Life is never dull for special effects team Wulf FX. One day they’ll be making it rain on Emily Dickinson, the next they’ll be pouring blood over Nicolas Cage. Or they might be blowing up a miniature building, creating a tree giant, or designing a chariot made of dinosaur bones.
What they like best is the challenge of creating something new. “You always learn something,” says company founder Eric De Wulf. “Even when you’ve done an effect before, the production always adds something extra, so you have to rethink it.”
De Wulf started to do special effects (SFX) while working as a set builder, mainly on kids’ films and TV series. In 2014 he decided to specialise, setting up Wulf FX with props expert Roos Voorsluis. Together they provide a wide range of SFX services, from hard and soft props to pyrotechnics, from atmospheric effects to body fluids. They made it rain in Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion, as well as providing props such as breakable plates. Although set in Massachusetts, the film was shot at AED Studios near Antwerp, where Wulf FX now has its workshop.
So Much Blood
And for the Nicolas Cage slasher movie Mandy, directed by Panos Cosmatos, they modelled giant wasps, built realistic chainsaws that were safe for fight scenes, and doused the set with blood. A lot of blood. “Usually just a small amount of blood is needed, but here the director wanted more and more,” Voorsluis recalls. “You have five litres of blood in your body... well, much more than that was coming out here. But you have to adapt to every new situation, and with every movie we keep adding things to the list of things that we can do.”
The pair are passionate advocates of live-action effects, such as models and miniatures. “Often productions don’t think about live-action ways to do things,” says Voorsluis. “They think of VFX and post-production, and sometimes you have to show them that it can be a good solution to have something on-set.” Not only does this give an immediate result, but it adds a touch of realism. “When you do something in live action you often get results that you don’t expect, or you might not think to do with VFX.”
When you do something in live action you often get results you might not think to do with VFX
For example, in Anders Walter’s teen fantasy film I Kill Giants there is a moment when a tree giant has to kick a train towards the camera. “It’s a scale model we made so that, when the tree giant kicks it, it bends in two and you can see the metal bend and the glass explode,” De Wulf explains. “We made three trains and they filmed the shot three times, and all three gave useful material. Talking to the VFX guys afterwards, they didn’t have a lot of work to do on the shot, just adding some smoke and some extra pieces of glass.”
Another recent international project was sci-fi action film Iron Sky: The Coming Race, directed by Timo Vuorensola. Here the main challenge was to build a full-size chariot based on a dinosaur’s jaw bone. “We made a few other props for the film, but that was the most difficult,” says De Wulf. “They needed to do a lot of stunts with the chariot, and also there was an explosion and the chariot needed to fly into the air.”
After working up the concept on a computer, De Wulf used a 3D printer to produce a scale model to show the production. “Once they said OK, we used all the digital information to make the full-sized chariot really quickly and exactly like the design.”
Being able to build effects from A to Z is important to De Wulf. “We have everything in house,” he says. “We can build it, we can decorate it, we can blow it up. We love every new challenge.”