Dallas Harvey lives and designs in a world of oddities. The Vancouver-based filmmaker has worked on projects including giant alien space worms, werewolves, life-sized robots, Frankenstein monsters, mystic fortune tellers, and in his latest film, “Metamorphose,” an alien insect infects humans with a mutation that causes hive-like structures to eviscerate the body.
Trigger warning for anyone with trypophobia.
Harvey, whose process includes a sprinkle of wizardry and a dash of hard-earned practical knowledge, started his career as a visual effects artist. His curiosity to learn more about the craft got him involved in practical effects, and he soon opened his shop, DHFX Studio, which takes a hybrid approach to special effects.
“I started in 3D as an animator and digital sculptor. And then I kind of, by accident, fell into this whole world of practical effects. I was really just creating things for myself… doing cool prosthetic makeups, making movie monsters and gory horror props.
“Which over time led me to be more interested in practical effects processes from clay sculpting, mold making and special effects makeup. When I get into something new, I need to know how it works.”
His robust experience in both 3D and practical mediums made him in-demand in Canada and the United States, and ultimately, led to the opportunity to shift from supporting other filmmaker’s projects to directing his own.
He wanted to dive into more complex films and expand on creative ideas he loved. He’s often drawn to projects with realistic anatomy that have elements of fantasy, science fiction and horror.
“I’m not going to shoot a talking-heads film. It’s just not interesting to me. Like, if it doesn’t have a monster or creature in it, I’m probably not watching it… I just want to be making impactful things.”
Dallas Harvey on His Influences
Harvey’s newest body horror film, “Metamorphose” is true to form. It’s absolutely horrifying. Not in a Terrifier 2 kind of way, because it’s not a slasher movie — it’s upsetting because it’s rooted in biology and his deep appreciation for body horror.
“There’s this toad called a Surinam Toad that has holes in its back, and it keeps its babies inside. Eventually the holes open and then the babies all burst out. I was like… that is creepy and fucked up. We need to make a movie with a trypophobia theme. ”
The Surinam Toads helped him understand the minds of people who are triggered by trypophobia, the extreme fear of small holes. He decided to weave that fear into the sci-fi body horror film. The film uses data from entomology, medical forensics, and biological virology.
“So for me, when it comes to body horror, understanding how the body can be damaged or the fear of having these sorts of things happen to you and you’re out of control of it, that’s kind of where I’m coming from when I’m making this sort of stuff,” he says. “I try to build in a sense of realism into the anatomy, even if it’s fantasy or horror.”
“Metamorphose” is about the fear of invasion and mutation. After being violently attacked by a creature in the forest, Alex Herrera’s mind and body begin to change as the invasive alien organism takes over. As mutations spread quickly, the community of Silver Creek struggles to eradicate it before it can spread further and take the entire planet for its own.
Think The Last of Us meets The Fly.
Harvey designed everything from the 3D models of the alien bug creatures, to the practical silicone puppet, which started as a sketch.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always drawn a lot of fantasy monsters and creatures. I always have a sketchbook close by. So for me, ideas usually start off in the sketchbook. And then from there, I will kind of roll out a basic story.
“With ‘Metamorphose,’ I just started sketching the bug design roughly and then just jumped into sculpting the bug on the actor’s face cast. One night I was in the studio and I had been doing designs for it and I was like, ‘I’m just going to start making the 3D version and see where it goes.’ So from those bug sculptures, the film just started to come together.
“And so I kind of work a lot like that, where it kind of just organically happens through designs that start in my sketchbook.”
Harvey’s organic, effects-first approach is incredibly effective, and, ahem, contagious.
“People love working with my studio and crew, because we are all very passionate creature makers and like to take our designs to the next level. We bring practical effects to the film set and let everyone have that experience with them, and everybody gets to join in,” Dallas Harvey says.
“There’s something about that I feel resonates with people. And this is what I try to do with my films – it bleeds through the lens onto the screen. The passion of everyone involved, and the weirdness of it all.”
Harvey doesn’t see filmmaking as a job. He lives and loves genre film, and anything weird or bizarre.
He has spectacular film knowledge, citing Guillermo del Toro and David Cronenberg as inspirations, he personally trains everyone on his team, and he even wears his passion – regularly sporting tee shirts featuring films like Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Tales from the Crypt. To him, there’s nothing odd about movies that startle and surprise.
“I gotta head out to go work on a monster head for the new film,” he says.
“Metamorphose” is currently in production in Vancouver. Check out more BTS shots on DHFX’s Instagram.
Main image: A still from “Metamorphose” by Dallas Harvey.