Australian VFX studio delivers more than 25 minutes for the latest edition to Fox’s “X-Men” franchise.
For The Wolverine, the team created more than 260 visual effects shots, including a recreation of the World War II atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, Japan. They also produced digital environments for a number of sequences, one being a scene set in a snow-covered Japanese village, and combat effects such as digital copies of Wolverine’s iconic claws for use in scenes involving challenging stunts.
The work was conducted under the supervision of production VFX Supervisor Philip Brennan and VFX Producer Jamie Stevenson. RSP’s team was led by VFX Supervisor Tim Crosbie.
“RSP was one of the primary vendors on The Wolverine and they brought a great deal to the table both creatively and technically,” says Stevenson. “Having worked with them in the past, we knew they would be a great fit for much of the claw work, and we felt that they were the right vendor to take on several key sequences requiring environment work, challenging simulations and particle effects.”
For the atomic bomb attack, which occurs in an early flashback sequence, RSP artists worked from archival footage to create CG models of Nagasaki and the towering mushroom cloud produced by the bomb. They also created radioactive shockwaves, pyroclastic waves and debris elements for shots showing the destruction of the prisoner of war camp where Wolverine is held.
“The view of Nagasaki, seen from across a harbor, required an extensive digital matte painting,” notes Crosbie. “We began by modeling the bomb after photographs of the actual blast and then, because James Mangold wanted something unique, we pushed the blast into something never before seen. We were able to leverage research we had done for previous destruction effects to make an event that is much, much bigger and more immersive. It’s exciting stuff.”
RSP built a detailed 3D model of the prisoner of war camp based on a location in Sydney, and then blew it apart as the radioactive shockwaves roll through. One of those waves carries Wolverine through the air. He lands in a stone well where he uses his body as a shield in saving the life of a Japanese soldier. “Components of the huts and wood that fly past the camera required a fair amount of choreography and numerous iterations to get the action beats just right,” recalls Crosbie. “Equally challenging was the pyroclastic cloud—the leading edge of the explosion—which sweeps across the city and the water and through the camp ripping up buildings, guard towers and everything else in its path. Our team did a fantastic job.”
Ninjas and more!
The Japanese Village scene, where Wolverine is attacked by an army of Ninjas, also required extensive visual effects enhancement. Live action was shot on a partial set built in a Sydney car park. RSP extended the set considerably with CG buildings, mountain ranges, and a digital version of a lab, sprinkled with snow. High, wide-angle views of the village are fully CG. Artists also created the torrent of arrows with ropes that are fired by ninjas at Wolverine in order to subdue and bind him. “The process involved identifying each of the ninjas and determining when each would fire,” Crosbie explains. “We match-moved a detailed CG model of Wolverine and used that to drive the arrows, rope dynamics and choreography of the scene. Once we knew where the arrows were coming from and going to, it was straightforward for the animators to work out the timing and hit their marks.”
Digital replacements for Wolverine’s claws were used in place of practical claws for scenes involving dangerous stunts. In those instances, actor Hugh Jackman wore stubs or tracking markers that served as guides for match-moving the digital claw assets. “Philip Brennan provided us with a full HDRI set for every shot requiring visual effects, so we knew exactly what lighting was required,” Crosbie notes. “That worked extremely well. Each claw was rendered out with an option of “blood stained” or “cleaned,” so at a moment’s notice we could make a scene gory or safe depending on the needs of the ratings board.”
Other items on RSP’s task list included adding wounds to Wolverine during some of his many fights, filling a bucket with a murky liquid that one of Wolverine’s adversaries uses to create poison arrows, and massive set extensions replacing iconic Sydney landmarks with iconic Japanese structures. Artists also created a matte painting and environmental elements for a scene set in Canada’s Yukon as well as all shots of the Yashida lab.
“Technically, everything went very well, and we hit all of the creative marks,” Crosbie says. “Our crew did a fantastic job and working with the team on The Wolverine was a wonderful collaborative experience.”