Following Bird Box and Snowpiercer, Sweet Home is Netflix’s newest contribution to the onslaught of post-apocalyptic shows we’ve seen in recent years. The show was based on a webcomic of the same name by Kim Kan Bi and Hwan Young Chan first published in October of 2017. The original webcomic was so popular that lead actors Song Kang and Lee Do Hyun (who played Lee Eun Hyuk) were already fans before joining the project. With the webcomic having such a strong following, it only makes sense that the drama held Netflix’s top spot in over 10 countries when it premiered.
The show, like the original webcomic, tells the story of an epidemic turning everyone into monsters, and how residents of a building are handling it. And while the central question “are humans the real monsters?” may feel cliche, the series more than makes up for it with their tender moments that look into the characters’ psyches and its heart-thumping action. And with its USD$27 million budget, it’s unsurprising that the computer-generated imagery is another claim to this series’s fame.
Director Lee brought together companies from across the globe to create an all-star visual effects team including Legacy Effects, the Oscar-nominated, Emmy winning FX Studio that brought Baby Yoda to Life, Spectral Motion, the Practical effects, and design company responsible for Stranger Things, and Westworld, a top visual effects studio in South Korea.
And even though the series is very reliant on its computer-generated imagery, you would be wrong to think that that’s all these characters are. While the monsters’ movements and details would of course require digital editing, Director Lee wanted to make sure their monster actors already looked pretty realistic during filming.
As each character’s monsterization is different depending on their psychological changes, all the monsters look and behave differently. In this article, we’ll be breaking down some of favourite monsters and how they were achieved on the production set.
The Blind Monster
Originally a resident of the Green Roof Apartment, he turned into a blind goblin-like creature due to his desire to kill his boss. This monster used to possess eyes, but the top half of its head was sliced off in a fight with Jayhun, a resident who wields a Korean martial arts sword, revealing a lotus root-looking head, giving it its other moniker, “Lotus Root Monster”. The monster’s body compensated by increasing its sense of hearing, causing one of its ears to grow larger.
As the directors wanted the monsters to look half-human, they hired choreographer Kim Seol Jin to work with their visual effects supervisor and performed as the blind monster. Kim Seol Jin had to put on hours' worth of special effects makeup before covering the exposed upper half of the monster's head.
They then used green tape so they could edit the top of his head to look like a lotus root.
Aside from the special effect make-up and post-production visual effects, the production crew went ahead and made life-sized models and animatronics that controls the facial movements of the monsters to help human actors visualize better on set.
The tongue monster was the 2nd monster many of the survivors encountered when they investigated why the lobby is locked up. It is tall, with a large forehead. When hunting, its lower jaw, throat, and the upper chest opens up to reveal a long tongue, which it uses to fight, sucking the insides of whatever creature it is attached to, monsters and humans alike.
In the show, the monster is seen sticking its long tongue through the metal grills of the lobby’s main entrance to get to its victims before sucking the life out of the residents.
This was filmed with an actor donning special effects makeup. As the creature has a wide range of facial movements, the SFX for each scene was different. When the scene called for the monster to show its large mouth, the makeup for its open mouth would run from the top of the actor's mouth down to his chest. There were then green squares running along the inside of the monster's mouth so they could use computer-generated imagery on it later.
When it is time to film the tongue of the monster, the crew uses a green rod to go through the metal grids before editing it in post-production.
Since the monsters humans turn into are based on their deepest desires, the protein monster, also known as the steroid monster, came from the desire to be stronger. Though its human self is unknown, many assume that he was a bodybuilder. And just like its muscular appearance, the protein monster is immensely strong, much more so than other monsters in the story, even killing and eating some of its own kind like the blind monster.
Due to its size, the Protein Monster wasn’t controlled by any model or animatronic. Instead, an actor would have to put on a special makeup and prosthetics or motion tracking suit before acting out the action sequence.
While filming outside of the Green Roof apartment, the production crew couldn’t build a big monster to use on the field. Hence, they decided to use virtual production to help visualize the protein monster on set. Sweet Home became the first Korean production to use NCam. What NCam does essentially shows you how your digital elements will fit on set. Director Lee Eung Bok used this to virtually place the Protein Monster on set. So while they were shooting on set, an actor in a motion tracksuit would be acting out the Protein Monsters' actions offset, and they would integrate seamlessly on the NCam.
This monster was also known as the Spider Monster for its ability to move dexterously through vents and climb walls while chasing its prey. To capture the monster’s movements exactly how he wanted it, Director Lee Eung Bok enlisted the help of Troy James, a contortionist, and professional creature actor.
Onset, Troy was often clad in a green suit. He would have to run up and downstairs with his back bent over, or swing around while being tethered to the ceiling. Being able to push his body to the extremes really helped give the Tentacles Monster its form.
Out of the green suit, Troy’s movements were also recorded to be used for reference.
’We didn’t want the monsters to look too human or monstrous, so we had to strike a balance with the visual effects and make-up,’’ said director Lee at a virtual press conference on the creation of Sweet Home’s monsters.
‘’There are hardly any scenes without computer-generated imagery. This kind of series with many computer-generated imagery sequences is very rare in South Korea, and we had a lot of fun experimenting with the visual effects, even the failures. We had several VFX teams which even came all the way from Hollywood.’’
If you have yet to watch Netflix’s Sweet Home, be sure to check it out and marvel at its smooth and seamless visual effects and monsters!
Check out our previous Netflix Cinematography review on Dark