Arrival VFX Supervisor Louis Morin Makes Meeting Aliens Fresh Again

From Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Contact, few topics have logged more screen time than humankind’s first interaction with alien life. It’s a challenge to deliver a fresh take.

Clearing the alien-life cliché, is visual effects supervisor Louis Morin’s impressive work on Arrival. The first time the film’s characters encounter the uncanny gravity of the alien ship marks the film’s transition from ordinary to extraordinary.

An understated, subtle effect belies the complexity and ingenuity that went into creating this first scene. Morin explains the three sets—and three different camera orientations and movements—that were shot in parallel to “stitch” together the impression that the actors were floating from a horizontal plane to a vertical one. Add to that the computer-generated, crinkly orange plastic of their hazmat suits, and one fluid jump comes from the deliberate, orchestrated assembly of many moving parts.

All this before viewers even see any aliens.

Where sight meets sound

Dolby sat down with Morin to discuss the technical nuances of overseeing visual effects for one of the most hotly anticipated sci-fi films of 2016. It was important for Morin to dispel one major misconception.

“Some people would think that visual effects is a post-production thing, but it’s not,” Morin shared. In many cases, he said, the visual effects supervisor is brought in even before a director to begin building a visual approach from the script that complements a director’s vision.

Morin’s illusion pairs with a swell of string instruments—the kind of score that rattles the knot in your throat—as the film’s protagonists step with trepidation to meet alien life for the first time. This is where sight meets sound to bring into focus the world of Arrival.