In Depth: The origins of the Quicksilver kitchen scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past
In Depth: The origins of the Quicksilver kitchen scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past
For all intents and purposes, time has stopped. The small, circular kitchen in the Pentagon is all but frozen in time, as millions of water droplets, knives, frypans and carrots hang in the air.
Plastic bullets begin to slowly make their way towards the mutants trying to escape the prison, as the ash-haired Quicksilver begins his high-speed run around the room to save his new friends… and have a bit of fun with the guards in front of him.
It was, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past (DOFP). At just over 100 seconds long, it’s but a tiny part of the entire time-travelling superhero movie, but visually, the scene is a highlight that combines live action and computer-generated effects so well that filmgoers loudly proclaimed it as one of – if not the – highlight of the film.
What you may not know is that alongside the live-action filming and the circular set, the bulk of that scene was created in Adelaide, Australia, by visual effects studio Rising Sun Pictures.
House of the Rising Sun
Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) has been around since 1995, and has been responsible for creating the visual effects sequences for over 100 feature films. In typical Australian fashion, the company is named after the Rising Sun Inn, the Adelaide pub the founders had their first board meeting in.
Its credits are large and varied: the studio has worked on everything from The Great Gatsby to Gravity, as well as a both Wolverine movies and the latter Harry Potter films.
With a reputation as a “sequence studio”, RSP was always well placed to win its bid for creating one of the DOFP’s most iconic moments. But what’s truly amazing – especially for outsiders to the industry – is that the team managed to create it all in just five and a half months.
Faster than light
In a way, the team at Rising Sun Pictures was lucky with this particular job. Director Brian Singer had an exceptionally clear idea about what he wanted, and did a large amount of prep work before handing the reins over to the South-Australian studio.
“The process itself started with Brian [Singer] coming up with the idea, storyboarding it out and then he went through with a company called The Third Floor and they pre-visualised out all of the shots so you have an idea of the moving sequence,” explained VFX Supervisor Tim Crosbie.
The key premise of the sequence is that the camera enters Quicksilver’s world as he runs around the room at ultra-high speed. The low-res render created by The Third Floor allowed the team at Rising Sun to work out the timing of the scene before they began serious work.
For example, an early version of the pre-vis had Quicksilver running around the walls twice before he takes out the guards. It was deemed overly long and unnecessary, however, and was taken out before the team began creating it.
The pre-vis also allowed RSP to work out the exact camera locations, where the rigs for lighting could be installed and ensured everything was in place for shooting in stereo 3D.
This groundwork ensured the effects team was able to hit the ground running when it came to turning the live action footage into the final scene in the movie.
A digital set
Even when watching the kitchen scene up close on the film’s Blu-ray release, it’s impossible to determine exactly what elements are CG and what is live action.
The truth is that almost everything in the scene is digital, either created by RSP or a virtual recreation of a live action shot.
The film sequence had about eight cooking pots suspended on wires to fly up at Magneto’s control, but everything else – the carrots, the utensils, the pots and pans and even the actors in many ways – are virtual recreations of what was shot in the studio.
“What we usually do as a process is that we’ll go through and we’ll model everything up. After modelling, we go and texture stuff, which is getting the right colours on things, and then you do another process called shaders, and that’s how surfaces react to light,” Crosbie explained.
“Different objects react to light in different ways, so we had to make sure that everything material that existed in that realm worked physically correctly.”
Ensuring accuracy in the digital version of the set required a fair amount of work. Rising Sun received more than 5,000 reference images from the shoot, with every object and setup photographed from multiple angles to ensure as accurate a reproduction as possible.
In fact, the modelling of the assets took RSP almost two and a half months by itself, leaving them just three months to put the final scene together, although intelligent workflows assisted in ensuring the team hit its deadline.
And because of the fact that time has slowed down to a near stop, the studio wasn’t able to “cheat” with its effects by adding motion blur or camera shake – instead every single droplet of water needed to both reflect and refract the light accurately.
Super slow mo
In order to create the sense of slow motion, the live action scenes were shot at 3,200 frames per second using high-speed 3D Phantom cameras.
But when it came time to put it all together, the team at Rising Sun discovered that even 3,200fps was still way too fast for what they wanted.
Adam Paschke, DFX supervisor at RSP, explained that in order to capture the effect, they went to YouTube to examine the real-world physics of super-slow motion.
“We wanted to try and tap into the familiar high speed photography the everyday audience would be familiar with,” Paschke said.
“Considering that most of this reference photography – and most of the photography we had from on set as well – was shot at the highest framerate of 3,200 frames per second, this stuff wasn’t moving slowly enough,” he said.
In order to maintain accuracy then, the team had to rely on software to run physical simulations to ensure everything was visually believable.
But what the team found, as they were creating the sequence, was that having every part of the scene running at the same timescale (especially as Quicksilver ran around the room) looked a bit weird. To solve it, they managed to stick all the different effects on independent timescales, that could then be controlled at will.
So while everything you see is based on real-world physics, there’s definitely a bit of Hollywood creativity involved to ensure things are enjoyable – which is exactly what you’d expect from a movie about super-powered mutants, when you think about it.
The ‘remaining completely motionless’ superpower
Don’t think for a second that the visual effects in the Quicksilver scene are purely adding in virtual carrots and water droplets, though. A big part of the team’s job for the final cut was making the actors completely motionless.
While the live action shooting had the various actors standing in place trying to remain completely still, in slow motion every minuscule shake and movement is amplified.
Add in the fact that the scene was shot in stereo 3D and the problem expands dramatically, especially when you introduce the virtual objects like the water and cutlery flying through the air.
At the same time, in order to get the effect of Quicksilver’s speed through the scene, the team had to come up with some creative solutions to some fundamental problems, like how many steps he takes to get from one spot to another while travelling at high velocity.
“We really had to look at it in a creative way. First technically figuring out how we were going to solve this, and then how many steps would he really take? How long would he really be standing there?” says Alana Newell, Lead Compositor for the scene.
In early versions of the scene, the camera actually accelerated at the same speed as Quicksilver, but this actually had the effect of pulling viewers away from the action. From here, the team at RSP had to take him out of the scene.
“We had to remove Quicksilver, animate him separately, remove some of his steps because he was taking way too many to get from one position to another, and then we also had to give him a much more visually interesting motion blur,” Newell told us.
“It can be quite hard to really hone in on what will make a shot look good – it took a keen eye from one of our supervisor’s to find what those problems were,” she added.
On the upside, that keen eye looks to have worked. The scene was a highlight of an already exceptional movie, with the flick’s VFX supervisor Richard Stammers heaping praise on Rising Sun Pictures:
“The kitchen sequence is undoubtedly the most memorable and awesome sequence in the movie. Every nuance – from the plastic bullet emerging from the gun barrel, to the bell pepper rolling out the door – has been crafted with an attention to detail so high, that people will watch this sequence with wonder for years to come,” he has said.
Via: World of tech feed