The producers convinced Universal Studios to allow them to create a prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) instead of a remake, as they felt Carpenter's film was already perfect, so making a remake would be like "painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa". However, the prequel still has the title of the original film, because they couldn't think of a subtitle (for example, "The Thing: Begins") that sounded good.
The creature effects were done primarily with cable-operated animatronic robots on the director's insistence, since it would improve the performances of the cast if they saw what they had to react to. Computer-generated images were used to add elements to the animatronics (such as tentacles), or in some cases, to replace the entire animatronic if it didn't behave convincingly.
In order to not try to compete with Kurt Russell's portrayal of the 1982 film's protagonist, R.J. MacReady, the character of Kate Lloyd was designed to have traits in common with the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien (1979) film series.
The song Kate is listening to on her headphones is "Who Can It Be Now?", a song by Australian band Men at Work from their 1981 debut album, "Business as Usual". The lyrics tell of a paranoid man who hears knocking at his house door and wishes to be left in solitude. This foreshadows the paranoia of the scientists later in the film.
The songs the crew are singing are "Sámiid Ædnan", the Norwegian entry in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest, originally sung by Sverre Kjelsberg and Mattis Hætta. And the other one is called "Jeg gikk en tur på stien" (translated: I walked along the forest path), a well known children's song about someone walking in the woods, and meeting a cuckoo. The origin of this song is unknown.
When Carter and Jameson return to the camp, they stumble past a funny signpost full of city names and their distances. One of the cities that can be clearly read is Amsterdam, which is where director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is from.
The first draft of the screenplay was written by Ronald D. Moore in 2009, though Universal then opted to have the screenplay rewritten by Eric Heisserer. However, in 2013 Moore became a co-producer and writer on the series Helix (2014) which features an extremely similar premise (a team of scientists at a remote Arctic research base combating a lethal alien virus-like organism that horrifically mutates humans and could wipe out humanity if it spread).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The burnt "thing" with the two merged faces/heads that MacReady and gang find at the Norwegian site (in the 1982 Carpenter remake) is the same organism created when Wolner lowered himself onto Finch and "incorporated" the latter by joining their faces in this prequel.
This film may have purposely solved a long-standing mystery in the 1982 film. This film reveals that The Thing cannot replicate abiotic things such as fillings, earrings, clothes, etc. and at a pivotal moment near the end, Kate realizes that Carter's earring is missing as well as the hole for the piercing revealing him to be a Thing. At the end of the 1982 film, the character Childs still has his earring in his right ear. It can be seen just before he takes a drink from the bottle of J&B.