Creating the illusion of shrinking on the big screen is quite a challenge. Corinna Mehner led production on the first two installments of the HELP series and knows the kind of intense preparation necessary to shoot using different levels of scale. Corinna explains how, in addition to typical green-screen filming, the characters in HELP, I SHRUNK MY FRIENDS were placed inside specially created backgrounds. The technical development was much more complex, and each detail of every shot had to be meticulously planned out. The production used so-called „scale sets“ created especially for the movie. This included books, fountain pens, dart boards, toothbrushes, football boots, and backpacks that were ten times their normal size, allowing the actors to physically interact with the objects:
„We developed a technique that had never been implemented on this scale before, so that we could capture as many shots as possible with the shrunken characters using a moving camera. On set, the backgrounds were shot with a normal ARRI Alexa camera. Later in the VFX studio, they were recreated digitally and blown up by a ratio of 1:10, so that we could synchronize the camera movements with the background using a motion control camera system.
Because distances increase tenfold at a ratio of 1:10, they pose a real challenge. If an actor has to run one meter across a kitchen table in the original ‘plate’, they have to run ten meters in the studio. That means hours and days of complex tests. Naturally, we dreamed up all sorts of new visually breathtaking shots for the shrunken friends, like a high-speed skateboard ride, dodging spinning tops, and an encounter with a – from the perspective of a 15 cm tall teenager – gigantic dog.”
But working with a green screen posed yet another challenge for the actors, according to Mehner: „They were acting with other normal-sized actors that weren’t on location. The original background image with ‘life-sized’ actors on the original set, known as the ‘plate’, is played back live for the director. Laser pointers are then used to project the position of the life-sized actors on the studio wall, so the ‘shrunken’ actors on the green screen know where to look. The shrunken actors often need to follow several laser points to ensure that they’re looking in exactly the right direction, so the smaller characters can be integrated perfectly into the original image. Even when each shot has been perfectly prepared and tested by the VFX team, unpredictable technical difficulties often arise, like changes in perspective. All in all, it’s a highly precise interplay between the actors, the director, the camera, lighting, and the visual effects team.”