look, which you would have if you were talking about a person wearing a costume, for example, which we do a lot as well .
“You could never make it as thin; it always has to cover a person. Knowing that puppeteers would be digitally removed, we could go to town and really emphasize the skinny limbs and the sunken chest with the protruding ribcage, etc. We’d pull up reference pictures of people with anorexia; [Bergholm] would point out how she wanted the ribcage to look, how she wanted the skin to fall all over the bones. It starts to sag a bit when there’s hardly any fat there. It’s all of these references that we stuck to, so it was quite a liberating process knowing that we could express ourselves in that way because on the day, we knew that we could still bring it to life without many complications.”
Hoegen’s experience and expertise with animatronics became crucial during production. Especially with a critical moment between Tinja and her bird in the bathtub.
“Again, this is what’s so great about independent filmmaking is that you as a department also have a bit of a say in the shooting schedule; they’ll listen to you because you’ve done it before. [Bergholm] presented me with the script, where the bird hatches and then she puts it in a bath, and so I say, ‘Hold on, the best way to shoot this,’ I said, ‘Is to do all of the close-ups and everything with the girl when the bird is clean. Do that first and leave, say, the hatching and bathing scenes to the last.’ They’re all important scenes, but we got the scene where it emotes with the girl; we’ve got it in the can. Then we can really have fun and put loads of goo on it, make it break out of an egg, and put blood on it, and you know you won’t have to go back on certain things and clean the whole thing up.
“I would break it down in that way. Do the close-ups first, do the lighting and establishing emotional shots with the girl first, and leave all the goo and water till the last because, although there were no mechanics on the body, it was on the head, [water] can still creep in. On occasion, it did splash a bit on the electronics, and certain things happened. In that respect, they were very accommodating to our requests. I believe we shot the bathing scene last, which was really, really good because when the hand flooded, water got into the motors, and that was pretty much the end of the hand. But we got everything else, so it worked out well.”
The puppet’s design, right down to the intricately articulate face, required coordination among multiple members of Hoegen’s team.
“We had a team of five puppeteers – actually six if you include me. We had Damian Farrel, an incredible puppeteer; he’s not just a great performer, but he understands how shots are set up. He worked so closely with the director of photography, the riggers; you name it. He would throw ideas at it, ‘What about this? What about this?’ He wasn’t just there to hold the body and the head; that was his job. That’s the head, not the expressions. Then we had two puppeteers for the arm, each for one arm. Then one puppeteer on the legs made four, and then we also had a movement coordinator who was also very good. It’s good to have somebody that can direct the puppeteers, who can relay all the information and can also jump in on controlling the hand, for example. Then I performed the expressions, which are the eyes, the mouth, etc. So yeah, it took six people to bring it alive, plus Nikki [Belding], who did all the cosmetics. She would jump in between takes and make sure the puppet didn’t have its hair or needed a touch-up of paint, etc. You have a team of seven looking after that puppet throughout.”
See the creature in action when Hatching releases in theaters and on VOD on April 29, 2022.