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Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): Making the monsters of 'The Cabin in the Woods'

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Image Credit: Diyah Pera

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

When effects designer David Leroy Anderson took his first meeting with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard about their planned horror movie spectacular The Cabin in the Woods, he wasn’t exactly optimistic. After two decades in the business working on everything from Alien Nation and Pet Sematary to Get Smart and Angels & Demons, he’d grown grudgingly accustomed to having his specialty — designing and building practical monsters and makeup — usurped by the unquenchable beast of digital imagery. “You walk into the meeting with a list of 20 things you wanted to talk about,” he says, “and you leave the meeting with two things that you get to build, and everything else goes to visual effects.”

Instead, Whedon (who co-wrote and produced the film) and Goddard (who co-wrote and directed it) pitched Anderson their story — how it was about a bunch of college kids partying for a weekend at what they thought was a secluded lakeside cabin, but in reality was a highly controlled arena for ritual slaughter that could hypothetically employ practically every movie monster in the history of horror cinema. And they wanted Anderson to make all of them.

“I felt like I was being punk’d,” Anderson says. “This is the kind of meeting that you just dream of, and they just don’t happen….My brain kind of went numb.”

Then came the hard part: Actually making all those monsters. Here, in his own words, is how he did it.

For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) coverage.

As told by: David Leroy Anderson

Once I got started, I had three months. That’s not very much time. Toward the end of those three months, too, I was going back and forth to [the set in] Vancouver. A small portion of my crew in L.A. got to go up to Vancouver, but I had to sort of shift gears and bring another whole crew of Canadians up to speed to receive the things that were being built in L.A.

My personal favorite was the ballerina girl, the little screaming ballerina girl [with a giant mouth for a face]. I actually got to do that makeup. I drew that makeup. I got to sculpt that makeup. I kind of had to do it all on my own time on weekends. The little girl was such a sweetheart, too. I got to know her and her dad. She had a great time and was a beautiful dancer. I think she walked away very proud because she got such a terrific response from the whole crew.

She was, like, nine at the time. I’ve done a lot of horror films. I’ve worked with a lot of kids. And I have two kids. I just feel really responsible for them when they’re on set. I don’t want to scar them. So sometimes I take the parent role and continue that charade and make it a game, just kind of keep them out of the reality of what it is. Just let them do their work and hit their marks. Then hopefully they walk away and don’t need 20 years of therapy after that.

The whole Buckner family [of pain-worshipping redneck zombies] was a tremendous challenge, and I’m very proud of how the whole family came out. Unfortunately, a lot of the detail of the work we did you don’t really see in the film. A lot of the coverage of the Buckners is very dark. But on the DVD, I was really, really happy because you see a lot. When I watched the behind the scenes [doc], it dawned on me that the best chemistry on the whole film was the group of makeup artists and the group of actors who played the Buckners. They spent the most time in the [makeup] trailer. We got to know them better than anybody. It was a warm, fuzzy feeling surrounding the Buckners. They were all a delight.

NEXT PAGE: Casting the perfect buzzsaw man, and the most challenging monster of the entire movie 

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