How the visual effect shot of the 1937 film ‘Witch’ was made

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In early 2022, Google users searched for answers about a woman who appeared to begin transforming into a “witch” through visual effects in the Warner Bros. movie. Pictures from 1937, “Sh! Octopus.” The video was posted to the @wastedjr Instagram account on January 5. As of February 18, it has been liked nearly 400,000 times and received nearly 7 million views.

The video

The caption on Instagram read: “Bruh how was that a visual effect from 1937?”

It was real. The video had not been doctored. According to an article by She Blogging By Night, while this was indeed an actual scene from the 1937 black-and-white film, “Sh! The Octopus”, the visual effect showed a nanny starting to transform into an octopus, not a “witch”.

how they did it

In 2019, the Corridor Crew YouTube channel explained how the film’s “witch” effect was achieved in 1937, long before CGI was introduced later in the century. The discussion took place between Clinton Jones, Wren Weichman and Niko Pueringer, who were all part of Corridor Crew at the time.

“Wow. Ok, the wig I get, but there’s no cut,” Weichman said. “There’s no transition to her face changing and changing.”

“How do you think they did,” asked Niko Pueringer. Jones replied, “I know the answer.”

Weichman chimed in, saying, “It’s obviously some kind of optical effect here.” Jones then said, “She’s painted, isn’t she?” Pueringer replied, “Yes.”

They finally explained that the nanny’s face had been painted for the effect to work, but was initially not visible before the transformation due to an optical trick that could only have been achieved by black and white.

Pueringer explained it this way:

So, I’ll give you a hint. This is an effect that is only possible in black and white. It’s actually fairly easy. It’s just a red and blue filter. Just like when you have 3D glasses, and the red side doesn’t let you see the red lines and the blue side doesn’t let you see the blue lines.

So you have a red filter in front of the camera and it filters all red on it. So you have all these red marks on his face, but you can’t see anything because the red filter removes everything. You switch it to a blue filter and suddenly all those red spots become bright and you can see all the difference in luminance.

The crew showed a visual demonstration of how the effect works. The entire segment starts at 12:33 in the video:

‘Oh! The octopus’

The plot of “Sh! The Octopus”, which again had nothing to do with a witch, was summarized by IMDb like this:

Comedy-mystery finds Detectives Kelly and Dempsey trapped in a deserted lighthouse with a group of strangers who are terrorized by a killer octopus AND a mysterious crime figure named after the sea creature title.

The nanny was played by actor Elspeth Dudgeon. The 1937 film also starred Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins.

The title card from the trailer for the 1937 film, “Sh! The Octopus.” (Courtesy of: TCM.com)

In sum, the scene in the movie that viewers call the 1937 “witch” movie was actually about a woman who was beginning to transform into an octopus. The visual effect was achieved practically with paint and optical filters.

All readers who want to know more about “Sh! The Octopus”, can watch the trailer on TCM.com or view the entire film on YouTube.

Sources:

Hush! The octopus. Warner Bros., 1937. IMDbhttps://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029541/.

“Hush! The Octopus (1937). She blogged at nightApril 15, 2008, https://shebloggedbynight.com/2008/sh-the-octopus-1937/.

“Hush! The Octopus (Original Trailer).” TCM.com, http://www.tcm.com/video/135159/sh-the-octopus-original-trailer. Accessed February 18, 2022.

VFX Artists React to Bad & Great CGi 5. Corridor Crew on YouTube, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brKw9KtNm04.

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