‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ on Netflix: How ‘The Viewing’ came to an end

It took some wax, some heat, and a lot of goo to make the ending of Panos Cosmatos’ fan-favorite chapter of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” Episode 7, “The Viewing.”]

If you want a fake exploding head to look believable, you need to fill it up first. Just ask Dennis Berardi, Visual Effects Supervisor on Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

“We filled it with chunks of identical meat and some meaty chunks. It was all stuff that wasn’t really organic. It had to hold the shapes and fit,” Berardi said.

It wasn’t the only part of this process that required a few handy touches to bring something horrible to life. All of this work was for “The Viewing,” the Panos Cosmatos-directed episode of the Netflix horror anthology. In it, a handful of strangers are summoned by a wealthy eccentric (Peter Weller) to witness a strange addition to his collection. After a night of rare booze and space cocaine, the group gathers around a mysterious monolith before realizing that what’s inside is more than they bargained for.

The crazy thing about what Berardi and the team at “Cabinet of Curiosities” did to make this head pop possible is that it’s just a slice of the crazy cake topping “The Viewing”. Berardi said over 300 artists from five companies (including his own Herne Hill) contributed to the show’s efforts. The final 20 minutes of the episode is a cavalcade of strange deaths and even stranger powers.

It’s an ending that wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the steady buildup that takes place before the chaos arrives. (This build is something Berardi has done on several previous del Toro collaborations, including Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water.) In order to create this mood, some unique markings associated with the setting of the episode from the late 70’s.

“Panos wanted a real vintage look, right down to the lens flares. So we did some research and before we started filming, we shot Panos-approved lens flares against black. We had a library of things that he could pull into post-production,” Berardi said.

These torches are prominent in the Obelisk Chamber, where a rogue cloud of weed smoke awakens the squishy horror trapped within. The moment a giant rock breaks apart helps set the tone for what comes after. Like many of these other elements, Berardi and the team achieved this by marrying the animated and the digital.

“We built a practical version of this, designed by our production designer and beautifully built as a set piece. We scanned it and digitized it. On set we had a closed position with it and an open position with it and we animated the crumbling,” Berardi said. “We’ve tried to be authentic with the laws of physics they’re made of. We got the idea that it would be some kind of metal alloy or meteorite-like substance. Panos absolutely loved it.”

The seeing Netflix face Sofia Boutella

For the first three characters who meet their deaths in the auditorium, Cosmatos staged each one in direct, frontal shots. Targ (Michael Therriault) melts in bigger pieces, Dr. Zahra (Sofia Boutella) disbands and Guy (Steve Agee) has the grand distinction of being the Belloq of the group (after of course screaming, “It’s prooooobing meeeeee”). In addition to matching that tension of skin resolution, Berardi made it a little easier to pair facial composites with their handy dummy counterparts.

“For each head, we built a fake low-res fusible head. We also digitally scanned the actors in 3D. I had the performance of a real actor. We photographed her on the set on site, in the lighting with the anamorphs as if melting. The actors’ performances did most of the work. We moved our digital mockup over her head to match,” Berardi said.

An additional challenge is that the team didn’t have unlimited opportunities to get it right. They had two wax molds each of Therriault and Boutella’s faces and three for Agees.

“We took time-lapse shots on blue screen and melted images of them with heat guns and heaters. It took about 20 minutes of time lapse to get the head melted the way we wanted,” Berardi said. “We spoke on the phone and I showed Pano’s work in progress. And we spent hours just trying to figure out how to do it. In that way he was a real joy. I’d say, ‘I don’t like the piece around the lip. Can I take that away and try something else?’ And he would say, “Yes, do it!” It was really a collaboration.”

Like the chunks that fall off faces, not all goosebumps are created equal. When productions need something tacky for situations like this, there are standard resins that are easy to read on screen. Cosmatos wanted to make sure the handy orange ooze felt like it was “deliberately” moving for the creature’s liquefied form inside the obelisk.

“Geoff Hill is the practical special effects genius in that regard. We did all sorts of tests and we had different viscosities of different materials and he was playing with this Methocel stuff that he was bringing to the table. Panos thought it had an interesting quality. He thought it might be a little thin. When you have a bucket of goosebumps on set and you throw it out, you don’t get the performative aspects,” Berardi said. “But we filmed it in different incarnations and lighting configurations and did old-school gravity tricks, filmed it as it crashed, and then reversed the footage. It became a physically correct reference for our animators to emulate.”

The seeing Netflix Peter Weller Goo Face

After finding the right thickness and direction to exit, the next step was the logistics of how everything moved around Weller’s face.

“Panos choreographed it very specifically. He wanted it to go just over the nose. Guillermo wanted it to come out of the ears. So we really had to make a dirigible character out of goosebumps,” Berardi said.

At first glance, the final shot of “The Viewing” doesn’t seem as unsettling as watching people disintegrate into a pile of guts. But there’s something eerie about seeing the creature that formed in the mansion escape from the city’s drainage system into a big world. This final look really required just as much detail and effort as anything that came before it.

“This took a couple of months to put together. We had a man in a suit for the Blob Guy after he was formed and then we added his antenna digitally. We shot him on a fairly small set piece and then added the world around him,” Berardi said. “It started with some concept sketches for Panos. He had a very specific idea. He knew he wanted the gas station, he wanted the skyline, he wanted some storage buildings and everything had to look kind of run down. We just started showing them sketches and then started building in 3D.”

From a workflow perspective, Berardi said it helped to have a director who understood the full effects process, especially when it came to adding more subtle details like the ones embedded in that final sequence.

“Panos is a digital native. I can show him a model, I can show him a pre-vis, I can show him untextured, gray shaded, post-vis and he can comment and see what it will end up being,” Berardi said. “He choreographed every single animation, right down to every car on the bridge and how everything moved. Even the lighting. There’s this electromagnetic pulse that our creature emits as it comes out of the tunnel on the other side. His agony really comes through and there are these concentric circles that we radiate from him that snuff out all the lights.”

When it comes to “The Viewing,” most people will remember the big swings. The joy of this spectacle also came out on Berardi’s side.

“You really have to get involved. It was just a great experience that probably won’t be repeated because it’s so widespread,” Berardi said. “We’ve seen all the way. From the horned blob creature that shows up first, to the – excuse the expression – little prolapse-like thing that happens. That kind of detail was just great fun. We built a wax gun and melted it. We had fake guns and melted that down. How often do you manage to just melt people?”

Part of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, The Viewing is now available to stream on Netflix.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/11/cabinet-of-curiosities-netflix-the-viewing-ending-1234781184/ ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ on Netflix: How ‘The Viewing’ came to an end

Lindsay Lowe

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