Two things stand out about Hanna Bergholm’s chilling horror film hatching: the emotional performance of wide-eyed teenage Siiri Solalinna under the thumb of a perfectionist mother and her co-star Alli, the dripping, toothy, slowly mutating bird-monster she hatches from a giant egg. Where it has been standard procedure ever since Jaw To keep horror directors from teasingly revealing their central creatures until the film’s climax, Alli is on screen for much of the film Hatch – a slimy, screeching, blood-drinking monstrosity that Solalinna’s character tries to keep Tinja hidden and safe even as she grows larger, stranger, and more dangerous.
Bergholm, who directed the film from a script she co-wrote with Ilja Rautsi, knew that getting Alli to work on screen was crucial if the film was to work. So she literally went online and googled “the best animatronics designer in the world” to see who to ask to work on her film.
“We needed the best possible people to make it happen,” she told Polygon in an interview afterwards hatchingPremiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. “That kind of animatronics, that prosthetic makeup, it has to be perfect or it just looks awful […] Google told me that the best animatronics designer in the world is Gustav Hoegen, the leading animatronics designer in Star Wars and Prometheus and Jurassic world and so forth. I basically emailed him Hello, I’m Hanna from Finland, I have a film — low budget but good story!”
Her courage paid off. She says that Hoegen “was fascinated by the story” and between Star Wars projects – he continued to work on animatronics The Force Awakens, The Last Jediand Rise of Skywalkeras well as Villain One and solo – he agreed to bring his team to Bergholm to design and operate the Alli Doll. Similarly, Bergholm approached makeup effects designer Conor O’Sullivan, one half of the Oscar-nominated team that designed Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup The dark knight. O’Sullivan has done prosthetic makeup for films X-Men: First Class to disease to the coming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumaniabut he also agreed to sign on for a project by a first-time feature film director who ventures into horror.
“I admired his work so much,” says Bergholm. “Like Gustav, he loved the design and just wanted to be on board. And that was great.”
Bergholm says she was hoping all along that the Alli doll could have some practical effect. “CGI is wonderful these days, but it still doesn’t really have physicality,” she says. “It looks great, but I didn’t want my creature to be too smooth. I wanted some roughness and ugliness. I had always admired ETthose kind of old movies with practical effects, so that’s what I wanted. And his physical presence and his physical interaction with the girl in the movie was so important.”
Still, she says she did her due diligence to reach out to VFX companies to explore her options. “They made us offers and thought about how we could do it digitally,” she says. “But even they said OK, that would be very complicated – the creature is splashing in the water and the girl is touching it all the time. Digital would be possible, but would cost the earth.”
The whole metaphorical idea behind it hatching is that Alli the Monster reflects everything Tinja hides from her controlling mother – it reflects her anger, but also her insecurity about her imperfections and the way her influencer mother would disapprove and punish her for it. Bergholm first worked with concept designer Marko Mäkinen to create sketches that reflected what Alli was intended to look like – somewhat clumsy, asymmetrical and awkward, but still with enough pathos to merit sympathy.
From there, she says, she worked with Hoegen and his team as they built the Alli doll and began rehearsals in London, using the creature’s metal skeleton as a surrogate for the finished version to see what for she would be able to. The film evolved along with the puppet’s abilities.
“They came up with all sorts of nice details during rehearsals,” says Bergholm. “There’s a very important scene where Tinja connects with the creature and her tiny hand grabs her finger. We developed that in rehearsals. It was more like that in the script Tinja connects with the creature. Gustav’s team came up with these little details based on the puppet’s abilities. During the rehearsal, they also came up with the idea that the creature would start imitating Tinja’s gestures.”
Bergholm says that after adding skin, painted textures, feathers, and internal servos, the finished version of Alli was so heavy that it typically required a support cable running to the ceiling and five operators to work on it at once. That meant sticking closely to storyboards: “The puppet can’t improvise,” she says. “It’s five people moving it! When someone improvises, everyone else is like this: What you are doing?”
In settings where Alli moves or is active, one puppeteer manages the head and back while another attendant operates each limb. “We had five wonderful puppeteers who did Star Wars films and worked in this business for 20 years, and they were amazing,” says Bergholm. “[Hoegen] really collected the best. When you see these people’s resumes, it’s fair [gasps]. Just unbelievable. They’ve done all sorts of things in creature movies.”
In close-ups of Alli, Bergholm says, Hoegen and two of the puppeteers each operated remote-controlled animatronics. “One moved his eyes, one moved his beak. And you moved your fingers or sometimes just your tongue. That was super cool when they synced to each other. But if the beak and tongue [were moving] at the same time…” She laughs as she goes over how careful the puppeteers had to be to make sure the puppet’s toothed jaws didn’t sever her own tongue.
In studio films, animatronic effects typically have multiple fuses in case one becomes damaged or malfunctions. for hatching, there was only one doll, and Bergholm says Hoegen didn’t tell her how risky it was until after the shoot. “It wasn’t until the very last day of shooting that Gustav admitted to me that he was so scared the whole time because these animatronics can break so easily,” she says. “Luckily he didn’t tell me beforehand. I would’ve been [terrified squeak].”
She says that the Alli animatronic broke on the last day of shooting, which required some careful workarounds. “On the very last day of shooting with the doll, we had shot the bathing scene and the doll’s skin was just starting to explode. All the animatronics broke down,” she says. “In the end, all we had to do was reshoot a close-up of the doll on the bed. We had planned [to do something with the hand as well]but then the hand animatronics just broke […] And then the facial animatronics broke as well. And that was it. So in the very last shot, the whole puppet collapsed.”
Part of the film’s apparent challenge was working with Solalinna on scenes where she shows obvious affection and sympathy for Alli despite being a repulsive monstrosity. “At first she said it was very disgusting, the doll,” says Bergholm. “And the slime that was dripping down her face, I think that was just consistently gross to her, even though it was the kind of slime you can actually eat. It was absolutely safe.”
Solalinna initially found Alli doll difficult to work with, not because of the slime or her toothy, clumsy design, but because she was surrounded by operators, which Bergholm says made it harder to shut down the set and serve Alli as a living thing . “Luckily she was so incredible,” says Bergholm. “She was just so good at being in the moment, just living the character’s emotions and acting them out. So it was super easy to work with her. The doll was the difficult one.”
As graphic and haunting as hatching and as disturbing as it is to see a young girl being physically and emotionally threatened by both the monster and her mother, Bergholm says she always intended the film to be aimed at viewers who typically fear horror films to have. “I’m that kind of person myself,” she says. “I’ve always been scared of horror movies. And because I have [such a] strong imagination, I immediately start imagining some murderous monsters [are in a given film] in my closet, basically like Tinja. I’ve always been afraid of them.
“But since starting this story, I’ve discovered that I’m actually at home with making horror movies because it’s so cool to face your fears. Then I started watching a lot of horror movies. I thought observing my own experience The others from [Alejandro] Amenábar – that was an aha movie for me, a real horror movie with a very dramatic story, a deep story. So I thought of hatching in the same sense. It uses horror elements to tell a story about growing up wanting to be accepted for who you are and loved. Maybe that’s pretty frightening.”
hatching is now available for rent or purchase Amazon, vuduand other digital platforms.
https://www.polygon.com/23131724/hatching-horror-movie-behind-the-scenes-puppet-star-wars-animatronic The intriguing story behind Hatching’s terrifying puppet monster