John Carpenter’s THE THING is one of my favorite movies. The story, characters, score, location and practical visual effects are some of the most memorable in film history. In this classic horror film, there are several scenes that just DESTROYED me and left me cinematically scarred as a child. One scene in particular was so spectacular that just by saying ‘Chest-Teeth” or “Spider-Head” leaves people shaking their heads in disbelief and sighing loudly. The character of Palmer in the film sums it up nicely with…”You gotta be fuckin’ kidding.”
The visuals of both the desolate Antarctic and the ever-morphing alien creatures in THE THING were envisioned long before the movie was shot. Extensive storyboards were drawn by artist Michael Ploog and Mentor Huebner so that all the departments of the production were on the same page in their preparation for the shoot. This is nothing new…but the similarity between the storyboards and the final imagery shot by legendary DP Dean Cundey is staggering. Storyboards are often only a guide, but in this film they were so specifically rendered that they became gospel. The detail and artistry of Ploog’s work up front, allowed the crew to have clear and defined goals on those frigid shooting days in both Alaska and Canada.
To demonstrate this point…I’ve taken two scenes from THE THING and laid down the storyboards next to the shots in the final edit of the film. The video below examines the discovery of the alien spaceship and the transformation of Norris in the shocking scene that still haunts me today. Just like Hitchcock worked with Saul Bass to create the famous shower scene in Psycho…Ploog crafted beautiful storyboards for Carpenter so that the time on set was best utilized to tell the story. Be it pencil to paper or an iPad app…filmmakers can share the envisionment of the worlds they are creating by using storyboards.
Until next time…