This may be the age of CGI, but Wednesday director Tim Burton was clear. He wanted a flesh and blood actor to play classic Addams family character Thing in the. Even if Thing is only a disembodied hand.
“So we set out to find us an actor who could do the part,” says Tom Turnbull, VFX supervisor for the dark comedy. “Somebody who had the right look to the hands, who had nimble fingers, was able to do all of these moves.”
Moves like scurrying across floors and into open windows, typing, turning magazine pages and expressing an array of emotions — hesitation and fear to determination and devotion — with the subtle expansion or contraction of one or two fingers.
That somebody turned out to be Victor Dorobantu, a 25-year-old Romanian magician and illusionist who’s never acted before, but immediately impressed the Wednesday team with his supple hand movements.
“Even the way he talks, it’s pretty hard to find movements that can express feelings,” Dorobantu says in a new Netflix behind-the-scenes video detailing how the team brought Thing to life. “For example, in love or angry.”
Dorbantu, however, manages to channel genuine emotion quite handily, whether flipping the bird, lovingly cupping Wednesday’s shoulder or writhing in pain. No spoilers here, but in one scene Thing shares with Wednesday and Uncle Fester, it’s easy to forget the ailing body part isn’t human. That’s how convincing Dorbantu’s hand acting is.
For filming, Dorbantu wore a full-body blue suit, with his hand kept out so the rest of him could be erased digitally in post-production. A prosthetic wrist stump placed atop his hand turned Thing into a severed body part, complete with prosthetic scars.
The magician often had to crawl or crouch behind walls or under furniture to make the hand mobile, and the VFX team worked closely with him on perfect positioning.
“It’s actually slow for the crew because they have to light it in such a way that Victor’s not casting shadows,” Turnbull says in the video. “So there’s a lot that goes into doing it.”
Now, when will Thing?