VFX Artist Josh Johnson on Creating Shots for the Horror-Comedy Short

Filmmaker Steve Makowski was in high school when he first heard the story of the axe-wielding creature known as “Pig Lady” who lived in the woods not far from his family’s New Jersey home. According to legend, anyone wishing to see the murderous pig needed to follow several steps: Drive out into the woods, flash the car’s lights, say the pig lady’s name three times and then leave someone behind to whom she could appear. And then she would try to kill them.

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Pig Lady walks toward Will.

Never try to impress a girl by summoning the pig lady of Pig Lady Lane.

“It was ridiculous. Why would anyone ever agree to be the one left behind with a pig-faced, axe-wielding maniac on the loose?” says Makowski’s creative partner Thomas De Napoli, who heard the story when the two of them were driving through those same woods while scouting locations for a Funny or Die video. Instead, they decided to make a film about the creature. The resulting comedy-horror short, "PIg Lady," is currently showing at film festivals around the country.

VFX artist Josh Johnson used Maxon’s Cinema 4D, Jawset TurbulenceFD, Next Limit RealFlow and Adobe After Effects to create fire, smoke, guts, streams of blood and a seriously over-the-top stomach wound for the film. I asked Johnson, who has become much busier since doing visual effects for the 2009 film Duplicity, to talk about how he got this offbeat job and to explain how he worked with Makowski and De Napoli to create the “hyperreal” look they were after.

Interface screenshot

Johnson used BodyPaint 3D and Mocha to add blood to the pig lady’s apron. Gushing blood was created with RealFlow. (The Mocha logos are placeholders Johnson used to check the accuracy of his track.)


Johnson used BodyPaint 3D to smear blood on the pig lady’s axe.

Meleah Maynard: Did you know these guys? If not, how did they find you?

Josh Johnson: No, I’d never worked with them but one night, around 11 o’clock, I got an email saying, "Hey, we recently had a short film at Sundance [the music video for Who’s That? Brooown! by Das Racist], and we’re working on another one and we need some visual effects, specifically some fire." They’d been looking online and found my website [http://www.vfxdaily.com] where I had a test video of fire and smoke effects called “Who Started the Fire?” Whenever I’m not working on a real client project, I work on improving my skills, so I was doing some fluid simulations to make fire look at least semi-realistic. They liked what I’d done and they contacted me.

When they got in touch, did they already know the film would be called Pig Lady and did you get to read the script?

The film was already named for the mythical pig lady but also for Pig Lady Lane, the nickname of an actual street in New Jersey where the creature was said to appear. They sent me the script right away and I thought it was really funny and would translate to the screen really well. They sent me some storyboards, too, so I could get an idea of what they wanted.


Johnson camera projected footage onto his match-moved geometry before using FFD to increase the size of the pig lady’s stomach.


RealFlow made bloody VFX look eerily realistic.

How did you start the process of creating the fire effects and where does the fire happen in the film?

Well, things changed at one point because the film was shot over a weekend in late October with one day of pickup shots. There was going to be a car on fire in the shot, so they asked me to do this digital fire. But on shoot day the weather and the schedule weren’t cooperating, so fire wouldn’t work logistically. That sucked for me, but it turned out okay because after they did the edit they asked if I could do smoke or steam that could be coming off of the pig lady’s face. I worked on that for about four days and they loved it.


Johnson created the steam coming off the pig lady’s face using TurbulenceFD for Cinema 4D. Tracking was done in Mocha and everything was comped in After Effects.

I just have to ask: Why was the pig lady’s face smoking?

There’s a shot where the kids throw some highly toxic Mexican liquor in her face when she’s coming after them, and it burns her face so it steams. I created the effect by bringing the footage into Cinema and setting up the plugin TurbulenceFD [from Jawset]. I was really excited to use that.


Asked to make the axe wound bloody and gruesome, Johnson used layer shaders to build a texture that “really looked gross.” Skin around the wound was textured using subsurface scattering.

How did you wind up doing the blood and gore effects for the film?

After I did the smoke and steam they asked if I could spice up some shots with more blood and gore. At one point the pig lady gets axed in the stomach and the directors wanted a stream of blood coming out, but they also wanted me to do something to make the axe look like it had gone deeper into her stomach. I’d never done something like that before, but I thought I could do it so I said yes.

I started by extending the belly of the pig lady. I 3D tracked her stomach with SynthEyes and brought it into C4D and used Projection Man to project the footage onto the geometry. After that I was able to deform it with an FFD deformer to extend the stomach further. The blood stream was created with Thinking Particles and Trapcode Particular. I tried to make everything look as realistic as possible. But interesting enough, the feedback I got was that they wanted it to look much more over the top and hyper real. So I pretty much doubled everything I was doing to make it look really cool and let my imagination run wild.

Watch "Pig Lady" VFX breakdowns here: http://vimeo.com/41935382.