This may be the age of CGI, but Wednesday director Tim Burton was clear. Classic Addams family character of a flesh-and-blood actor Thing in the hit Netflix series. Even if anything is is just a disembodied hand.
“So we set out to find an actor to play the part,” says Tom Turnbull, the black comedy’s VFX supervisor. “Someone with nimble fingers looking towards the hands was able to do all these movements.”
Gestures like running around floors and open windows, typing, turning magazine pages, and expressing a range of emotions – from hesitation and fear to determination and commitment – with the gentle opening and closing of a finger or two.
One of them turned out to be Victor Dorobantu, a 25-year-old Romanian magician and illusionist who had never acted before but immediately impressed Wednesday’s crew with his flexible hand gestures.
“It’s pretty hard to come up with gestures that can express emotion, even in a conversational form,” says Dorobantu in a new Netflix behind-the-scenes video detailing how the team brought Thing to life. “For example, in love or angry.”
However, Dorbantu manages to channel true emotion quite easily, whether it’s turning the bird, hugging Wednesday’s shoulder lovingly, or writhing in pain. No spoilers here, but in a scene Thing shared with Wednesday and Uncle Fester, it’s easy to forget that the sick body part isn’t human. That’s how convincing Dorbantu’s hand acting is.
For filming, Dorbantu wore a full body blue suit and kept his hand out so the rest could be digitally erased in post-production. A prosthetic wrist stump placed on his hand transformed the Thing into a severed body part complete with prosthetic scars.
The magician often had to crawl or crouch behind walls or under furniture to keep the hand mobile, and the VFX team worked closely with him on perfect positioning.
“It’s actually slow for the team because they have to light it so Victor doesn’t cast a shadow,” Turnbull says in the video. “So there’s a lot that goes into doing that.”
Now, when will the thing join the viral Wednesday dance?