At the end of 2018’s “Venom,” audiences saw serial killer Cletus Kasady’s execution go wrong, allowing his escape from San Quentin prison. It was also the first time audiences got a look at Ravencroft Institute, home to the criminally insane – and home to many of Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland’s) villains.
“Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” sees Tom Hardy as the symbiote alien returning as Eddie Brock, and the return of Woody Harrelson as serial killer Cletus Kasady, also housing his own symbiote, Carnage.
In the jailbreak sequence, Cletus returns to Ravencroft Institute, this time to be reunited with his long-lost love, Shriek (Naomie Harris). “It starts as a love story,” explains VFX supervisor Sheena Duggal. “A gentle love story.”
That alone was a challenge, because storywise, the team had to find a way for him to be softer and gentler in this moment. “He’s this crazy violent character,” Duggal explains. She calls it a “love-fueled joy ride” as the two are chased by security guards and in true Carnage style, creating chaos and mayhem.
Duggal and the team were working on post-production while Andy Serkis, the film’s director, was shooting in San Francisco. But when the film moved to London’s Leavesden Studios and the pandemic forced a lockdown, Duggal couldn’t follow and her post-production VFX team was suddenly working remotely across the globe.
Duggal utilized key art and concept art to help the filmmakers and studio visualize the effects way ahead of time, “We wanted to use VFX to fuel the story forward and not gratuitously.”
The concept art came in handy in the jailbreak sequence. “It takes on a few tones: there’s the soft tone where he finds Shriek, and he’s introducing us to Carnage and the tentacles come out. We had to come up with a different design and look at how the tentacles moved for that,” Duggal says. The tentacle movements change dramatically, giving way to destruction as the two escape and he is now in fighting mode.
She looked at the tentacles as vine-like, but she also looked at how animals use weapons in nature. “The way a scorpion moves its tail behind its head and moves it forward in this threatening way, I thought, ‘Let’s do that with Carnage.’” So, she leaned into how he would impale others and make different weapons with his tentacles as part of his transformation.
Aside from Serkis, Duggal collaborated closely with DP Bob Richardson. Duggal says, “He set a nice canvas for everything. A lot of what I did was also based on what Bob did, and we all worked as a team for how best to shoot this.”
The Ravencroft sequence was not easy for Duggal, since he is constantly in a state of transformation and change. “One minute it’s just this decimated head, other times you see the full transformation, and other times he’s deploying his tentacles and spawns out,” she says. Early on, Duggal sculpted a maquette that served as a character reference for the character which also gave everyone something physical to interact with, such as determining lighting.
During this time, she admits she went down a rabbit hole of reading Reddit, Twitter, Instagram and other fan forums. “I wanted to see what they wanted from this character and what behavior and look was important to them. We wanted fans to be very happy with this,” Duggal says. She also looked at how different comic book artists had approached the character over the years and how that fit into their story.
One sequence inspired from the comic books but deemed too gruesome for the audience was Carnage putting his tongue down someone’s throat as a way to kill them. “We had to tone that back a bit. He does it with a tentacle [in the comics], but I thought it would be fun to have him use his tongue to add that extra gruesome element.” In the end, the sequence was toned down considerably for the big screen.
In creating Carnage’s movements, Duggal also looked to the Lindenmayer system (a mathematical formula) realizing his growth was symbiotic with the environment. “We looked at that system and multi-cellular organisms. If you look closely in the scene, you’ll see how he emulates objects in the environment.”
The difference between Carnage and Venom is while the latter takes over Eddie’s body, Duggal says, “He’s just a host inside him. Carnage is birthed inside of Cletus, and they share the same DNA.”
While fans were aware of that shared DNA, Duggal wanted Carnage to look like the idea of “a monster inside of a serial killer.” She created broken bones and this ripped look as Cletus’ Carnage pushes through.
She was also inspired by birth, so she had “birthing goo made up of amniotic fluid and membranes as Carnage transforms and is breaking the anatomy of that shared DNA, violently breaking the bones and tearing the skin as his body takes over.”