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What The A Quiet Place Series Looks Like Without Special Effects

"A Quiet Place: Day One" has finally arrived after years of waiting. A somber spin-off dominated by Lupita Nyong'o and Frodo the cat, it's yet another reminder that the Scott Beck and Bryan Woods-created franchise boasts one of the niftiest, most renewable concepts for a film series to come out of Hollywood in a long time. This time, building on the Millbrook-set opening of "A Quiet Place Part II," co-writer and director Michael Sarnoski trades the forests and corn fields of the previous installments for the urban environment of New York City. And the morbid spectacle of watching the aliens destroy the biggest city in the United States constitutes one of the film's key points of interest.

While we wait for more to be revealed about the process of making "Day One," it's as good a time as any to look back on how director John Krasinski and his team captured lightning in a bottle with the first two "A Quiet Place" films. Both films became notably huge successes for their budget brackets, and much of that success can be attributed to the way they made the most of every penny by using visual effects sparingly and efficiently. Sadly, there's no traditional VFX demo reel available online for either "A Quiet Place" or "A Quiet Place Part II," but the behind-the-scenes featurettes and B-roll footage provide plenty enough opportunity to marvel at how much of the horrifying alien carnage we see on screen was shot practically.

The truck was rigged like a motion simulator

The climax of the first "A Quiet Place" is essentially one long, nervous, blood-curdling nighttime standoff against a creature that has tracked the Abbotts to their farm. It's a scene that aptly demonstrates the series' ethos when it comes to the use of visual effects: Keep them at a minimum, use them only when necessary, and let the camera, the editing, and the series' revolutionary sound design do the rest of the work. We see relatively little of the creature, but the scene is tense because it could jump out from the dark at any moment. One of the moments in which we do see it is when Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) are attacked by it in the pickup truck — and, save for the alien itself, that scene was mostly shot practically.

A behind-the-scenes featurette on the visual effects of "A Quiet Place" illustrates as much, showing that, to shoot the scene, the pickup truck was placed on a rotating platform like a motion simulator that could spin and shake around as necessary. If you look closely at the scene in the final movie, the camera angles mostly avoid showing the outside of the truck as the alien is attacking it; director John Krasinski wisely keeps the focus on Simmonds and Jupe's performances, with the effects team providing a practical way to make the situation more physically intelligible for them and for the viewer.

Humans mocapped the monsters on set

"A Quiet Place" may not rely on showing the creatures to induce chills, but whenever the long-limbed aliens do appear in a scene, it's always a doozy. And the movement of the creatures is a horror show all by itself, at once brutally hostile and chillingly precise; seldom have movie monsters lived up so thoroughly to the title of "killing machines." Although much of the credit for that strong impression goes to the VFX artists and animators who render the aliens as tangibly, realistically, and impressively as possible — and to the writers, who subtly pepper the film with a lot of world-building details — their work wouldn't be possible without the use of a human element, in the form of performance capture.

As revealed in featurettes, to create the animation in "A Quiet Place," actors were placed in motion tracking suits and actually acted out the creatures' movements and stances, which were then transferred to digital form. Since the creatures mostly walk around on all fours and stay close to the ground when moving, their performers often had to act while hunching down on the floor or crawling on their hands and knees. The VFX team actually helped John Krasinski to transform into the monster with motion-capture magic, though test audiences couldn't stop laughing at seeing Krasinski in a mocap suit. The image of the actors giving it their all on set is considerably less intimidating than what we see in the final film, but not one bit less impressive.

Underwater ninja

Generally speaking, the visual effects team of "A Quiet Place" made an effort to employ as much practical wizardry as possible, which meant that, when the aliens were out of sight, their actions were frequently performed for real — as in the aforementioned instance of the pickup truck. In some cases, actors were hired to do what the aliens would be doing, in order to create a visual reference for the cast and crew; one notable example was the basement flooding scene.

In the scene, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) wakes up in the basement and finds that it's been flooded with water from broken pipes, and that an alien is lurking in the water. The scene was shot by actually filling a basement set with water, and, to get a precise idea of how the alien's movement would cause the objects floating in the water — as well as the water itself — to move around, an actor (presumably one of the stunt performers, as no actor is credited for any creature role in the film) was put in a full-body black suit and made to move around in the water as the alien would, sometimes going fully underwater and then rising back to the surface.

The silo was practical, mostly

For a movie with such a limited budget, "A Quiet Place" was able to pull off an impressive amount of practical set construction, and one particularly striking example is the silo sequence — which was shot in two actual silo sets, one for the outside and one for the inside. The silo had to be constructed on location, since there was no silo in the spot production had in mind. Wide shots of John Krasinski sitting on top of the silo were achieved with this six-story real silo, while all scenes atop the silo were shot on a separate set.

The most arduous scene with the silo, though, takes place inside of it. Per a featurette from Fame Focus, for the scene in which Regan and Marcus are trapped inside the silo, an actual tank was filled with a 12-inch layer of corn. Underneath the corn was a membrane that allowed the actors to pass through without letting the corn leak out; Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe would descend below the membrane when their characters were sinking, and then re-emerge through the membrane at the right time.

In other words, the scene was largely shot practically — but a bit of CGI was used for cleanup. The were some shots in which the membrane fabric peeked out through the corn surface and became visible on camera; in those shots, CGI corn was added in wherever necessary to cover up the membrane.

The top of the silo was a set

Much like the inside of the silo was shot in the interior of a practical silo set, the outside — specifically, in the scenes just before Regan and Marcus fall in, when they're standing on top of the silo and lighting a fire — were also shot practically. The whole structure of the silo is real, as is the fire they light. But for reasons of safety, practicality, lighting, and sound, the filmmakers replicated the top of the silo inside an indoor studio.

We can see the process of shooting the scene in B-roll footage on YouTube; Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe walk around the practical silo roof while surrounded by grids and filming equipment. Then, of course, the studio environment around them was replaced in post-production by what we see in the movie: the night sky. Interestingly, the sky in that scene is just a big black mass with no stars. "In the beginning we were going to use greenscreen for the background, but we were running out of money because the number of VFX shots were growing," cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen told Filmmaker Magazine. "So we had to be creative and we just ended up doing a black space behind them. We hoped to put in a few stars in the sky [in post], but that never happened. So it was just a black background and a little wind machine. It was very simple. We lit it from the floor with lamps on stands."

Small stunts like the fire weren't faked

Another compilation of B-roll footage from the set of "A Quiet Place" on YouTube shows the filming process for the day-to-day life sequence set in the Abbotts' farm home early on in the film. The footage provides a fascinating glimpse into the process of creating the establishing scenes that set the tone for the whole film and depicts the precise moment in which one particular instance of CGI work was used to augment the live action.

That instance would be the fire Marcus starts by knocking over a lantern while playing Monopoly with Regan, making a loud noise that nearly alerts aliens to their location. The set footage reveals that, when that scene was shot, the lantern — in addition to not really being fire-powered — wasn't really broken after being knocked over by Noah Jupe, nor did the carpet underneath it really catch fire. All the lantern did upon hitting the floor was go out. In a separate shot, the fire was done practically: "This is a live fire," John Krasinski said in a video for Vanity Fair. "Noah [Jupe] made it clear that he wanted to do it ... and keep it real. ... If we did it in post, it wouldn't feel as real or authentic."

Stuntmen are the real heroes

John Krasinski returned to direct "A Quiet Place Part II," and much like he did on the first film, he tried to use practical effects as much as possible. The sequel's increased budget did allow the production team to get a little more creative with those effects. Unlike the first film, which mostly keeps to the Abbots and features barely any substantial appearances by outside characters, "Part II" broadens the scope to take a wider view of how the world was affected by the alien invasion, including on Day One.

In the scenes that clearly show the aliens attacking people, CGI was naturally used for the aliens themselves, but the people were real more often than not. A compilation of behind-the-scenes featurettes available on YouTube reveals that, in the scene that shows Lee (Krasinski) and Regan in a tavern as the invasion begins, the effects team had stuntmen flying around the set as if being flung by the alien for real. In one case, a stunt performer was actually foisted over a bar counter. The alien was then added in post-production, with the animators basing its movement off of the way it would have to be interacting with the stunt performers in order to create those visuals. In the end, all the effort seems to have paid off, as all the alien attack scenes in the film achieve a viscerality that would not have been possible with 100% CGI models for victims.

A passerby becomes animated

The production team behind "A Quiet Place Part II" tried to use as much real, practical movement and choreography as possible in the film's action sequences. But they did, of course, use CGI in some cases. Namely, in the scenes that depict the alien grabbing people or striking them so violently as to kill them. One of the behind-the-scenes featurettes for the film on YouTube includes one particularly fascinating and educational instance of CGI being added in halfway through a scene, modifying an extra from a real actor into a CGI model.

The scene in question is also contained within the Day One sequence. It's the one where Regan runs out of the car and is rescued by her father in the nick of time, and then we see the alien jump down from a roof and strike down a panicking citizen. The character is played by an actress running, but she's replaced by a digital model at the exact moment the alien's hand makes contact with her. In the take with the live actress in it, the performer is pulled backward by a wire and falls onto a crashpad, and the model begins in the same place but can be thrown much farther.

Flipping the police car

In the Day One sequence, the very first look we — as well as the characters — get at the creatures is when one of them jumps into the frame and slams into a police car, knocking it over on its roof and then crashing into a store window. It's the moment that causes everyone in the block to panic and start running around, including Lee, who rushes back to the pickup truck to get himself and Regan out of there. Once again, the alien was digital — but the police car was very much not.

A behind-the-scenes featurette on YouTube reveals that, in order to film that moment as realistically as possible, an actual car was flipped over on set. That mighty stunt was accomplished by placing a contraption underneath the car that catapulted its left side over the car's axis. As revealed by John Krasinski, a lot of thought went into what stunts would be used to convey the aliens' presence, and then into the specific vehicular model that would be used in the police car shot. Since "A Quiet Place" is a grounded horror series in which the rules and mechanics of the universe matter greatly, the aliens have a defined weight and strength that had to be respected and kept consistent during attack sequences.

Radio vs. empty space

Although there aren't any standard VFX demo reels for "A Quiet Place" or "A Quiet Place Part II" — with the step-by-step rendering and compositing layers that they customarily show being added to each shot — available to watch online, there are a few such moments in the behind-the-scenes featurettes. One of those moments is the climactic one in which Marcus holds up a radio to an alien's face and walks slowly towards it, having finally found a true weakness in the invading species.

It's a great textbook example of how cinema is the art of make-believe, effects-heavy cinema all the more so: It's one of the most meaningful and momentous scenes in the "A Quiet Place" series, an almost unbearably intense yet deeply triumphant moment ... and it was accomplished by having Noah Jupe hold a radio up in the air while staring at empty space.

Jupe, to his credit, makes the situation feel 100% real for the audience. And the VFX artists also have a field day with the scene: Because it's the first instance of a character facing down an alien frontally and directly without fear, it's also one of the few times in the films when we, as viewers, have an opportunity to get a real, thorough, patient look at one of the beasts, watching it writhe in fear and despair for a change.

Human actors make a better splash

In the tradition of "Aliens," the second installment in the "A Quiet Place" series heavily accentuates the action elements, featuring several set pieces that set themselves apart from the big moments in the first film by expanding and ratcheting up the thrills — this time, we're seeing the characters actually fight the aliens instead of merely trying to avoid them, which makes for an enormous tonal difference. An especially memorable set piece is the marina sequence, in which Emmett (Cillian Murphy) and Regan are ambushed by bandits and Emmett attracts aliens to be rid of them, leading to lots of marine mayhem.

Whether in live-action or animated films, scenes involving water are always particularly tricky (and expensive) to render in CGI, and so the makers of "A Quiet Place Part II," just as they had in the basement scene in "A Quiet Place," enlisted human actors to make the process of working with the water a little bit easier. For the shot in which Emmett watches a creature jump off a boat and dive into the sea, an actor actually jumped off the boat and into the water, creating real splashes for the VFX team to use.

Some bluescreening may apply

In both "A Quiet Place" movies, John Krasinski made a point of always going for practical locations whenever he could, the better to bring the story's ravaged post-apocalyptic world to life — it's one of the reasons why both movies look richer and deeper than the flat, depthless imagery that has become de rigueur in Hollywood blockbusters as of late. As revealed by "A Quiet Place Part II" compositing supervisor Chris Balog in a behind-the-scenes featurette on YouTube, only about seven shots in the movie employ chroma keying via blue screens, with every other set and environment having been shot practically.

The steel mill is shot in a warehouse in Buffalo, New York — where much of the rest of the film was shot, too — though the furnace, along with the radio station and farmhouse basement was built at nearby Buffalo FilmWorks. At the steel mill location, we get a brief glimpse of bluescreen in the background. There's no obvious place in any of the steel foundry scenes where bluescreening has been clearly used — which goes to show that, even when working almost entirely with practical sets, a little tasteful chroma keying isn't a crime if it's deployed smartly and efficiently. For more "Quiet Place" behind-the-scenes stories, check out our fun facts about the making of "A Quiet Place."