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X-Men: The Last Stand's Bridge Sequence

X-Men: The Last Stand is the third film in the highly successful series (May 31, 2006)

The Bridge Sequence contains the most complex visual effects in an effects-heavy picture. It features a huge array of elements – CG, digital backgrounds, miniatures, full-size sets with digital extensions, night-shot material that had to be matched with day-shots – all of which had to be brought together as a seamless whole.

We started the Bridge Sequence first and finished it last, and throughout it all Framestore CFC's contribution was never less than outstanding.
- John Bruno, Visual Effects Supervisor, X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand is the third film in the highly successful series about mutant heroes and villains possessing extraordinary superpowers. It opened 26th May around the world, and broke the Memorial Day weekend box-office records in the US, taking over $120m over the 4-day period. Starring Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Patrick Stewart, the film is a 20th Century Fox production. X-Men: The Last Stand was directed by Brett Ratner.



In the final chapter in the X-Men trilogy, a 'cure' for the mutants' condition threatens to alter the course of history. For the first time, mutants have a choice: retain their uniqueness, though it isolates and alienates them, or give up their powers and become human. The opposing viewpoints of mutant leaders Charles Xavier (Stewart), who preaches tolerance, and Magneto (McKellen), who believes in the survival of the fittest, are put to the ultimate test - triggering the war to end all wars...

Chief among Framestore CFC's contributions to the movie's VFX are the Bridge Sequence – wherein one of the mutant groups use their telekinetic powers to wrench San Francisco's famous Golden Gate Bridge from it's foundations and redirect it to form a link with the island of Alcatraz. The company's VFX team also gave CG wings to Angel, a character new to the mutant pantheon, as well as replacing him in some shots with a full digital double. In addition, the team handled a sequence where a fountain and pond are instantaneously frozen. Altogether, Framestore CFC provided the production with 175 VFX shots.

Bridge of Size
Framestore CFC's VFX Supervisor for the project was Craig Lyn, who had personal reasons for wanting to win the bid for the Bridge sequence. "Our VFX Producer on this project, Mei Ming Casino, and I had both lived in the (San Francisco) Bay area," he says, "And we both have very fond memories of it. The chance to play with one of the world's most famous bridges in a location we loved was just too good to miss." Lyn also attributes the quality of the work that the Framestore CFC team had produced for X-Men's VFX Supervisor, John Bruno, on Alien Vs. Predator as another factor that finally gained them the Bridge Sequence, despite competition from ILM, Weta and others.

The sheer scale of the sequence elements was a little daunting. The Golden Gate Bridge is 1.7 miles long, with its two towers stretching 746 feet above the water and weighing 44,000 tons each. "Just getting a structure as big and complex as this rigged for animation and then eventually rendered was a technical feat in itself," points out Lyn. Originally the team had planned for a mixture of around 75% miniatures plus CG, with live action back plates. An exceptionally high number of 'fog days' around the Bay area during the shoot, combined with night-for-day material from a further shoot in Vancouver, as well as sequence changes,  meant that Framestore CFC's bridge had to quickly evolve into a full highly detailed CG element, equipped to move in any way the production required. Some 90% of the shots required CG matte paintings for backgrounds. The shots also required CG Cars, CG debris and FX simulations, dynamic cable simulations and mutant digital doubles.

Paul Beilby, CG Supervisor for the project, describes some of the work that would go into shots of the bridge being wrenched from its moorings. "We'd frequently have no specific plate for a shot, and would generate it from scratch. The background would be created using a tiled environment, generated from photographs and assorted water elements from the area. In other shots where there were no suitable water elements, CG water was generated. The bridge and associated debris are all CG, using a combination of many techniques in order to convey the required epic scale and realism. This included multiple types of simulation, cloth, rigid body dynamics and fluid simulation as well as key frame animation. The dust and splashes were computer generated, using a mixture of particle and fluid simulation, then mixed with 2D elements from our element library." Alcatraz Island was enhanced using 2.5D methods, extending the compound to match the set that would be used in the final sequence.

The bridge was primarily modelled in Lightwave. It was assembled, rigged and animated in Maya for rendering with Renderman using image based lighting. Some of the destruction of the bridge was animated in Houdini before being passed to Maya for rendering, and Houdini also provided additional smoke and debris elements. There was, needless to say, a lot of custom code involved too.

The team compositing the various CG elements was headed by Matt Twyford. "The main challenges," Twyford says, "Were getting the initial look and time of day for the whole sequence. The elements consisted of cold, rainy night live-action footage from Vancouver, sunny day miniature elements, traditional misty day background plates of San Francisco, and of course the CG bridge and fx elements. We used the CG to glue all the disparate layers together by initially creating a 'golden-hour' sunset look entirely from CG and matte painting for the trailer. We then used this reference to aggressively grade and to repaint the background plates until we had a full selection of de-misted matching golden-hour plates. A lot of the water was replaced with CG, and the sky fully replaced with a 180 degree dome for continuity. The CG bridge was beauty lit and the FX lit in comp to blend the whole together. Lots and lots of additional live action FX elements were used to give scale to the shattering of the bridge."

Tools used during the composite of the Bridge Sequence included Shake, Silhouette for rotoscoping, and Commotion for paint. Photoshop was used for all the matte paintings using Framestore CFC's own colour space setups to keep the float space pipeline.

The other two effects that Framestore CFC brought to the X-Men table were the enormous wings sported by the new Angel character and the frozen pond used by the Iceman and Shadowcat characters. The team were fortunate in being able to build on the proprietary feather system based on technology the company had developed for the Hippogriff for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the Pegasus in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. They used Maya and Renderman to add CG wings to a live action actor, as well as replacing him altogether with a full CG double in some shots.

The box-office figures attest to the enduring appeal of the X-Men franchise, and Framestore CFC is pleased and proud to have brought a little of their own magic to the series. John Bruno, who supervised the X-Men: The Last Stand VFX, was at the movie's recent Cannes screening, and he says, "I'm thrilled with (Framestore CFC's) results, as were the Cannes audience, which loudly applauded the Bridge Sequence."

X-Men: The Last Stand
A 20th Century Fox Production
Directed by Brett Ratner

For Framestore CFC
Visual Effects Supervisor Craig Lyn
CG Supervisor Paul Beilby
2D Supervisor Matthew Twyford
Visual Effects Producer Mei-Ming Casino
Visual Effects Line Producer Charles Howell
Senior 3D Artists Carl Bianco, Sean Lewkiw, Mike Mulholland, Stuart Penn, Ben White
3D Artists Rob Allman, Ian Comley, Joel Ëinhorn, Nick Epstein, Philippe Leprince, Benjamin Loch, John Peter Li, Marine Poirson, John Roberts-Cox, Jean-Paul Rovela, Ben Schrijvers, Dan Sheerin, Joe Thornley, Alan Woods
2D Artists Ben Aickin, Helen Bunker, Jonathan Fawkner, Patricia Llaguno, Natalie Macdonald, Ivan Moran, Gustaf Nilsson, Alex Payman, John Peck, Travis Porter, Cristina Puente, Denis Scolan, John Sharp, David Shere, Kate Windibank
Animators Craig Bardsley, Antoine Birot, Adam Coglan
Modeller Alessandro Bonora
Riggers Felix Balbas, Wayde Duncan-Smith
Digital Matte Painters Thomas Esmeralda, Olivier Pron
Texture Artists Danny Geurtsen, Rebecca Melander
Editorial Richard Poet, Rob Woiwod
VFX Production Coordinator Alexandra Daunt Watney
Digital Paint Artists James D. Fleming, Simon J. Allen, Dan Mcrae, Anthony Peck, Aled Prosser, Alex Tate, Shahin Toosi
3D Camera Matchmovers Simon Carlisle, Lee Dexter, Frederic Heyman, Carl Jackson, Melvyn Polayah, Nicholas Reed


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Related Keywords:framestore cfc, X-Men: The Last Stand, Bridge Sequence, film production, visual effects,CG, digital backgrounds, miniatures

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