Appendage utilizes After Effects and Premiere Pro to create a terrifying, yet comedic film

Hadley Robinson in Appendage.

Image source: 20th Digital Studios/Hulu.

Overanalyzing, second-guessing, and negative thoughts are all types of self-doubt symptoms that don’t typically present themselves physically — except now they do in the horror comedy film, Appendage. Written and directed by Anna Zlokovic and based on her short film for 20th Digital/Hulu’s Bite Size Halloween series, the film portrays a young woman whose severe self-doubt becomes a physical growth on the side of her body. To help create this horror movie, the filmmakers depended on Adobe’s video editing tools.

In Appendage, Hannah, played by Hadley Robinson, is a young fashion designer who seems fine on the surface, but secretly struggles with debilitating self-doubt. Soon these buried feelings begin to make Hannah physically sick and sprout into a ferocious growth on her body: The Appendage. As Hannah’s health declines, The Appendage grows more powerful and begins to fuel her anxieties — her perceived lack of talent at work, her deteriorating relationships with her boyfriend and best friend, and her parents’ lack of love and understanding. At her breaking point, Hannah makes a shocking discovery — there are others out there like her.

Creating the ‘appendage’

Filmmakers relied heavily on VFX and Adobe Creative Cloud tools, using After Effects and Photoshopto accomplish most of the VFX work for the film.

“To bring it to life, we rigged a microphone to the Appendage’s mouth, so that as someone spoke into it, the real creature’s mouth would open and close to match what was being said,'' said editor Alex Familian. “When the dialogue started to change a little in post, we did some temp VFX work, using the masking and trackingtools in Premiere Pro, to make the creature's mouth match both the new dialogue and the integrity of Amber's work.”

In addition to these tools, Familian used Premiere Pro Productions to edit remotely with his team, which was integral to his workflow while he cut in North Carolina, and his assistant editor, Jonathan Velasques, worked in LA. The team also used to upload cuts and stems to all of their post departments.

Appendage, set to premiere at SXSW this month and streaming on Hulu later this year, is a compelling and literal movie with a little bit of comedy and satire behind it, but not only that, it has an interesting behind the scenes editing story as well.

Check out how the editor, Familian, helped bring this film to life below.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

I started cutting on a pirated copy of an editing software when I was 12 or 13 while attempting to make films with my friends on a MiniDV Camera. I had no concept of coverage, so in the edit, I was just stringing together long, shaky single-take shots and adding Beastie Boys or “Kiss Me” by None the Richer.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

Every project is different, but I always bring my mouse, mousepad, and keyboard to try and keep some semblance of familiarity. For Appendage, we cut during production in Wilmington, North Carolina, and we rented a small office-space to edit from out there. I brought our dog, Connie, with me every day to the office.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project, and why it stands out to you.

The scene where Hannah meets all the other people that also have Appendages — the “Dual-DNAers” is one of my favorite scenes. Something about it just hits all the right sci-fi buttons for me. It feels real, like there could really be a group of people in Red Hook who secretly meet and talk about their Appendages and their associated problems.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

Our creature, which was entirely practical, has multiple dialogue scenes. Our amazing SPFX crew — helmed by Amber Mari — rigged a microphone to the Appendage’s mouth, so that as someone spoke into it, the real creature’s mouth would open and close to match what was being said. It looked and felt quite realistic. Problems arose when the dialogue started to change a little in post. Using some masking and tracking tools in Premiere Pro, we did temp VFX work so that the creature's mouth both matched the new dialogue, but also kept the integrity of Amber's work. It was awesome that Premiere Pro offered us all the tools we needed to get quick results that looked great without having to send anything to a VFX house.

Hadley Robinson.

Image Source: 20th Digital Studios/Hulu.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

During production, I was cutting in North Carolina, but our AE, Jonathan Velasques, was in LA. To get ourselves linked up properly, we decided to go with Premiere Pro Productions with our project file living on a Lucidlink server. This worked perfectly, without a hitch. We also used After Effects and Photoshop to accomplish most of the temp and final VFX for the film. was integral to our workflow. I used it to transfer dailies and sound to Velasques so that he could immediately start downloading and loading them into the Production. Our other AE, Dagmawi Abebe, would use to upload cuts and stems to all of our post departments. Our composer Nick Chuba, sound designer and mixer Rob Malone, VFX teams, AccompliceVFX, Justin Sarceno, Neon Pig, MercenaryVFX, and our colorist Sam Gilling, all used it to upload Review Links to their work.

If you could share one tip about Premiere Pro, what would it be?

Sync your dailies as multi-camera clips with one audio track. That way you’re only dealing with one audio track while you’re cutting, so it’s easier to move fast and keep things neat and tidy. If you want to dip into a clip’s audio tracks, you can keyboard-map “Reveal in Project” and “Open Sequence in Timeline”, and now you can see all of the original audio tracks that were captured during production. Move whichever sound clip you need to A1, then hop back into your main sequence, render audio, and you should be good.

Emily Hampshire.

Image source: 20th Digital Studios/Hulu.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

Thelma Schoonmaker. No matter how many times I watch Casino, The Departed, After Hours, etc., I’ll always take away something new. Her pace is furious and demanding but never feels rushed.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

The toughest: making a living while also balancing how much I’m able to work on narrative projects. I’m not sure I’ve quite solved this one yet.

As for advice: Be nice, humble yourself, and be ready to receive notes. A director recently confided in me saying, “Not everyone has to act like they’re in the behind-the-scenes of Magnolia”. As much as I love Magnolia, we’re not in the early 2000’s anymore.

Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

My mouse. It’s a Logitech M510. It’s nice to have a mouse that doesn’t judge left handers.

Alex Familian Workspace.

Image source: Alex Familian.