Gustav Hoegen, animatronics designer, has worked on some of Hollywood’s most iconic films. He has helped to bring to life the characters of the adorable mechanic Babu Frik in Rise of the Skywalker, and the tall engineer from Prometheus. His most stressful experience in his career was on Hatching, a Finnish horror movie about body horror that premiered at Sundance. It is now available in theaters and on demand. Hatching, unlike other productions, is smaller in scale and only has one creature to create. Hoegen’s team was responsible all aspects of Hatching’s creation. He tells The Verge that it’s not easy to do this alone. Tinja is a young girl from a family of vloggers. She stumbles upon a strange egg. It hatches eventually and she hides it in her bedroom. Because the creature’s evolution and reveal are important parts of the story, I won’t go into too much detail about it. (I won’t show the entire beast in this article. However, you can see a trailer of it in the trailer below. It’s clear that Tinja and the creature have a strong bond, which only gets more bizarre as the movie progresses.
Hoegen claims he was immediately sold on the project after hearing the story and viewing early concept art. He was given detailed instructions before he began to build it. He explains that the artwork was extremely detailed and well prepared. Hanna Bergholm would emphasize the nuances and the small details. She’d send me lots reference materials, such as skin texture and feathering type. We would basically dissect the entire creature from top to bottom.”
Hoegen and his team noticed a major change in the production’s scale, which was smaller than a blockbuster movie. Productions like these have many departments for things such as molding and painting. Most people are only involved with one step of the process. Hatching was different.
“All of this was done in-house. Hoegen says that every little detail has a consequence. “That was the biggest challenge. I had to organize every aspect. I usually can focus on building animatronics, then I can hand it over. It was a huge learning curve. Although I thought I knew everything about filmmaking, you can learn so much by doing it yourself. I was familiar with the techniques you used. It was seeing it through from beginning to end that made the biggest difference. Although the process took a little longer, Hoegen said that the end result was still as good as if it had come from a Star Wars creature shop.
The large team of puppeteers who operated the Hatching monster in the movie included four people who operated the limbs, one person who operated the body and head, and Hoegen, who was responsible for the facial expressions. He said that one of the challenges was to look friendly or frightening depending on the situation. One of the techniques used was to give the monster huge eyes. Hoegen states that the monster can look very angry or very innocent. “How you use your eyes, how wide you open them, and the artwork will determine how much you get. We didn’t make it too grotesque.
Despite this, Hatching is a fascinating film. It’s quite disgusting. Hoegen used a low-tech strategy to achieve this effect. Hoegen explains that one of the main requirements in the brief was that it must be goopy at every moment. It adds life to the creature and is great. It will look more real the more you lubricate it. It’s a classic trick. They lubricated the hell out of them in the ’80s monster films that we grew to love. They’ll tell you, “More lube is better.” It gives it more life. The lube was a huge, major factor.
At work, hatching puppeteers.
Image: IFC Films
It seems that having a singular vision helped, as Hatching is undoubtedly the film’s highlight, a bizarrely adorable, hideous beast. The smaller production made filming more difficult, and a single delay could prove costly. Hoegen was especially concerned about what might happen to his head. He says that every morning, he would wake up with a knot in his chest, hoping and praying that none of the motors would go out. You can always patch up any damage to the skin. It’s a quick fix. However, if something happens to the mechanical head you will need to perform surgery.
Fortunately, there weren’t any major problems on set. Hoegen, a veteran who has worked on large franchises with rabid fans, found it extremely stressful due to how important the creature was to his film. He says that the pressure can be unbearable at times. It’s best to not think about it.”