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'X-Men: Days of Future Past': Heaven Sentinel


By Henry Winchester

Web: www.moving-picture.com (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 28th May 2014

3dt: How did you come up with the way the Sentinels move?
BD: We tried a couple of things; we did try motion capture, but I found that it gave us a performance that was a bit too fleshed out or too organic, and you essentially ended up with a performance that looked like it was a guy wearing a suit. The Sentinels are 12-foot tall robots – it was very important to get something that looked heavy and menacing, and to retain that quality that made them feel like robots, the non-human qualities. With mo-cap you had to operate backwards and trim it down quite a bit to get something that worked, but then that ended up feeling a bit muddled, a bit tinkered with and a bit watered down.

So we based everything off of reference. For every single shot in the film we shot reference and we relied quite heavily on it. At the end of the day the Sentinels are bipedal, so as bipedal creatures it's very important that the body mechanics of the Sentinels be as accurate as possible. On top of that we layered an extra bit of animation that just ensured that they were as heavy and as menacing as they could be, so we added as much weight as possible.

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The Sentinels are capable of replicating the mutants' powers, which makes them a formidable enemy - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

3dt: How about shots where the Sentinels are interacting with the mutants?
BD: That was the fun part! There are quite a few cool one-on-one combats between the Sentinels and the mutants, and each encounter posed a set of complications and difficulties because each mutant has different powers. As I said, the Sentinels absorb the mutant's powers, and they can replicate it, and that alters the performance of the Sentinel a little bit, so we had to keep that in mind while we were animating. At one point the Sentinel body density could change rapidly so it could affect his weight and the way he walks, or his speed.

At the base of the one-on-one fights there were some that were shot, where the actor on set was fighting against a giant green dummy, or a punch bag, and in some cases it worked out well. They had a dummy on set that had the exact same proportions as the Sentinel, so for the most part the actor could aim at the right position and we'd be able to use that, or there are a few shots where the actor lands on top of the Sentinel and that was fairly accurate.

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A Sentinel after its encounter with Sunspot - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

Essentially the process would be that we'd have a digital double for the actor, and that would get roto-animated, and then within our scene we'd have the exact 3D performance of the actor that matches to the plate. Then we'd match our Sentinel animation to that performance, and that worked well for a bunch of shots.

"In some cases we just painted out the actor completely and made it a full CG shot, which is rewarding as an animator”


However, there were a few other shots where the performance on the plate prevented us from pushing the animation as far as we wanted to push it, be it for wirework restrictions, or health and safety restrictions for the actor! So in some cases we just painted out the actor completely and made it a full CG shot, which is rewarding as an animator. That's always the route you want to go down, you want to have complete control of the performance. But it's also much more complex to animate humans' digi-doubles. There's only a handful of shots in the movie where we went that route, and obviously we kept it for a few of the money shots in the film, where we had, say, 2 Sentinels fighting against one mutant.

"It was a challenge to pose the Sentinel out in a way that would convey
menace and strength”


3dt: What was the biggest challenge you faced?
BD: The design of the Sentinels isn't a fearsome design; it's not the Sentinels from the comic books, which are big towering behemoths and they're very, very menacing. Bryan Singer wanted something a bit more athletic, a bit more splendor; by the nature of the Sentinel design our future Sentinel is not as menacing. So we had to fight against that a little bit in animation. It was a challenge to pose the Sentinel out in a way that would convey menace and strength, and combine that with the athletic prowess that the Sentinel has throughout the film – he can do some splits, he can jump over mutants, he can run very athletically.

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As well as animation, MPC contributed to sequences set in Cerebro, Professor X's virtual world - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

We had to make sure that we were able to retain the feeling from the comic books, which is that they are big monsters that are indestructible, essentially. At the end of the day they're the ones that cause the near-extinction of the human race and the mutant race. It was more important in their performance that they convey that they're just unstoppable machines, whereas in the comic books it's their design that lets you assume that.

3dt: What are you most proud of?
BD: We did the digi-double animations. There's a fight between a Sentinel and Colossus where Colossus is full-CG, and there's also a quite complex battle between a bunch of Sentinels and Sunspot, who is the solar character, which we also did. And we were also involved a little bit with effects; every once in a while animation would be called to lend a hand to the effects department, to lead the fire being emitted from one character, or to sort out timings for the Iceman's iceslide growing as he slides forwards – more along those lines. But the bulk of our work was the Sentinels.

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Sentinels: probably the only 25-foot-tall robots capable of sneaking up on someone - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

From a personal standpoint, having done this movie at a brand-new studio with a brand-new team, fresh to MPC, a lot of the animators that I brought onboard were new to visual effects, and that we were able to all come together and produce animation of this quality, I'm pretty proud of that.

"You're always pleased with the work that you do because MPC pushes the work to a very, very high standard”


You rarely get to choose the projects that you work on, and most of the time – especially if you work for a studio like MPC – you'll often get to work on cool projects, and you're always pleased with the work that you do because MPC pushes the work to a very, very high standard. But every once in a while you work on some films that you know aren't that great, critically. X-Men is one of the films that both from a creative standpoint and from a pride standpoint is a nice combination, especially to work on a film that you know will be very well received.

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MPC used a combination of live-action performance and digi-doubles for scenes in which the Sentinels interact with the mutants - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

Benoit's Future
X-Men: Days of Future Past has indeed been well-received, with the majority of the reviews praising the effects work in particular. As for Benoit, his next project is of a far smaller scale. "Currently I'm finishing up a smaller project called 'Into the Woods', which is a mish-mash of fairy tales based on a Broadway musical,” he says.

However, his future lies back in a genre he knows and loves. "I have my eyes set on another show after that which might start around August, but I'm not sure if I can say what it is,” he says. "But it's once again in the superhero realm...”

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The mutants' own power is used against them by the Sentinels - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

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MPC also supplied sequences involving the X-Jet - Image courtesy of MPC © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox All rights reserved

Related links:

X-Men: Days of Future Past on IMDb
Check out MPC's film showreel for 2014
Follow MPC on Facebook
Visit the official X-Men movie site
MPC's Montreal website

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