Behind the Scenes: How an Adelaide studio created the best scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past

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So you’re watching through the incredible X-Men: Days of Future Past on your Blu-Ray player, aching for that moment when the film reaches a certain scene. You aren’t discounting the overall quality of the universally acclaimed X-Men installment, but today you just want to re-live the sheer giddiness that you went through when you first watched one of the most talked about and celebrated scenes of 2014. The scene in question: the kitchen sequence featuring the speedy X-Men (film) newbie Quicksilver and what is perhaps the most creative use of his superpower, concentrated to deliver a visually stunning, seamless feast in the circular kitchen of The Pentagon. Already the scene has reached legendary status amongst fans; fans who were originally skeptical about how Quicksilver will be handled under director Bryan Singer’s capable supervision.

Singer can’t be taking all the credit for this 90 second masterpiece though, the brunt of accolades leaves the U.S and travels all the way here to Australia; more specifically, to a relatively small visual effects studio in Adelaide which goes by the name of Rising Sun Pictures (RSP). Creating some of Hollywood’s most stunning film sequences is nothing new to RSP, with the studio working on immense projects such as Prometheus, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and the final five Harry Potter films. The studio of around 90 current employees has been around, creating beautiful visual effects for feature films, for the past 20 years.

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Last week, I traveled – with a group of journalists – to Adelaide to visit Rising Sun Pictures, not knowing what to expect from either the staff or the venue, having never stepped foot inside a visual effects studio before. The relaxed, casual atmosphere and friendly staff at the studio do a pretty good job at demystifying the whole behind-the-scenes culture, and as I took a short walk through their open-plan sea of workstations, computers, and more, I couldn’t help but secretly want to change career paths right on the spot. Alas, what followed made me feel about 10 inches tall in terms of what I know about the visual wizardry that goes on each and everyday behind the scenes of every big name film you can think of.

After a brisked tour of the main floor, we were taken down to a screening room, where we were to meet key staff who worked on the Quicksilver sequence, and try make sense of it all as they explained how head-spinning and complex the entire process is. After all, you don’t reach legendary status without a lot of hard, meticulous work.

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We first watched the high-speed sequence, and even on repeat viewings, it’s extremely difficult to try and figure out which aspects are computer-generated and which aren’t. The fact is that almost everything that occurs in that scene is produced through digital technology. From the moment the ultra slow motion kicks in and millions of droplets fly around the room, the finesse behind Rising Sun Pictures drives every little detail on screen.

Cope took us through the origins of the scene, when they won the bid to work on it and set to create it in just five and a half months. With a team of highly experienced, ultra talented artists working on every aspect of the scene, RSP took what they have learned from previous projects and really focused on giving Singer back a perfected, flawless rework of his initial vision. You see, even though the VFX team at RSP had a degree of freedom here, they were given clear, focused instructions from Singer and a pre-visualisation (pre-vis) from post-production company The Third Floor. From this pre-vis the team at RSP began to play around and come up with something which met their alarmingly high standards.

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There’s a real sense of perfectionism here, as VFX supervisor Tim Crosbie – our second teacher of the day – talks us through the blood, sweat, and tears that went into rendering everything in the scene. It’s here we find out that the studio had to use real life references for everything, even the carrots. From the way the oil stains the pans at every angle and the griminess on the bottom, to the way light reflects off every object in the room, everything was modeled and rendered with a focus on getting exact colours and shades right, paying close attention to the way light reflects of the surface of the high amount of unique objects in the room. The level of detail seems excessive, but that’s the only way this scene could have worked so well.

With everything except Quicksilver being in super slow motion, RSP weren’t able to add effects to cover up any would-be inconsistencies in the scene, rather they had to ensure that everything down to the very last drop of water was physically accurate and reflected light as if it were real. In fact, every asset needed to be as organic as it possibly could, each playing into the careful structural organisation within the scene, and each playing their part. For example, carrots were chosen because they provided a nice hue change within the asset catalogue. The characters themselves on the other hand, were a bit more difficult. Because the sequence has varying timescales, every minuscule jolt is accentuated; so when an actors hand shook, we’d have been able to notice significantly. To fix this, they had to take certain aspects of the film and animate them separately before placing them back into the action.

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Head of supervision Dannis Jones explained to us the discipline of every artist who worked on the scene, and their almost concerning obsession with detailing everything so there are absolutely no seams. Some are so obsessed with detail that they would go ahead and carefully render items that wouldn’t even appear on screen in some scenes. If that isn’t dedication then I don’t know what is. It was therefore important to ensure that all who worked on X-Men – and every scene RSP are tasked with – were concentrated, and focused on what mattered most.

DFX supervisor Adam Paschke focused more on the hundreds upon hundreds of references the team would use for every aspect of the scene, in particular the super slow motion. Hours of study went into studying real-world physics and YouTube clips of slow motion. The effort they go to in order to get every detail right is quite dizzying, and even just hearing about it made me question if these people were even human.

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Our last speaker was lead compositor Alana Newell, who took us through the complicated (to me anyway) software used to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and reiterated the difficulties in organising the scene so that the varying tones and textural variety blended into one consistent sequence. By the end, my brain was fried; I could not for the life of me completely wrap my head around the work that has gone into production 90 seconds that will go down as one of the most talked about, nuanced scenes in X-Men film history.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is out now on Blu-Ray, available at all the usual outlets. For our review of X Men: Days of Future Past click HERE