Mutant history lessons
X-Men: First Class, the latest in the series of films from Twentieth Century Fox about the mutant superheroes, features a wealth of visual effects, including more than 115 visual effects shots by London-based Cinesite Among the effects Cinesite created were a retro version of the Cerebro Room, Azazel’s fight sequences, a military parade in Red Square and the city of Washington devastated by nuclear war. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class unveils the beginning of the X-Men saga – and a secret history of the Cold War and our world at the brink of nuclear Armageddon. As the First Class discovers, harnesses, and comes to terms with their formidable powers, alliances are formed that will shape the eternal war between the heroes and villains of the X-Men universe. Shot anamorphically on Kodak 35mm stock, the film has a distinctive 1960s retro look and feel to reflect the era it’s set in. Cinesite’s visual effects supervisor Matt Johnson, 2D supervisor David Sewell and 3D supervisor Anthony Zwartouw worked closely with the production’s overall visual effects supervisor John Dykstra. To create a 1960s version of the Cerebro Room, which was shot against a 360-degree green screen, Cinesite created a CG dome and composited shots of Xavier wearing the Cerebro helmet. This had hundreds of wires coming out of it, as well as set tracking markers that had to be removed. Anamorphic lens flares and other optical looking effects were added in keeping with the 1960s feel. For the mind view state that the helmet creates, enabling the wearer to locate mutants, Cinesite added fluid simulations and physical smoke elements to create auras around characters shot against a blue screen. Virtual cameras pulled the final shot together and time warp effects were added. The demonic mutant Azazel (Jason Flemying) has teleportation abilities and uses his tail as a weapon, lifting and throttling his enemies and wielding other weapons. Cinesite created CG teleportation effects leading into his fight sequences. His tail was modelled and animated using Maya and tracked into the live-action shot. Tracking was particularly complex due to the fast pace with which he teleports in and out of scenes. Fluid simulations were used to create the wisps of smoke and fire that surround him. A 1960s military parade through Moscow’s Red Square is entirely computer generated. Matt Johnson and visual effects photographer Aviv Yaron spent a week in Red Square capturing hundreds of HDR stills from different angles and at different times of day, to be used as a basis for modelling and texturing, and to be projected in Nuke to create a full CG virtual set. An army of CG Russian soldiers was created using Massive to populate the scene, along with highly detailed CG tanks and missiles. For the Washington, DC scene, the Hero mutants were shot on a plinth against a green screen. Cinesite camera tracked the action and created a panoramic matte painting of a Capitol Hill ravaged by nuclear war. A 3D layout, smoke and fire were added along with a mutant army – created using Massive – in front of the White House. “Working on X-Men: First Class gave us the opportunity to do some of the most complex compositing we’ve done yet,” said Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite. “We’re all about creating seamless effects, and our Red Square shots are a great example of our ability to produce invisible visual effects. We also enjoyed the challenges that the Cerebro Room brought. There are subtle references to previous X-Men films in the mind view state, which we hope hardcore fans will spot.” Visit Cinesite
© 2011, Michael Burns. All rights reserved.