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Van Helsing

Technical breakthrough

Putting nine monsters in Transylvania for a modernized Hungarian goulash of its classic horror properties, Universal created quite the little character-rendering challenge.

But like Dr. Frankenstein in the lab, a host of shops — led by Industrial Light & Magic, but including Weta Digital and Zoic Studios — brought Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, Igor, Mr. Hyde, a trio of vampire brides, an army of blood-sucking bat kids and a nasty thing called the Hellbeast to life.

“Cloth, fur and skin are hard enough to render on their own,” laments ILM supervisor Cliff Plumer. “We’re now faced with having to do it all.”

Perhaps most impressive was the Wolfman. Not only did this character require the tricky digital task of creating lots of believable-looking fur, but film star Hugh Jackman’s transformation into a lycanthrope called for the actor’s digital double — from skin to eyes, always a tough task to get right.

And, of course, in the innovative tradition of “American Werewolf in London,” there was the obligatory full-moon drama to think about, like Jackman’s skin and clothes ripping to shreds.

Subsurface scattering — the revolutionary approach to digital character lighting first introduced by “The Lord of the Rings” — is now used industrywide, and “Van Helsing” employs it in unprecedented, monster-sized amounts.

Among Oscar f/x voters so enamored with “LOTR’s” Gollum, the digital skin on the hugely buff Mr. Hyde might scare up some votes; as could the high-flying vampire brides that terrorize the simple people of Transylvania for most of the film.

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