Welcome to my occasional series in which I describe how film sequences I like were achieved. In this instalment we will be discussing the ‘dinner’ sequence from the movie ‘Hannibal’. It might be worth saying that there may be spoilers ahead.
This is the sequence in which Agent Krendler (Ray Liotta) who is Clarice Starling’s (Julian Moore) superior in the FBI, his just desserts. He has him drink ‘broth’, and it’s clear that the broth contains some sort of drug, because Krendler complains that it tastes peculiar and then slips into a semi-conscious state. Meanwhile, Lector removes Krender’s baseball cap and we see that he has undergone surgery. The top of his head has been neatly cut into, so that it rests there like a lid. As Starling watches in horror, Lector uses a scalpel to prize off the top of Krendler’s head, exposing the man’s living brains.
Ok, so how did the special effects team pull that off? Well, it involved the use of a variety of special effects techniques, involving make-up effects, CGI, and a life size puppet replica of the actor, Ray Liotta.
In order to make the puppet as accurate as possible, the practical effects team had to first get a full body cast of the actor. “The worst part of the whole thing was getting the body cast done...because I’m so claustrophobic”, reckoned Liotta.
With an exact cast of his body obtained, the practical effects team (led by Kieth Vanderlain) used it to create an animatronic puppet that could turn its head, blink, and work its jaw. “It was so good”, reckoned the director, Ridley Scott, “that when I cut it in I had to look closely and go, ‘oh good lord, that’s the puppet they made’”.
However, it’s pretty obvious that in some scenes it’s no puppet. In what must be the most stomach-churning moment in the film, Krendler, with the top of his skull removed and his brains exposed for all to see, comes around and is talking in a slurred voice. Meanwhile, Lector calmly explains to Clarice that the brain cannot feel pain. He then proceeds to peel away the protective sac that covers the human brain.
In order to achieve this effect, the actor had to shave his head and wear a green skull cap. This green cap then served as a matte that visual effects artists at The Mill (lead by Greg Cannon) could superimpose brains that were put into the open head of the replica. According to Vanderlaand, speaking of the animatronic puppet, “we had animal brains in there, along with a fluid sac going over the top, so that when you cut into it it all bursts out and it’s all runny and disgusting”. CGI is then used to digital superimpose the brains so they appear to be in Krendler’s actual head.
Commenting on the final scene, Vanderlaand reckoned, “to me, it’s one of the best scenes that has combined all of the techniques available”, referring to the combination of make-up effects, puppetry and CGI that was used to bring the ‘dinner sequence’ to life. It is a highly disturbing sequence, one where all the trickery works together so seamlessly you really feel like you are watching a man being fed his own brains. Yuck!
Thanks to the film ‘Hannibal’ for the images.