January 31, 2023

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Everything Everyone’s All At At VFX Supervisor Debuts Horror Short

3 min read

While Sundance shorts don’t meet the stellar premieres of their feature-length counterparts, there are plenty of weird and wonderful discoveries — especially for fans of the genre through the Midnight Short Film Program. One of this year’s standouts was “A Folding Ocean,” written and directed by Ben Brewer. In the 14-minute tale of a Cronenberg-esque nightmarish fusion of sex, romance and the flesh, real-life couple Annabel Lemieux and John Giacobbe star as a sexually charged pair whose closeness literally brings them closer and closer.

Brewer, who was the lead visual effects artist on “Everything Everywhere All At One” (he designed, among other elements, the “Everything Bagel”), was in charge of the outrageous and nauseating body horror in “Ocean.” But despite the show’s closure, the love story between the two leads — mostly untold — resonates deeply, especially in an entire work no more than a few TikToks.

diversity spoke with Brewer — who has also directed music videos for artists like Justin Bieber and Diplo, and whose feature directorial debut, “Sand and Stones,” starring Nicolas Cage, is set to be released this year — about his inspiration and how he created such sickening visuals.

What was the birth of “a folded ocean”?

I’ve always wanted to come up with unusual ways to use visual effects, or at least use them in the context of a small independent film. And I’m obsessed with these films that have come out of Romania in the last 15 years, because they’re just these small, intimate observations of human detail. So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to try to do a smaller, stylistically indebted work, but then apply this visual metaphor with the visual effects abilities I have?'” Maybe those two artistic influences would collide in an interesting way.

What work affects meat design?

Interestingly enough, it is inspired by Plato’s “Symposium”. There’s a part of it where he describes the early man as two people joined back, and the idea that what love is is the desire to unite, to take two people and become one. This has tremendous power, but horror, that is. So I wanted to find an effect that would evoke the fear of a couple who wanted to achieve that level of intimacy.

I just randomly did some testing, and there was a software that we used a little bit on “Everything Everywhere.” It’s a plug-in in After Effects that basically does 2D tracking, but in this very interesting 3D way where you can, say, put a logo on someone’s t-shirt and hold it folded up. There is virtually no “traditional” CGI. It’s all real skin that’s been used this way, tracked and painted on the footage.

I did a visual effect test early on where me and my girlfriend were literally naked and I filmed myself crossing a room in this awkward position and I tested my theory. Then I thought, “Oh well, all the other stuff I’ve planned will be great because I’m actually able to pull off these gross meat shots.” All skins are obviously real skins. In short there is not a single makeup effect.

Are you hoping to turn themes or special effects into a potential feature this short?

It’s a spiritual companion to a feature I’m trying to make called “The Devil’s Breath.” I’m very interested in whether some of these themes of romance and intimacy can be externalized into a monstrous conceit.

We are looking to close the financing. I’ve been in the process of putting it together since 2019, so it’s been a long time, before it got shorter. I’m actually hoping that people who like the short film reach out and want to hear about this feature.

“A Folded Ocean” runs through Jan. 29 as part of Sundance’s Midnight Short Film Program, with online viewing options available here . You can keep up with Brewer’s work on his Instagram.

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