Fantastic Five

Ian Failes from fxguide wrote an article about the VFX behind 20th Century Fox’s new release of Fantastic Four. Below are excerpts featuring VFX Supervisor Sean Faden discussing PIXOMONDO’s VFX work regarding characters Sue Storm and Doctor Doom.

The visual effects team on Joshua Trank’s Fantastic Four re-boot had several challenges – crafting views of inter-dimensional travel, making the exotic environments of an undiscovered planet and, of course, rendering the powers of the film’s main characters – The Thing, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman and Dr. Doom. Those powers, famous in the Marvel universe, would be brought to life under the overall guidance of visual effects supervisor James E. Price, who led principal vendors MPC, Pixomondo and Weta Digital.

The power of Sue Storm

Rocked also by the Quantum Gate explosion, Sue Storm (Kate Mara) develops the power of invisibility. She is also able to conjure up forcefields, including a helpful bubble. Pixomondo delivered these effects.

For the invisibility shots, including an initial scene of Sue lying on a gurney at Area 57, production would shoot clean and then Kate Mara plates and Pixomondo worked on the cloaking effect. “Jamie Price found great reference of an invisible cloak that some scientists had done,” recalls Pixomondo’s Sean Faden, who was aided in the studio’s work on the film by Mihaela Orzea. “The scientists had energized this material underwater and when the electricity was on, this thing that was opaque became clear. It had a refractive ripple that defined the transition. We tried to emulate that. It ended up being a combination of rendered refractive passes with traveling 3D noise generated out of Houdini. You can feel that the refraction index animates as she’s going invisible. It’s as if her body is tuning her refraction to be invisible.”

The forcefield effect relied on a Houdini sim, which also deliberately, although only partially, resembled effects that Pixomondo had created for the Baxter lab and Area 57 Quantum Gate. “Jamie really wanted to stress that all the effects were of the same family,” says Faden. “So everything had a feeling that was reminiscent of the Quantum Gate, which had given Sue her powers. In order to do that we’d start with the same noise field and then add various particle setups through the same field.”

The bubble forcefield had two looks – a normal appearance and a slightly altered version during the final battle against Doom. “It was supposed to feel like Doom’s energy was taking over the bubble and making it go a little crazy,” outlines Faden. “That started off as the same bubble setup. We introduced additional elements on top of it – so it got hotter and hotter – it needed to feel like a collapsing star around her, which Kate mimed while she acted on greenscreen against a partial set.”

Doctor Doom will see you now

Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) journeys to Planet Zero but falls to his apparent death; in fact, the planet’s energy subsumes him and becomes part of his own body. Pixomondo augmented the Doom costume to bring the dis-affected character to life.

During principal photography, Kebbel wore a rubber suit and mask, designed to feel like his space suit had deteriorated over time on Planet Zero. The ultimate effect was realized with a series of cracks and green, glowing energy piercing the suit. Max Riess in Pixomondo’s Frankfurt office helped art direct that look. “We played it as if the metal debris from the explosion on the planet had fused with his suit,” says Pixomondo’s Faden. “You’d have metal bits co-existing with his charred flesh that co-existed with his vinyl spacesuit. In order to sell that we went through and selectively roto’d bits on his suit that looked like it could be a metal chunk, and then we pushed the highlights, pulled it off and made it feel more like a metal suit. Anytime the rubber suit flexed too much, we would also manipulate it to make it feel more rigid.”

On top of that, effects artists added deep CG cracks. “We would render bits of the suit too to mix in on top of the plate suit,” adds Faden. “Getting it all to stick presented a lot of challenges. In NUKE we had a magnet tracker that we wrote to be able to offset and deform cracks based on multiple pattern tracks. We were able to use that to deform the cracks to stick.”

Doom’s head and neck required different solutions. The neck part of the costume was augmented to deepen the cracks and add green glows, while the eye sockets were also enhanced. “There were big holes around Toby’s eyes and you could see his black eye makeup underneath it,” says Faden. “We replaced much of it in CG. Our matchmovers had created a digital patch that represented the area between his eye area and in comp we blended those altogether. The best solution was to keep right up to the crease of the eyelids. We also changed the color of his eyes and did full iris and pupil replacement on those shots.”

Then Pixomondo added selective cracks on Doom’s head. “The smaller hairline cracks looked almost like pin pricks of light,” explains Faden. “A lot of those were generated with NUKE projection techniques using the UVs of his head.”

All images and clips copyright 2015 20th Century Fox.