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Rising Sun Pictures VFX Supervisor Dennis Jones discusses the freedom of an R-rating, allowing for blood and claw penetration, and other FX for "Logan"...
For the final outing of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the actor reteamed with filmmaker James Mangold for Logan, which revolves around the clawed and bad-tempered superhero going on a road trip with his mentor Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), in order to save a hunted adolescent mutant (Dafne Keen). Also embarking on the cross-country journey was Rising Sun Pictures Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Jones, who was responsible for 230 shots that included telepathic seizures that result in psionic blasts; a covert lab video displaying young mutants; claws and blood for Logan, X-24 and Laura; and car composites and environment extensions.
Rated R unleashed
"Logan is more brutal, corroded and has direct consequences for the characters involved,” notes Dennis Jones. "The mutants are all declining and we see them stripped of power and control. The R-rating that was confirmed from the start introduced another dynamic to play with – albeit in a restrained fashion. We had worked with James Mangold on The Wolverine
and had to amend shots to remove blood and claw penetration, so it was great to be able to revisit the character free from these constraints.”
Overseeing the visual effects supervision for the project was Chas Jarrett (Pan). "To kick off our portion of work I met with Chas at the Fox Studios production office and was able to read the script, talk about natural phenomena, and watch some rough cuts including the Hurt trailer with sound. A combination of the script and the trailer really set a great tone for the style of the movie and helped shape the visual effects aesthetic.”
"Most mutant effects/powers had extensive previs/postvis,” explains Dennis Jones. "For the more physical claw attack shots we were given license to solve the action in creative ways. Certainly, all story and performance beats were well articulated with visual bash composites from Chas directly, and editorial mock-ups.” A variety of software was utilized to produce the required visual effects. "A traditional frontend pipeline with asset creation, rigging, animation and layout happening within Maya. 3DEqualiser for all tracking and match-moving. Surfacing tasks are achieved using a mixture of ZBrush, Mudbox, Substance Painter, and MARI."
"Lighting and effects work are accomplished with Side Effects Houdini, whilst shading/rendering was primarily achieved with Solid Angle's Arnold renderer with some bespoke elements rendered directly through Houdini's renderer Mantra. All compositing was completed within Foundry's Nuke with some sequences requiring deep compositing for more flexible layering and roto-matting.”
A secret documentary that was supposed to appear recorded on a cellphone was achieved with technical and creative assistance from cinematographer John Mathieson.
"Very bespoke one-off effects,” observes Dennis Jones. "Victor's cell with bouncing ball and moving blocks was all hard surface animation and shading with some effects support for dust. Houdini fluid effects were used to generate the guard combusting. This, coupled with a match-move, allowed for interactive lighting and good comp integration. John Mathieson had an old Canon DV that was used to film most live-action for Gabriella's video. We had to treat all Alexa footage to match this DV look, and then composite this into the Sony phone held by Logan.”
There can be no Wolverine movie without metallic claws and blood. "Building on previous experience on Wolverine
, beyond the tight match-moving and claw integration work for some of the specific ‘penetration' moments, we had to remove, stabilise and reposition Logan's arms/fists/claws to suit the composition and timing of the shot. For example, the upper cut to the bald Reaver in the Hurt
trailer required us to reposition the fist deeper in to the chin to ensure we got enough clearance to have the blades point out of the top of the skull, and then lock the connection point, including his hand, to the bottom of the chin to sell the impalement.”
Driving the scene
"The car shots were digitally augmented. There was a range of simple DMP extension work to set the scene and set-up various locations to be changed for the locations required in the story. The more complex ones, such as the Mexico border from El Paso to Juarez, required a completely digital border crossing with bridge, traffic, and guard structures that were coupled with footage shot on location in Juarez. Another example is making the Transigen Building look more ‘ominous and secure'. This was a live-action plate that was dressed with full CG props such as cameras, gatehouses and security fencing. Lighting and integration was key in these supporting effects shots.”
A mentally declining Professor Charles Xavier is prone to having telepathic seizures that have devastating consequences for those around him. "Creatively the psionic blast was the least resolved effect,” reveals Dennis Jones. "The sequence had been shot natively with camera shake throughout and didn't include clean takes. Initially we explored additional effects and treatments designed to add a tunnel vision vignette and a more organic response with blurring and over exposure. We then decided to go back to the core foundation and stabilise and augment the pre-shaken footage."
"We found some shots with high contrast content and aggressive high frequency shake produced ideal results without too much modification. In contrast, some shots were flatter in tone and the in-camera shake wasn't ideal. We developed techniques to augment the blur artifacts based on custom animated kernels applied through the FFT [Fast Fourier Transform] method; this produced sharp and controllable results. Due to stabilization we had to make reframing decisions on nearly every shot and found some shots needed additional camera movement introduced once stabilisation had been applied.”
"There are two sequences I'm keen to see complete with sound,” states Dennis Jones. "First, would be the opening Limo Fight sequence as this sets a great tone for the killer brutality of the animalistic Logan character. Second, would be the Psionic Blast section as Logan fights his way to the professor dispatching Reavers as he goes. I think audio will really add to the tense high pressure visual effect. We really enjoyed contributing to the film!”
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