Werewolf By Night's Practical Effects Offer A Very Different Visual Style To Inspire Marvel's Future

"Werewolf By Night" is a project filled with many firsts for Marvel Studios. Composer Michael Giacchino makes his mainstream directorial debut with the TV special, and this is the first Marvel Studios project to be released under the banner of "A Marvel Studios Special Presentation." Just in time for the Halloween season, "Werewolf By Night" is a departure from the usual Marvel Cinematic Universe fare. The special presentation feels detached from the larger world of heroes, as Giacchino and co. treat viewers to a monochrome creature feature filled with bloody mayhem and thrills.

Aside from barely mentioning the greater MCU, "Werewolf By Night" is also a departure from other Marvel Studios projects from a technical standpoint. Michael Giacchino has been incredibly vocal about his use of practical effects in "Werewolf By Night," as he tried to make everything that happens in-camera wherever possible. This approach Giacchino took with the project is the breath of fresh air that the MCU so desperately needs; less of the lifeless digital effects prepared long before filming begins and more of a hands-on approach to production that provides a new level of immersion for actors and viewers alike.

A terrifying transformation

When you have a Marvel Halloween special called "Werewolf By Night," the obvious selling point will be when Gael García Bernal's Jack finally transforms into the titular werewolf. Had Giacchino taken the usual Marvel Studios approach, Bernal, in a motion capture suit on set, may not have evoked the same emotions we get in the incredible transformation scene. While viewers don't see the transformation onscreen, we're treated to a shot in which the camera slowly focuses on Elsa Bloodstone's (Laura Donnelly) horrified reaction to Jack turning into the werewolf. Sometimes less is more, and when doing things practically, viewers are allowed a rare moment to use their imaginations. When trying to get viewers to be afraid, sometimes it's best to leave them to their devices.

When Jack comes back on screen as a werewolf, it's a moment that feels earned. Usual computer-generated transformation sequences aside, there's a clear and present danger not only to viewers but to the actors involved in the scene. Making the werewolf an actor in a costume gives viewers a better sense of realism and better performances from other actors in the scene. Once the werewolf does come out, the action in the TV special packs a different punch from the usual MCU CGI slugfest.

Animalistic action that packs a punch

When Jack's Werewolf form is finally on display, the action Giacchino puts on camera is more entertaining and visceral than what could have been had the werewolf been done as a CGI character. The animalistic acrobatic feats in "Werewolf By Night" when Jack finally gives in to his feral side allow the fights to be more brutal than what's usually expected in an MCU project. Watching a stuntman in a hairy costume throw around goons like rag dolls is wildly entertaining. Being able to see a person in a costume also helps lend credence to the fantastical idea of a werewolf. Suspension of disbelief is already hard enough for a Marvel project, but having a tangible character that evokes the feelings of a classic Universal monster movie lessens that burden while heightening the immersion.

The action's choreography, paired with the camera's steadiness, shows confidence in the action we're watching. Practical effects not only help with believability, but with faith in its action as well. Seeing Jack tear through anything and everything in his path as the camera slowly zooms in on the carnage shows that the MCU can rely on better editing and structures for its fights when there's something real on set. Another creature in the special furthers the point that other MCU films could learn a thing or two from how Giacchino and his team approached the visual effects for "Werewolf By Night."

Practical Man-Thing and sets

Man-Thing is a surprise creature featured in "Werewolf By Night," and his brief appearance is bolstered by the character being done primarily through practical effects. According to Michael Giacchino, Man-Thing was brought to life through a mixture of what makes all movie monsters great: an animatronic head that could make facial expressions and a giant suit worn by Carey Jones, a special effects makeup supervisor for the film. While Man-Thing was obviously given touch-ups via computer VFX, the point remains that the actors are given a physical presence to act opposite from, instead of something like a tennis ball on a stick

Aside from the creatures of the film, the practical sets constructed for "Werewolf By Night" feel like the cherry on top to complete the film's aesthetic. Giacchino set aside green and blue screens for this Marvel Studios production, opting to create a monstrous labyrinth for the hunters to stalk their prey. "Werewolf By Night" is a promising example of Marvel Studios' potential to make different decisions regarding their visual approach to future films and television series.

A step in the right direction

"Werewolf By Night" is an unexpectedly inspired effort from Marvel Studios. Phase 4 of the MCU has received criticism for its production process and the exhausting toll taken on those involved, especially in the visual effects department. Moreover, there's an argument that tight deadlines and rushed jobs lead to a poorer final product, lacking the personal touch that some of the more successful Marvel movies have. 

However, "Werewolf By Night" signifies that the MCU isn't at the point of no return. Marvel Studios can, in fact, still put out refreshing original content, as Michael Giacchino so clearly demonstrated with this television special. Perhaps the MCU can continue to create fresh and creative content by not relying on computer generated visual effects so heavily, even if it allows for easy changes in post-production. Practical effects are a significant aspect that helped to make "Werewolf By Night" distinct among the myriad of Phase 4 projects. Whatever Marvel Studios has planned for future special presentations, "Werewolf By Night" is a step in the right direction to keep things visually and conceptually exciting.