While the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone and direction of Martin Scorsese are certainly garnering acclaim when it comes to “Killers of the Flower Moon,” there’s another aspect of the film earning praise that’s somewhat invisible: the visual effects.
The epic drama charts the true story of a series of murders of Osage in 1920s Oklahoma, but while the production set up shop in Oklahoma where the murders actually took place, “invisible” visual effects were still crucial to the film’s storytelling — to the point that the film is one of 20 on the Oscars shortlist for Best Visual Effects.
“Visual effects is just a tool that is dependent on the way the filmmaker uses that tool to tell the story,” visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman said of his approach to working with Scorsese in the latest episode of TheWrap’s How I Did It, presented by Apple TV+. The two developed a relationship on “Silence” and Scorsese’s cutting-edge “The Irishman,” and for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Helman’s work was essential to a number of aspects of the story – namely the sickness that envelops various characters as they’re poisoned.
“A big part of the story is that these four or five characters were getting poisoned,” Helman explained. “We did some research in terms of what it means to be poisoned. We had to also manage the sickness of those characters and without that, you actually don’t have that story.”
Indeed, in the How I Did It video you can see that the characters’ weight and color were altered in post-production to further reflect their sickness in a subtle collaboration with the film’s makeup team.
Other invisible visual effects included adding a hat to a character that wasn’t wearing one (“Nobody understood who he was because in three or four scenes before he was wearing a hat, so Marty says, ‘Do you think you can put him in a hat?’”), filling the landscape with oil rigs and cows, and even changing the page of the book that DiCaprio’s character is seen reading.
“In the movie, there’s a scene in which Ernest takes look at the history of the Osage. We shot the scene with him paging through the book, but we didn’t have the right pictures. After we shot the scene, we worked with Mary Ann Bauer, who is the archivist, so we had to replace those pictures that he was referring to.”
The visual effects team was also called in for the final shot of the film.
“The last shot film has a lot of symbolism, there’s a certain perfection about the round thing according to Marty,” he said. “We start on the drum and the camera pulls up 200 feet and then we reveal these people dancing around the drum. So I was going to have to put people together from different takes just to make it about 400 or 500 people. We also needed to clean up the environment and I documented the Osage people so that we can build them in CG if we need to. And all that was part of storytelling.”