From his offices high in the Myer Centre, Mr X animation supervisor Matt Everitt managed the production in Adelaide and Bangalore of the 13 monsters who in the movie have wiped out 95 per cent of the population and doomed the rest to life underground.

Everitt is originally from the UK but has been in Adelaide since international global effects firm Technicolor came here three years ago to establish Mill Film studio. At the start of last year’s pandemic, Mill Film merged with a sister company owned by Technicolor under the name Mr X.

“Essentially, if it moves on-screen, I kind of help organise and direct the way that is going to go,” says Everitt, whose previous work includes a Madonna live show incorporating animated band the Gorillaz and the LEGO movies.

Mr X animation supervisor Matt Everitt.

At the 2021 Academy Awards on April 26 (Australian time), Love and Monsters is up against heavy hitters including George Clooney’s space movie The Midnight Sky, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, and the Chinese superheroine blockbuster Mulan. It is a significant nomination that puts the Adelaide studio in the international spotlight. It is also a welcome recovery for Technicolor in Adelaide from Mill Film’s involvement, under the direction of Tom Hooper, with the much-reviled animation on Cats.

“For this project, everything in the movie was done here,” says Everitt. “Some films we will take a portion, this one we took the entire show.”

Filmed in Queensland and starring The Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien, the work was shared between Adelaide and Bangalore but managed by Everitt, who started out 26 years ago with conventional Disney-style animation before moving to computer games, TV commercials and features.

The creative brief ran from the scary Queen Sand Gobbler to the empathetic Hell Crab, a blind Siren centipede and a slimy, slow-moving Giant Snail, all of whom mutate into man-eaters after an attempt by earth to stave off an asteroid collision goes badly awry.

Not all the creatures are as bad as they look. While the Giant Snail is happy not doing much, we learn the poor Hell Crab was enslaved by a band of pirates. Meanwhile, the Pool Frog, who has boils on his back so big they have tadpoles swimming in them, was never meant to be anything other than “joyously grotesque”.

“Every single creature has its own back-story that we invent to give it a sense of realism,” says Everitt. “They’re monsters and they’re scary monsters but from my point of view they’re still performers and they are telling a story in conjunction with the actors.

The animators used pictures of real crabs to interpret texture and scale, and ran detailed movement tests to understand how a crab sidled across the sand, while the propulsion patterns of the Giant Snail were inspired by the blobby flow of a lava lamp.

“It’s a long, slow process, a frame-by-frame process to bring these things to life,” Everitt says.

Everitt shares the joint Oscar nomination with Mr X’s Genevieve Camilleri and Brian Cox, and with Matt Sloan who was the supervisor from the client side, all of whom worked closely with Adelaide with filming was done in Queensland.

The project boosted by hundreds the skilled staff working either securely from home or in the three-level Myer Centre studio, which was designed and fitted out at a cost of $9 million and includes a cutting-edge screening room with tiered seating.

The Pool Frog was never meant to be anything other than “joyously grotesque”.

Mill Film came to Adelaide in 2018 promising a 500-person visual effects hub in return for a $6 million Economic Investment Fund grant. A State Government spokesman said Mill Film was renamed and merged with Mr X early last year but its contractual obligations were unchanged. “All milestones to date have been met and no additional investment funding has been provided,” he said.

While VFX work from Adelaide has been nominated before – Rising Sun Pictures won a 2015 Oscar nomination for a segment on X-Men: Days of Future Past – Hollywood’s IndieWire this month called Love and Monsters the surprise dark horse up against its mega-budget rivals.

Everitt says after seeing the completed film he thought they might have an Academy Award chance. Even so, he missed the announcement by sleeping through the nominations, waking to a flurry of messages.

Given the Love and Monsters budget was about a tenth that of its rivals, Everitt is just thrilled to have the Adelaide studio recognised. Although you never know.

“It’s a strange year for filmmaking but we are definitely the underdogs,” he says.

Love and Monsters is streaming on Netflix.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.