X-Men team member Jean Grey’s dark powers come to the surface and begin to corrupt her from the inside out, as she transforms into the Dark Phoenix. The final X-Men film made under 20th Century Fox discovers whether the team will sacrifice their friend in turn for the salvation of mankind.
Subsequent to Director Simon Kinberg’s vision of a character driven film, MPC’s work on Dark Phoenix was an enhancement and complement to the performances, with the film staying true to the comic book storyline
MPC was the lead facility on the project and delivered over 660 shots, though they worked on many more. Over 1,350 out of the 1,700 shots have a visual effects component. With a team of over 1,500 artists, they created all of the X-Men digital doubles and supplied them to other VFX vendors. The project was led out of MPC Montreal, where the filming was done. MPC Bangalore did a lot of asset, compositing and other 2D work while MPC London did some of the key asset design work. There was also support from the MPC art department in Los Angeles for key periods of the design process.
Headed by MPC VFX Supervisor Greg Butler, one of the key aspects of the Dark Phoenix’s appearance was the crack pattern portrayed across her face; the team first focused on the cheeks, forehead and hands but used these zones for semi-random placement. The patterns were then projected onto the Dark Phoenix model, allowing the transferring of animations and patterns from shot to shot with a high level of continuity. MPC then looked to create an animation that caused the cracks to open and close using polylines for definition and animation stored in their points.
When character Dazzler made her debut on screen, the scene became a dreamy, peaceful, rhythmic particle show. While filming, a set of controlled lights shone on the actors, and set a base for the ideas that the team at MPC used to create their designs on. In other noteworthy shots, MPC built a strong relationship between special and visual effects when Jean pulls down the military helicopter. In creating a rig that allowed complete control with the blades off and the engine out, visual effects were used in putting the blades back on and creating a dusty result.
As the Dark Phoenix is finally confronted by The X-Men, MPC created a Fifth Avenue extension incorporating Magneto pulling a subway up the street and then her torturing Charles. The scene ends with Jessica Chastain’s character on the rooftop watching the mutants being taken away by the military. “I had a great collaboration with the other Second Unit department heads, especially lighting and SFX, as we often needed interactive passes for the different mutant powers,” says Butler. “We had Cyclops’ red light and impact explosions, Storm’s lightning flashes, and Magneto causing general mayhem. Props, costumes, makeup and FX all helped provide valuable information, reference and support to the visual effects work.” Everyone involved in both of those departments would check in every day to run through the plan and confirm they were all agreed on how much of a given effect was going to be captured in camera and how much was going to be created or augmented in post. There are plenty of moments where VFX did very little, such as remove a few wires or an SFX rig from a shot. For example, the police cars Jean flips over in her old neighbourhood. This was all practical, except for VFX adding a 3rd police car before the crash and adding digital police inside the cars.
Butler relays that the most challenging scene to enhance was the train attack sequence in which every shot had stunt work to enhance or add digital work to. Many shots had partial or complete CG background and digital double takeovers. It was also the last scene to shoot and had to be done quickly, without the longer development process we had for the rest of the work.