The horror thriller “False Positive” questions a mother’s intuition, as Lucy (Ilana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) struggle to get pregnant until they find Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), who seems like a dream fertility doctor. However, once Lucy gets pregnant, she starts to notice something sinister and tries to uncover the unsettling truth.
New York-based VFX house Phosphene worked on the film, handling everything from on-set supervision to VFX design to character animation. As part of its work, Phosphene had to reshoot and reimagine a long tracking sequence where Lucy lays in the bathtub. Starting with water and bubbles, Lucy submerges herself, and the tub quickly overflows with blood.
According to Phosphene Co-founder and VFX Supervisor John Bair, “This scene was originally captured during production with a different concept in mind, but as we moved into post, we realized we wanted to go in a new direction for it. Rather than bring back the cast and crew, we decided to recreate the scene using life-size and miniature props and capture the VFX elements ourselves, which saved money and time.”
First, Phosphene built a life-size, yet shallower version of the tub to capture the suds rippling through the water. Despite being unwieldy, a full-scale element was essential for believability in the look and dynamics of the bubbly water surface. Then the team built a half-scale miniature version of the tub and the actress and shot pass after pass of blood filling the tub, so they could have different options as needed.
According to Bair, “Here, the half-scale model worked to our advantage in giving us unnatural and surprising movement in the flow of blood as it billowed into the bath water. We were able to mix and match these blood elements to create a very unsettling and unexpected moment.”
Phosphene used a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, which Bair notes matched seamlessly with the other footage in post, allowing Phosphene to focus on the creative rather than the technology.
“We didn’t want to use still images, we wanted life in it, so we created and shot it ourselves,” notes Bair. “We ended up completely repurposing the shot and using it in a different way than originally imagined. Once we captured the new elements, we ingested them with DaVinci Resolve Studio and replaced the surface of the water in the shots with our compositing software, creating the blood effect we were looking for.”
Bair adds, “Even though most of our work is focused on the digital side of things, we like to incorporate real elements whenever possible. Whether it was for this scene or other parts of the film, such as moments of blood pooling into mysterious forms on the floor or blood permeating through Lucy’s hallucinatory visions, having those elements adds a level of realism to the VFX. Being able to shoot something real always improves the quality of the VFX, and it’s fun to stretch our creative muscles.”
“While I enjoy working on all genres, I always love horror and sci-fi productions because I grew up enthralled with them, and they piqued my interest in VFX,” he explains. “Currently, I find that horror, especially independent horror, is loaded with exciting new filmmakers and unique voices. There’s so much creativity and collaboration and I like working in this type of environment.”
During the Halloween season, Bair tries to catch on any indie horror that he might have missed, while revisiting favorites such as “The Shining,” “Midsommar,” “The Babadook,” “It Follows,” and “Let the Right One In.”