In 2014, Tim Crosbie explained to us about the work of Rising Sun Pictures on X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. He speaks today about his sequences on X-MEN: APOCALYPSE including the new Quicksilver impressive sequence.
How was this new collaboration with director Bryan Singer?
As with our work on X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST our point of contact with Production was with the studio’s VFX Supervisor, and for this film that was John Dykstra, so we didn’t have any direct talks with Bryan.
How did you work with VFX Supervisor John Dykstra?
This was the second project we’ve worked on with John and it was just as much fun as before. We used a combination of cineSync and phone conference to go through what needed to happen on the sequences.
He’s a great communicator and knows exactly what he wants to see. At the beginning of the show, prior to the shoot, we spent time going through all the shots to confirm what we could bring to the table and what he was hoping to catch in camera.
What was their approaches about the visual effects?
John wanted to get as much in camera as possible. For the Quicksilver sequence this was a great help, even though in many cases we had to replace much of the frame digitally, having the plate photography as a foundation to match to is always preferable.
What was your feeling to be back on the X-Men universe?
The usual combination of excitement and butterflies. We lifted the bar really high on our first outing so we knew we had to hit that level on this one too, which wasn’t going to be an easy task because the scope was significantly greater with more complex and larger assets to build, more shots and many more different types of FX coming into play.
What were the sequences made by Rising Sun Pictures?
– Cyclops “blast” in the toilet block when he first discovers his power.
– Cyclops “blast” when he is introduced to Professor X and blows apart the Oak tree.
– Various exterior shots of the X-Men Mansion through the movie, including the rebuilding by Jean and Magneto.
– The Chopper pick-up sequence where we see the Mansion in the BG just after it’s been destroyed.
How did you approach this new sequence with Quicksilver?
A lot of planning went into this one. There were so many assets and we had to make sure all the dependencies were carefully thought out so that everything landed at the right time for each department to pick up and run their bit. Dennis took on the huge task of setting all this up and managing this through from the planning stage where he plotted out the full schedule of assets and shots with dependencies in fast track through to the execution of the work by the teams for delivery to the big screen, as well as individually ensuring that each of our artists was across how they needed to move their work through the pipeline.
Initially we built low poly “previs” level assets and plugged them in as a first pass through rough layout. Essentially this was a close match to the previs but using the live action plates as a base, properly tracked, so that we were working to the final scene cameras. This ensured that we knew exactly what assets needed to be built to final production level, what angles we see them from, which areas/parts needed to be built at extreme detail and which ones didn’t.
Once we were through this part of the process our modellers were able to get stuck in and spent the better part of three months building everything for our texture and shading teams to pick up and hand over to lighting and/or FX depending on what needed to be done.
What was the main differences between this sequence and the previous one that you created on DAYS OF FUTURE PAST?
The overall scope of the assets was significantly larger which has an obvious flow-on through to shot work. On the previous one we were in one room and although the FX component was huge on that one, it was a relatively self-contained area that we had to control. This new sequence had many many more areas for Quicksilver to run through, each one had its own challenges that needed to be overcome.
Have you enhanced your methodology since DAYS OF FUTURE PAST?
Very much so. We’ve worked on quite a few shows since then and have subsequently learned and implemented a lot of changes. In this business nothing stands still, there’s always some new and shiny piece of technology appearing that either makes an existing process easier or introduces a new way of doing things that requires a re-think of a current pipeline. We try our best to ensure that the changes we put in place are ones that give us better efficiency and/or a better user experience for our artists.
Can you tell us more about the shooting?
We weren’t present for the shoot, the best people to approach for full details on this would be either John Dykstra or Matt Sloan. Both of whom spent many many weeks planning how to capture what was needed prior to the shoot. We did have a good long talk with John and Matt before they shot the plates so that we were all on the same page for what was going to be done in post vs in camera. There were many processes used, including high speed photography (Phantom cameras) bolted on 35 mph dolly tracks, multiple stunts rigged on wires, various rigs to lift kids above floors that were going to then have FX explosions added below them, breakaway sets, lots of SFX in camera explosions using air cannons shooting debris combined with pyro.
How did you created the various rooms of the X-Mansion?
Each room was surveyed and lidar’d so we were able to reasonably easily build an asset for each room. The tricky part came when lining up the asset to the plate photography for some of the shots. In some cases we needed to go in and adjust the model to fit the plate because sometimes the set changed slightly from the shoot time to when the lidar team come in to capture it, usually due to parts of the set being moved around to get better framing etc.
The individual objects we see in movement in each of the rooms had lots of reference photography supplied. All were carefully modelled and surfaced to go to either animation or direct to FX for integration with the fire/explosion work.
Can you tell us more about the digi-doubles and also about the dog?
Our primary digi-double was obviously Quicksilver and we used it for multiple shots. In many cases we switched to digi for the moments where he was zipping out of frame but there were a few shots where he needed to be seen at high level. Specifically the shot towards the end of the Mansion sequence where he backflips off the table after “surfing” it out of the window prior to the explosion.
The process is reasonably standard these days, which doesn’t mean that it’s easy. We received full scans from production along with cross polarised texture stills. From this we modelled Quicksilver with his clothes, and then into rigging to be able to animate him as needed. Our texture and shader teams, led by Noah Vice, did an excellent job of matching to the plates for his clothes, hair and skin so that our lighting team didn’t have to spend too much time dialling Quicksilver into place.
The dog went down a similar route but we had a shorter time frame to do this. Initially we were going to run a simpler setup with plate textures re-projected back onto geometry with some deformers for additional movement. The live action shoot didn’t quite come out as planned to we shifted to a more complex workflow with fully painted textures, correct shading, groom for fine fur and whiskers. The final rigging included multiple deformers, a lot more complex than we started out with. Our senior animator Victor Glushchenko worked closely with Aaron Fickling, our key rigger on the show to get exactly what was needed to get the expressions to hit the marks.
How did you manage the FX elements in slow motion?
On X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST we set up a workflow to retime simulations down to extremely slow speeds. This work was taken further on this show with quite a fair bit of R+D going into proceduralising this so that multiple artists could pick up the process and run with it.
The sequence ends with a major explosion. How did you created it?
This was a collaborative effort across multiple artists. Kieran Ogden-Brunell and John Perrigo spent many weeks building a procedural RBD destruction workflow for the internal walls. This paid dividends as we got closer to the finish line because it made things a lot more predictable. The exterior Mansion asset was built over a couple of months. Much of it had to be closed volume for our FX guys to use, which adds significant time to the process. Our modelling team, led by Anto Bond, did an amazing job. I think this show contains possibly the best models we’ve ever produced. The level of complexity required and the sheer amount of assets was huge!
All of the RBD work had to play nicely with the explosion sims. Our senior FX artist, Prema Paetsch, was at the steering wheel for all the explosions. He’s had a lot of experience blowing things up virtually so our initial tests were already in the ballpark for where we wanted to be. Houdini is our application of choice for all of our FX work and where possible we were rendering everything through Arnold. Although in some cases we did use Houdini’s Mantra renderer for the explosions which made for an interesting challenge in comp.
Can you tell us more about your work on Cyclops?
Cyclops’ beam has been shown across multiple shows already so we couldn’t deviate too much. The initial brief for the toilet block sequence was that the beam had pressure but didn’t give off much heat, although this evolved by the time we started work on the splitting of the Oak tree to have more of a heat component.
Essentially John Dykstra wanted us to get more complexity and energy into the feeling of the beam but the palette was pretty much locked. We went through the previous incarnations in the previous movies and worked up multiple iterations through Houdini via comp for discussion and settled on the look you see in the film. It’s made up from multiple tube-like passes using different frequencies and amplitudes with additional “flecks” running down the length, made visible as a fresnel pass. Dialing the frequency and amplitude to work as a cohesive whole proved to be quite tricky. We had to avoid “wagon wheeling”, where the beam looked like it was either running backwards or was too chaotic to feel any direction. This had to be carefully adjusted per shot because camera pans/tilts significantly influence the perceived result so one setting didn’t work across all shots. Ken Stewart and Dan Harkness carefully crafted the composites pulling every trick out of the bag for these shots.
How did you created the reconstruction shots of the X-Mansion?
We made a decision fairly early on to build the Mansion as a full asset rather than a combination of CG and DMP. On initial turnover it was clear that we’d be seeing the entire front and back facades, with the front being shown across multiple sequences with different lighting conditions, and the back exploding in close-up and wide across multiple shots.
Building it gave us a full foundation for all shots and we then built additional assets for the reconstruction, piles of bricks, wooden beams/planks, metal girders etc. These were then rigged and animated into place per John’s direction and at the same time our texture/shader teams were adding in details. We also included a light overlay of FX dust to help bed everything into place within the composite, and lighting set up some god rays passes as a little cheat in some of the more recessed and darker areas to help the feeling of depth within the structure.
What was the main challenge on this show and how did you achieve it?
The sheer mass of assets and their dependencies to bring them all together into the shots was, in my opinion, the biggest challenge for this show. The creative side was somewhat easier because we had lived in this world once before on the previous X-MEN. Bryan already had a good handle on what he wanted to see, and our top people knew the aesthetic that we needed to hit.
Over the last few shows prior to this one we’d spent a lot of time building a more robust production tracking pipeline and this paid dividends. We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we certainly gave our systems a really good workout. We were tracking every task across every department and every artist. I’ll have to double check but I think we had well over 20,000 tasks, many of which were running in parallel as we drew closer to the final deadline so our Heads of Department, Production Manager and Coordinators were juggling hundreds if not thousands of tasks per day.
Was there a shot or sequence that prevented you from sleep?
Not on this one. I had so much faith in Dennis and our teams, I knew they knew what they were doing because I could see the results progressing every day. There were a few days where things got a little sweaty as we got close to the deadline but no-one dropped the ball and we always managed to find a solution.
How long have you worked on this film and what was the size of your team?
Initial turnover was August 2015 and we were running layout from then until about mid November. We completed the project with the last few shots getting finalled towards the end of April.
A big thanks for your time.
// WANT TO KNOW MORE?
– Rising Sun Pictures: Official website of Rising Sun Pictures.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2016