Shot anamorphically on KODAK 35mm film stock (KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5313 and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219), the feature film has a distinctive 1960s retro look and feel to reflect the era in which it is set. Cinesite’s visual effects supervisor, Matt Johnson, 2-D supervisor David Sewell and 3-D supervisor Anthony Zwartouw worked closely with the production’s overall visual effects supervisor, John Dykstra. Among the effects Cinesite created were a retro version of the Cerebro Room, Azazel’s fight sequences and a military parade in Red Square, Moscow.
Matt Johnson, explaining the choice of film, says that “the director (Matthew Vaughn) wanted X-Men: First Class to have the look of the classic films that we’ve all grown up watching so film was a natural choice because we were basically creating and mirroring something that existed. People have been shooting on Kodak stock for many years now and that’s exactly the look we wanted. We embraced film in its entirety not only the look but everything that is part of the film such as the grain and the optics of the lenses and used this to our advantage to give the movie its ‘60s look.”
To create a ‘60s version of the Cerebro Room, which was shot against a 360-degree green screen, Cinesite created a CG dome, based on the geodesic domes in vogue in the '60s, and composited shots of Xavier wearing the Cerebro helmet. Anamorphic lens flares and other optical looking effects were added in keeping with the '60s feel.
The helmet enables the wearer to locate mutants. To show this mind-view state, Cinesite added fluid simulations and physical smoke elements to create auras around characters shot against a blue screen. Virtual characters pulled the final shot together and time warp effects were added.
The demonic mutant Azazel has a devilish look and Cinesite had to create a fiery pyrotechnical element to show his teleportation abilities. Tracking was particularly complex because of the fast pace with which he teleports in and out of scenes. “The key to this character,” explains Matt Johnson “was to avoid everyone stopping whilst he disappears and reappears. We wanted to keep things as flowing as possible. Because everything has the correct sense of physics, it contributes movement and dynamism to the frame.”
For the 1960s military parade through Moscow’s Red Square, Matt Johnson and visual effects photographer Aviv Yaron spent a week in Moscow capturing literally hundreds of high dynamic range (HDR) stills from different angles and at different times of the day to be used as a basis for modeling and texturing. Nuke software was used in essentially a projected texture technique to create a full CG virtual set. “We could have painted or drawn or created something,” says Matt Johnson “but the more things are grounded in reality, the more realistic they look.”
Antony Hunt, managing director of Cinesite concluded, “Working on X-Men: First Class gave us the opportunity to do some of the most complex compositing we’ve done yet. It’s one of the great ironies of our business that the best visual effects are the ones you don’t notice and our Red Square shots are a great example of this. We also enjoyed the challenges that the Cerebro Room brought. There are subtle references to previous X-Men films which we hope hardcore fans will spot.”