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  • BREAKDOWNS

    Rising Sun Pictures Journeys into a Mutant Mind for “Dark Phoenix”

    Studio delivers 150 shots for 20th Century Fox’s latest X-Men blockbuster, including a harrowing Cerebro sequence that uncovers Jean Grey’s troubled past.

    Continuing its association with 20th Century Fox’ acclaimed X-Men franchise, Rising Sun Pictures contributed nearly 150 visual effects shots to the latest film in the superhero saga, Dark Phoenix. RSP’s work on the film spanned nearly 18 months and involved close collaboration with Director Simon Kinberg, VFX Supervisor Phil Brennan and VFX Producer Kurt Williams.

    The focal point of the studio’s work was an extended sequence where Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) use the telepathic machine Cerebro to journey into the mind of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whose struggle with the mysterious entity Dark Phoenix is the catalyst of the plot. Memories from Jean Grey’s troubled past form out of the inky mist of her neural activity as the three mutants search for clues to help save her.

    A central task for RSP was to develop a digital environment to represent Jean Grey’s thought process and the physical workings of her brain. VFX Supervisor Dennis Jones, who led the studio’s team, says they drew part of their inspiration from real-world brain science. “I found a fantastic TED Talk about scientists who slice off tiny bits of brain to determine how neuron strands connect its various parts,” he explains.

    “We used neurons like those, and their associated electrical activity, to define the space and to act as an anchor point to let the audience know we are inside the anatomy of the brain.”

    Developing a way to represent memories in a convincing and artistic manner proved a bigger challenge. Working collaboratively, the team hit on the idea of using a viscous liquid, resembling a cloud tank or ink spreading in a pool of water, to represent thoughts. The inky substance moves in wispy, undulating waves in depicting Jean Grey’s memories. “We wanted to avoid anything that looked like a hologram or objects suspended in space,” recalls Jones. “The inky material is soft, organic, evolving. It’s smoky and fluid, appears in varying shapes and colors, and coalesces naturally into specific visions.”

    Jones and a team of artists assisted with the production of the live action portion of the scene, involving the actors and the Cerebro set piece. The timing and movement of the live elements had to be precisely choreographed and coordinated with the planned animation. To facilitate that, the effects team placed light panels on the set and projected images simulating Jean Grey’s memories onto them so that the actors could react to them naturally.

    “We shot the sequence on a stage that was essentially a green cube,” notes Jones. “That allowed us to point cameras in any direction. We did multiple passes with a crane circling around the actors and capturing their performances from a variety of perspectives. We shot the heart of the sequence, start to finish, and got the coverage we needed to tell the story in the most exciting way possible.”

    Back at RSP’s studio in Adelaide, artists built the brain environment and populated it with Jean Grey’s memories. Normally when creating a digital environment, the studio’s effects artists take the lead in defining the space and filling it with set pieces and props. However, in this instance—as the brain space was amorphous and filled with pulsing neurons that could appear anywhere—the studio’s layout artists took the first step by creating a tool that allowed effects artists to generate the basic structure for neurons on-the-fly.

    “Artists could simply point and click to create neurons,” explains Layout Lead Mark Honer. “They could connect neurons, move their tendrils and position them in any way that they liked. They could work with individual neurons procedurally and get right down to the nitty gritty, adjusting their position relative to the camera. Once they had a neuron where they wanted it, they added effects and texture to make it look awesome.”

    Along with the neurons, the effects team filled the brain space with a 3-dimensional inky fluid. Jean Grey’s memories were created by mapping photographic images (which were also 3D) onto parts of the ink as it fused into apparently solid forms. “The production footage included scenes like young Jean with her mother at a birthday party and splashing through puddles,” says Effects Lead Sam Hancock. “We produced simulations of those scenes that make them look less photographic and more abstract and airier.”

    The trick was to make the 3D memory images appear to be composed from the inky thought-substance, rather than as simple projections. “It took finesse to achieve the proper balance so that the memories look clear, but not like images on a screen,” Hancock explains.

    2D Lead Andrew Savchenko says that the team produced many iterations of the inky substance and the memory images to achieve Simon Kinberg’s unique creative vision. “Our task was to create visuals that hadn’t been seen before,” he explains, “and yet, they had to seem familiar at the same time. We had to achieve something that was by its nature contradictory. It had to look both real and not real.”

    Lighting inside the brain was also unusual and difficult to execute. Most of the light derived from the neurons, which pulsed in irregular beats, reflecting Jean Grey’s growing mental torment. This neural light coursed through the scene in all directions and each beam had to coordinate with the movement of the camera and Cerebro. “There were hundreds of moving lights,” notes Lighting Lead Arthur Moody, “and we needed to control the intensity of each one. When they were close to the camera, the lights needed to appear brighter. When they moved off, they needed to be dialed down.”

    “Each time a neuron fired a light, the beam traveled along a path ‘seeking out’ another neuron,” Moody adds. “We had the option of choosing the shortest path, or one that was longer and more visually interesting. Neutrons were firing pretty much all over the place. For the lighting team, it was invigorating to work on a sequence that demanded so much creativity.”

    RSP’s work on Dark Phoenix also included digital set extensions for the X-Mansion. (Ironically, for 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, the studio played a role in the mansion’s destruction.) The effects and compositing departments also assisted with numerous “aging” effects for flashback scenes where characters appear as their younger selves. They also created wind, smoke and other atmospheric effects for a fight sequence on a train involving Storm.

    The sheer number and complexity of the shots, along with the length production, demanded close and detailed coordination between RSP and the production team from 20th Century Fox. “There were many iterations of shots going back and forth, especially for the Cerebro sequence,” recalls VFX Producer Corinne Teng. “Fortunately, the studio is very well organised, and we have a very strong pipeline on our end, so it went smoothly. Creatively, our team did a great job. Everyone worked hard and it paid off. The visuals are stunning.”

    Jones similarly expressed satisfaction with the performance of the team in what he termed “another brilliant collaboration with Fox.” “Most of our leads are longstanding members of the RSP team and veterans of previous X-Men movies,” he says. “We love working on films like this that require unique effects and are open to creative interpretation. We especially look forward to projects under the Fox banner because they like to push things. We were lucky to be involved in Dark Phoenix. Our team gave its all, and it shows.”

    BREAKDOWNS

    Rising Sun Pictures Journeys into a Mutant Mind for “Dark Phoenix”

    Studio delivers 150 shots for 20th Century Fox’s latest X-Men blockbuster, including a harrowing Cerebro sequence that uncovers Jean Grey’s troubled past.

    Continuing its association with 20th Century Fox’ acclaimed X-Men franchise, Rising Sun Pictures contributed nearly 150 visual effects shots to the latest film in the superhero saga, Dark Phoenix. RSP’s work on the film spanned nearly 18 months and involved close collaboration with Director Simon Kinberg, VFX Supervisor Phil Brennan and VFX Producer Kurt Williams.

    The focal point of the studio’s work was an extended sequence where Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) use the telepathic machine Cerebro to journey into the mind of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whose struggle with the mysterious entity Dark Phoenix is the catalyst of the plot. Memories from Jean Grey’s troubled past form out of the inky mist of her neural activity as the three mutants search for clues to help save her.

    A central task for RSP was to develop a digital environment to represent Jean Grey’s thought process and the physical workings of her brain. VFX Supervisor Dennis Jones, who led the studio’s team, says they drew part of their inspiration from real-world brain science. “I found a fantastic TED Talk about scientists who slice off tiny bits of brain to determine how neuron strands connect its various parts,” he explains.

    “We used neurons like those, and their associated electrical activity, to define the space and to act as an anchor point to let the audience know we are inside the anatomy of the brain.”

    Developing a way to represent memories in a convincing and artistic manner proved a bigger challenge. Working collaboratively, the team hit on the idea of using a viscous liquid, resembling a cloud tank or ink spreading in a pool of water, to represent thoughts. The inky substance moves in wispy, undulating waves in depicting Jean Grey’s memories. “We wanted to avoid anything that looked like a hologram or objects suspended in space,” recalls Jones. “The inky material is soft, organic, evolving. It’s smoky and fluid, appears in varying shapes and colors, and coalesces naturally into specific visions.”

    Jones and a team of artists assisted with the production of the live action portion of the scene, involving the actors and the Cerebro set piece. The timing and movement of the live elements had to be precisely choreographed and coordinated with the planned animation. To facilitate that, the effects team placed light panels on the set and projected images simulating Jean Grey’s memories onto them so that the actors could react to them naturally.

    “We shot the sequence on a stage that was essentially a green cube,” notes Jones. “That allowed us to point cameras in any direction. We did multiple passes with a crane circling around the actors and capturing their performances from a variety of perspectives. We shot the heart of the sequence, start to finish, and got the coverage we needed to tell the story in the most exciting way possible.”

    Back at RSP’s studio in Adelaide, artists built the brain environment and populated it with Jean Grey’s memories. Normally when creating a digital environment, the studio’s effects artists take the lead in defining the space and filling it with set pieces and props. However, in this instance—as the brain space was amorphous and filled with pulsing neurons that could appear anywhere—the studio’s layout artists took the first step by creating a tool that allowed effects artists to generate the basic structure for neurons on-the-fly.

    “Artists could simply point and click to create neurons,” explains Layout Lead Mark Honer. “They could connect neurons, move their tendrils and position them in any way that they liked. They could work with individual neurons procedurally and get right down to the nitty gritty, adjusting their position relative to the camera. Once they had a neuron where they wanted it, they added effects and texture to make it look awesome.”

    Along with the neurons, the effects team filled the brain space with a 3-dimensional inky fluid. Jean Grey’s memories were created by mapping photographic images (which were also 3D) onto parts of the ink as it fused into apparently solid forms. “The production footage included scenes like young Jean with her mother at a birthday party and splashing through puddles,” says Effects Lead Sam Hancock. “We produced simulations of those scenes that make them look less photographic and more abstract and airier.”

    The trick was to make the 3D memory images appear to be composed from the inky thought-substance, rather than as simple projections. “It took finesse to achieve the proper balance so that the memories look clear, but not like images on a screen,” Hancock explains.

    2D Lead Andrew Savchenko says that the team produced many iterations of the inky substance and the memory images to achieve Simon Kinberg’s unique creative vision. “Our task was to create visuals that hadn’t been seen before,” he explains, “and yet, they had to seem familiar at the same time. We had to achieve something that was by its nature contradictory. It had to look both real and not real.”

    Lighting inside the brain was also unusual and difficult to execute. Most of the light derived from the neurons, which pulsed in irregular beats, reflecting Jean Grey’s growing mental torment. This neural light coursed through the scene in all directions and each beam had to coordinate with the movement of the camera and Cerebro. “There were hundreds of moving lights,” notes Lighting Lead Arthur Moody, “and we needed to control the intensity of each one. When they were close to the camera, the lights needed to appear brighter. When they moved off, they needed to be dialed down.”

    “Each time a neuron fired a light, the beam traveled along a path ‘seeking out’ another neuron,” Moody adds. “We had the option of choosing the shortest path, or one that was longer and more visually interesting. Neutrons were firing pretty much all over the place. For the lighting team, it was invigorating to work on a sequence that demanded so much creativity.”

    RSP’s work on Dark Phoenix also included digital set extensions for the X-Mansion. (Ironically, for 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, the studio played a role in the mansion’s destruction.) The effects and compositing departments also assisted with numerous “aging” effects for flashback scenes where characters appear as their younger selves. They also created wind, smoke and other atmospheric effects for a fight sequence on a train involving Storm.

    The sheer number and complexity of the shots, along with the length production, demanded close and detailed coordination between RSP and the production team from 20th Century Fox. “There were many iterations of shots going back and forth, especially for the Cerebro sequence,” recalls VFX Producer Corinne Teng. “Fortunately, the studio is very well organised, and we have a very strong pipeline on our end, so it went smoothly. Creatively, our team did a great job. Everyone worked hard and it paid off. The visuals are stunning.”

    Jones similarly expressed satisfaction with the performance of the team in what he termed “another brilliant collaboration with Fox.” “Most of our leads are longstanding members of the RSP team and veterans of previous X-Men movies,” he says. “We love working on films like this that require unique effects and are open to creative interpretation. We especially look forward to projects under the Fox banner because they like to push things. We were lucky to be involved in Dark Phoenix. Our team gave its all, and it shows.”

    Credits & Crew
    Director:
    Simon Kinberg
    VFX Producer:
    Kurt Williams
    VFX Supervisor:
    Phil Brennan
    Rising Sun Pictures:
    Aanikka Holder Aaron Patrick Stewart Abby Nath Abhishek Pandey Adam Klein Adam Potter Advait Kamble Agathe Courtisse Alana Newell Albert Radosevic Alex Meddick Alexander Hoetzer Alexandra Daunt Watney Alwyn A Hunt Alyssa Blackwell Andrea Dutti Andreas Steinlein Andrew Palmer Andrew Savchenko Andy Peel Ang Lu Anil Reddy Ch Anna Hodge Anne Vu Anthony Paul Chappina Anthony Smith Anthony Winter Anto Bond Arthur Moody Arthur Terzis Arwen Munro Ashleigh White Ashley Mason Aysha Ley Balaji K.P. Ben Dickson Ben Paschke Benjamin Holen Benjamin T. Kay Bhawna Vijay Brice Lehmann Brittany Graham Brodie Mccrossin Bryn Bayliss Caitlyn Thomas Caleb Hecht Cameron Van Den Besselaar Cara Gately Carl St-Pierre Carlos Donis Lemus Celia Clennett Chantelle Searle Chelsea Mirus Chris King Chris Rosenhain Christina Rzewucki Christopher Janssen Claire Kearton Claire Le Teuff Claire Louise Hoey Colin Rhodes Corinne Teng Craig Field Crystel Newman Dally Garcia Arreaza Damian Doennig Dan Wills Daniel Harkness Daniel Steart Daniel Thompson Daniel Velikov Danielle Cardella David Bemi David Cattermole David Caunce David Pekarek David Schulz Demian Astur Dennis Jones Dilen Shah Dipesh V. Palan Dylan Binns Ed Wilkie Eleisha Francis Eliza Scott Emma Hildestrand Emma Thompson Fabian Holtz Felix B Lafontaine Florent Revel Francesc Donaire Francesca Jocelyn Milde Francesco Cadoni Fredrick Lyn Gail Fuller Gareth Eriksson Gemma Wood Geoff Hadfield Georgie Brown Gillian Howe Greg Wieder Guido Wolter Hang Li Hao Truong Harry Medlin Harshal Patil Heath Dingle Hubert Maston Hui-Wen Wu Ian Cope Ignacio Laorga Ilona Blyth Ivy Li Jai Mcgregor James Clift James Tavet Jamie Macdougall Jaroslava Chalásová Jason Scott Jayden Beveridge Jebb Ng Jennie Zeiher Jess Burnheim Jesse Meler Jessica Lin Joel Michael Johan Van Huyssteen John Perrigo John Saleem John Toth John Van Der Zalm Jonathan Blieschke Jonathon Mckendrick Jonathon Sumner Jono Coy Jordan Vanderlinden Joseph Roberts Josh Ellem Joshua Goetz Josip Peterkovic Julia Caplin Julian D Payne Julian Hutchens Julien Taton Juliette Christie Justin Greenwood Kate Bernauer Kathy Constantin Kian Zand Kieran Ogden-Brunell Kieran Shepherd Kirsty Parkin Kurt Debens Lachlan Tolley Leiah Sears Leslie Safley Levon Hudson Liam Gare Lu, Ting Yun Luan Nguyen Luke Flanagan Makoto Hatanaka Malte Sarnes Manuj Basnotra Marc H Langbein Marcus Wells Maree Friday Marie-Eve Gelinas Mark Honer Mark Laszlo Mark Story Mark Van Den Bergen Mateusz Krzastek Mathew Mackereth Matt Greig Matthew Shaw Maude Deschenes Meagan Chancellor Meherzad Minbattiwala Merinda Janse Van Rensburg Michael Furniss Michael Johns Michael Majchrzak Michaela Danby Mohamed Ghouse Naeem Chudawala Nathan Jones Nathan Perkins Nathan Zeppel Nick Beins Nick Pill Nicole Mather Nikhil Kamboj Nikhil Shankar-Noble Nikolas Slotiuk Noah Vice Noemie Cruciani Nonis Nicole Oleg Magrisso Owen Williams Parikshat Tyagi Paris Downes Patrick Cashel Paul Boyd Paul Kirwan Paul Taylor Peter Jurca Peter Mcinulty Petr Rohr Philip Fraschetti Phoebe Shaw Pol Chanthasartratsamee Premamurti Paetsch Qazi Hamza Javed Rajbir S Dhalla Rebecca Bogert Rebecca Mercurio Rebecca Wells Renee Marsland Reuben Montgomery Rita Alicia Garcia Rob Hamilton Robert Beveridge Robert Junggeburt Roberto Velio Genito Robin Reyer Rodrigo Guerechit-Ratti Roland Dobson Rory Clark Ross Novak Rushikesh Joshi Ryan Heniser Ryan Kirby Sam Hodge Sam Williams Samantha Abda Samuel Hancock Sandeep Roy Sara Henschke Sarah Beneke Sarah Neveu Sarah Vinson Sean Fernandes Sebastian Tran Shane Aherne Shane Berry Shane Miranda Sharna Hackett Shawn Mccarten Simon Malessa Simon Walsh Sithiriscient Khay Sivan Goundar Sophie Elder Sophie Taylor Spyro Polymiadis Stanley Marshall Jones Stepan Pazderka Stewart Alves Subhasish Saha Summer Swanson Thomas Baxter Thomas Cant Thomas Maher Tim Crosbie Tim Mackintosh Tim Quarry Timmy Lundin Tina Hudson Tom Wood Tony Clark Tor Andreassen Troy Tobin Turea Blyth Usama Alina Zeba Ghufran Vahan Sosoyan Verity Colyer Victor Glushchenko Vitalii Stadnyk Wayne Hollingsworth Wayne Howe Wayne Lewis Wendy Nethercott Yulia Romanowski Zac Coster
    Director:
    Simon Kinberg
    VFX Producer:
    Kurt Williams
    VFX Supervisor:
    Phil Brennan
    Rising Sun Pictures:
    Aanikka Holder Aaron Patrick Stewart Abby Nath Abhishek Pandey Adam Klein Adam Potter Advait Kamble Agathe Courtisse Alana Newell Albert Radosevic Alex Meddick Alexander Hoetzer Alexandra Daunt Watney Alwyn A Hunt Alyssa Blackwell Andrea Dutti Andreas Steinlein Andrew Palmer Andrew Savchenko Andy Peel Ang Lu Anil Reddy Ch Anna Hodge Anne Vu Anthony Paul Chappina Anthony Smith Anthony Winter Anto Bond Arthur Moody Arthur Terzis Arwen Munro Ashleigh White Ashley Mason Aysha Ley Balaji K.P. Ben Dickson Ben Paschke Benjamin Holen Benjamin T. Kay Bhawna Vijay Brice Lehmann Brittany Graham Brodie Mccrossin Bryn Bayliss Caitlyn Thomas Caleb Hecht Cameron Van Den Besselaar Cara Gately Carl St-Pierre Carlos Donis Lemus Celia Clennett Chantelle Searle Chelsea Mirus Chris King Chris Rosenhain Christina Rzewucki Christopher Janssen Claire Kearton Claire Le Teuff Claire Louise Hoey Colin Rhodes Corinne Teng Craig Field Crystel Newman Dally Garcia Arreaza Damian Doennig Dan Wills Daniel Harkness Daniel Steart Daniel Thompson Daniel Velikov Danielle Cardella David Bemi David Cattermole David Caunce David Pekarek David Schulz Demian Astur Dennis Jones Dilen Shah Dipesh V. Palan Dylan Binns Ed Wilkie Eleisha Francis Eliza Scott Emma Hildestrand Emma Thompson Fabian Holtz Felix B Lafontaine Florent Revel Francesc Donaire Francesca Jocelyn Milde Francesco Cadoni Fredrick Lyn Gail Fuller Gareth Eriksson Gemma Wood Geoff Hadfield Georgie Brown Gillian Howe Greg Wieder Guido Wolter Hang Li Hao Truong Harry Medlin Harshal Patil Heath Dingle Hubert Maston Hui-Wen Wu Ian Cope Ignacio Laorga Ilona Blyth Ivy Li Jai Mcgregor James Clift James Tavet Jamie Macdougall Jaroslava Chalásová Jason Scott Jayden Beveridge Jebb Ng Jennie Zeiher Jess Burnheim Jesse Meler Jessica Lin Joel Michael Johan Van Huyssteen John Perrigo John Saleem John Toth John Van Der Zalm Jonathan Blieschke Jonathon Mckendrick Jonathon Sumner Jono Coy Jordan Vanderlinden Joseph Roberts Josh Ellem Joshua Goetz Josip Peterkovic Julia Caplin Julian D Payne Julian Hutchens Julien Taton Juliette Christie Justin Greenwood Kate Bernauer Kathy Constantin Kian Zand Kieran Ogden-Brunell Kieran Shepherd Kirsty Parkin Kurt Debens Lachlan Tolley Leiah Sears Leslie Safley Levon Hudson Liam Gare Lu, Ting Yun Luan Nguyen Luke Flanagan Makoto Hatanaka Malte Sarnes Manuj Basnotra Marc H Langbein Marcus Wells Maree Friday Marie-Eve Gelinas Mark Honer Mark Laszlo Mark Story Mark Van Den Bergen Mateusz Krzastek Mathew Mackereth Matt Greig Matthew Shaw Maude Deschenes Meagan Chancellor Meherzad Minbattiwala Merinda Janse Van Rensburg Michael Furniss Michael Johns Michael Majchrzak Michaela Danby Mohamed Ghouse Naeem Chudawala Nathan Jones Nathan Perkins Nathan Zeppel Nick Beins Nick Pill Nicole Mather Nikhil Kamboj Nikhil Shankar-Noble Nikolas Slotiuk Noah Vice Noemie Cruciani Nonis Nicole Oleg Magrisso Owen Williams Parikshat Tyagi Paris Downes Patrick Cashel Paul Boyd Paul Kirwan Paul Taylor Peter Jurca Peter Mcinulty Petr Rohr Philip Fraschetti Phoebe Shaw Pol Chanthasartratsamee Premamurti Paetsch Qazi Hamza Javed Rajbir S Dhalla Rebecca Bogert Rebecca Mercurio Rebecca Wells Renee Marsland Reuben Montgomery Rita Alicia Garcia Rob Hamilton Robert Beveridge Robert Junggeburt Roberto Velio Genito Robin Reyer Rodrigo Guerechit-Ratti Roland Dobson Rory Clark Ross Novak Rushikesh Joshi Ryan Heniser Ryan Kirby Sam Hodge Sam Williams Samantha Abda Samuel Hancock Sandeep Roy Sara Henschke Sarah Beneke Sarah Neveu Sarah Vinson Sean Fernandes Sebastian Tran Shane Aherne Shane Berry Shane Miranda Sharna Hackett Shawn Mccarten Simon Malessa Simon Walsh Sithiriscient Khay Sivan Goundar Sophie Elder Sophie Taylor Spyro Polymiadis Stanley Marshall Jones Stepan Pazderka Stewart Alves Subhasish Saha Summer Swanson Thomas Baxter Thomas Cant Thomas Maher Tim Crosbie Tim Mackintosh Tim Quarry Timmy Lundin Tina Hudson Tom Wood Tony Clark Tor Andreassen Troy Tobin Turea Blyth Usama Alina Zeba Ghufran Vahan Sosoyan Verity Colyer Victor Glushchenko Vitalii Stadnyk Wayne Hollingsworth Wayne Howe Wayne Lewis Wendy Nethercott Yulia Romanowski Zac Coster

    'Red Dog' was actually brown.
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    +61 8 8400 6400 vfxinfo@rsp.com.au

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    Level 1, 180 Pulteney Street Adelaide, South Australia 5000 Australia

    +61 8 8400 6400 vfxinfo@rsp.com.au

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