Goosebumps 2 Interview: Derek Spears, VFX Supervisor – Pixomondo
February 19, 2019 – VFX Supervisor Derek Spears is a three-time Emmy Award winner for his work as the Facility Visual Effects Supervisor of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” He was also Pixomondo’s VFX Supervisor on the HBO/Bud Light Clio-winning “Joust” Super Bowl 2019 ad. Spears is a member of both the Film and Television Academies, serving on the executive committee for the latter. He spoke to VFX Online about his work on “Goosebumps 2.” The film came out last fall and is now available on DVD, Blu Ray and Digital.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (or simply Goosebumps 2 as marketed on home release) is a 2018 American horror comedy film directed by Ari Sandel and written by Rob Lieber, from a story by Lieber and Darren Lemke. A sequel to 2015’s Goosebumps, it is based on the children’s horror book series of the same name by R. L. Stine and stars Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell and Ken Jeong, with Jack Black reprising his role as Stine from the first film.
// From Derek Spears, Pixomondo VFX Supervisor/Creative Director
Were you familiar with the ‘Goosebumps 2’ series of children’s books?
Spears: Not the books per see, I was familiar with the previous movie.
Who was on the core team of Pixomondo that worked on ‘Goosebumps 2?’
Spears: It was primarily handled by our Vancouver and Toronto offices. Phil Jones headed the Toronto team and Phillip Nussbaumer lead the Vancouver team. Tefft Smith was the previs supervisor.
How closely did you work with Director Ari Sandel? What are his expectations and approaches about the visual effects?
Spears: This was Ari’s first big Visual Effects movie. He had very specific things he wanted to do with the story telling. We worked together to get characters balanced between CG and practical, and blocking the previz to design the scenes
How do you balance director’s vision with VFX capabilities when creating visual effects for this monster movie?
Spears: This particular movie was on a fairly aggressive shooting and post-production schedule. It meant we had to put some thought into what we wanted to achieve in VFX vs practical early in the production process. As much as we could, we tried to get designs for VFX and pre-viz done early on so Ari could walk into a scene and have a pretty good roadmap of how to shoot what he had already laid out in pre-production. It helped us efficiently shoot what he wanted, and get things rolling early in editorial. In fact, for several of the big effects sequences, the editors started by assembling against the previz and it helped get us started earlier.
How did you approach integrating all these monsters into the live-action?
Spears: We didn’t use a lot of stand-ins as many of the creatures are not sized similar or andromorphically similar to humans either. In past shows, I’ve seen issues with painting out the stand-ins in crowded scenes where they overlapped other performers. We thus opted to block the scenes with some stand-ins or a tennis ball on a stick for an eyeline, then walked it out and shot it clean.
What else did you deliver apart from the monsters?
Spears: We did a variety of environments and effects, from the Tesla tower to book magic effects. The tower itself is CG, and everything shot in the tower including the climb up involved extensions digital backgrounds and a lot of electrical effects.
Can you explain in more detail how the R&D team helped to create some of these monsters?
Spears: Two of the more interesting creatures are the Balloon Spider and the Gummi Bears, neither of which were in the first movie. The Balloon Spider was composed of thousands of independent balloons that need to move together but still have some independent reaction to motion. It was both an interesting animation problem in that we had to make something made of balloons feel heavy, and an interesting simulation problem with all of the individual balloons reacting to things like footsteps.
How challenging was it to create something little and cute but gets bigger and more evil?
Spears: The Gummi Bears provided a challenge for the animators, something we referred to as Tex Avery in the real world (Tex Avery’s animation is famously seen in things like Bugs Bunny.) It needed to have fun squash and stretch but have physical weight so we could believe it in our world. Getting the rendering to work was fairly straightforward when they were small as we had good reference. Once they got bigger, it became challenging to get the texture right so they wouldn’t feel incorrectly scaled.
Tell us more about the Gummi Bears…
Spears: The Gummi Bears were actually 3 different characters: original Gummi bear size, the 18 inch version after they merged, and then the 6 foot tall version. Each had very different textures and shaders to help sell it’s scale. On top of that we had to develop effects for merging from one size to another. Animation worked hard to find the balance between playful squash and stretch essential to the characters and a weighty physical reality.
Since you were shooting on a greenscreen stage, presumably the backgrounds were all created digitally?
Spears: The only real green screen we used was for the Tesla tower. Everything else was roto as needed. For the Tesla tower, it was shot outside on a parking lot with a giant green screen. We had a virtual backdrop that we placed behind.
What kinds of challenges did you face for some of the sequences you worked on.
Spears: The Gummi Bears was an animation challenge, trying to get it to be playful but real, and interact cleanly with the kids.
The Tesla Tower was a much longer sequence and was challenging for the scale, The final Spider attack and being sucked into the book was technically challenging due to all the effects work.
What type of software did you use for ‘Goosebumps 2?’
Spears: Maya for modelling and animation, Houdini for effects, VRay for rendering and Nuke for compositing.
How long did you work on the ‘Goosebumps 2?’
Spears: It was very short, photography started in March, finished in June and we delivered in time for Halloween!
What’s your upcoming project?
Many thanks to the Pixomondo Team for sharing with us their experiences.
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