Splice (2010): The Creature

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The new, thrilling horror picture, “Splice,” will be released by Warner on June 4.

In the story, Dren is a hybrid of human and animal. In reality, she’s an artful blend of human and visual effects. But it’s Delphine Chaneac who makes her real.

Dren was never intended to be a fully digital character, Natali explains. “I wanted a creature whose humanity we fall in love with. Even though we did extensive R & D on the creature development, the concept is so subtle that I felt there was no way to complete Dren without a real actor. No animator could do what Delphine does.”

Chaneac was cast in Paris prior to her formal audition. As Natali and producer Hoban made their way up Charles de Gaulle Boulevard to the Gaumont offices to begin auditions, they saw her waiting. Hoban recalls, “There was this beautiful woman standing on the sidewalk. She was spectacular but she was the first, so we continued with other candidates, and she remained the gold standard that no others could match. Not only did she have a remarkable ability to play the character from adolescent to adult, and to communicate without words, she was also deceptively strong and performed most of her own stunts.”

Without dialogue, Chaneac devised her own language of trills and purrs to express a wide range of emotion.

“For me, this is a love story,” she says. “Dren wants to love and to be loved, but is kept at a distance because she is not normal. She’s quite sensitive and pure, like a child, yet very aggressive at the same time. She can do and feel what she wants to.”

Acknowledging the character’s athleticism, speed and uncommon strength, Chaneac adds, “It took a great deal of concentration to play because of the extra physical demands.” This included making accommodation for triple-jointed legs, four-fingered hands and a tail.

The actress’ stunt work focused on what stunt coordinator Plato Fountidakis (“The Chronicles of Riddick”) describes as “heightening the abilities of her character. Being a genetically altered human spliced with animal DNA, there are going to be some elements of quick and direct confrontation and extraordinary agility. We incorporated some Hong Kong-style wire work, which is basically acrobatic, with smaller, low-profile harnesses, to give her the ability to jump, perch like a bird, rotate and flip down quickly from a height.”

To complete Dren’s look, the filmmakers employed a combination of practical and visual effects, starting with Oscar®-winning special effects designer Howard Berger (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”), of KNB EFX Group, who oversaw the creature and practical makeup. Berger had previously worked with Steve Hoban on the producer’s second and third films in the “Ginger Snaps” series and was enthusiastic about working with Natali and the conceptual art that had been developed, as it gave him the opportunity to do things KNB had not done before. His efforts meshed with those of C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, toward Natali’s prime directive for realism.

“It’s an intensely technical process but, at its heart, it’s creating a being that we can believe in and relate to emotionally,” Natali says.

Chaneac’s performance informed every stage of development. “Animals can be dangerous and unpredictable and I think that’s what makes Dren so cool,” says Berger, “Delphine brought everything to the table; this character wouldn’t exist without her. Everything, from her look to her movements, which Delphine created, are very specific. She can appear both bird-like and predator-like, as well as child-like,” often in the same moment. “Vincenzo dreamed up this character but Delphine brought it to life.”

For the creature’s eyes, Berger designed ten versions from which Natali selected. They were then modified into cross-shaped pupils, in the form of oversized scleral contact lenses that cover the entire eye. Finally, in post-production, “Dren’s eyes were digitally widened slightly beyond the realm of human norms,” says Bob Munroe, C.O.R.E. Visual Effects Supervisor (“The Tudors”), making his fourth feature collaboration with Natali.

Chaneac’s performance also influenced the younger version of Dren, another human/FX hybrid, played by Abigail Chu. As Natali details, “We grafted a digital head onto Abigail’s body and embedded Delphine’s eye motions. We played back Abigail’s scenes to Delphine and recorded her visual reactions as if she were the child Dren and then, using a new technology, translated that into data that became the digital model. It’s a subtle thing but it helped to give the character continuity.”

Unlike a wholly digitized character, this fusion of flesh and animation depended upon flawless matching, Munroe explains. “Everything Delphine or Abigail did on screen locked us into matching the digital effect exactly the same way. If they’re moving or kicking up their legs, displacing the dress, we animate the creature legs the same way but we’re restricted by their movements. They only have a two-section leg but Dren has three, so how do you make them stand up? How do you make them sit down in a way that the actor isn’t?”

The adult Dren image breaks down to approximately 70% human to 30% CG and the child Dren is a 50/50 split. Eleven additional creatures were developed for the film through practical and digital effects, including various embryonic and infant stages of Dren, plus the products of Clive’s and Elsa’s earlier experimentation: two hybrid entities named Fred and Ginger.