X-Men: The Last Stand Set Visit – Part 4

After the Q&A completed, we were told that we were going to get to see Kelsey Grammer as he was in the middle of being made up into Beast. They would go in two groups, so I stayed behind and interviewed Visual Effects Supervisor John Bruno instead.

John Bruno is the Visual Effects Supervisor for X-Men: The Last Stand. He’s also been responsible for the effects in most of your favorite movies. He worked on Alien vs. Predator, “Titanic,” “True Lies,” “Cliffhanger,” “Batman Returns,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “The Abyss,” “Ghostbusters,” “Poltergeist,” “Fright Night,” and more. He also directed “Virus” and “T2 3-D: Battle Across Time”. In short, this guy has been involved in some cool stuff. My fellow geek press and I got to interview him on that freezing night in Vancouver.

Q: We just had the actors here and Brett Ratner and we were talking about how this is the biggest film emotionally, visually, design wise. Is it fair to say the same thing with the visual effects, compared to the first two films and a tighter deadline?

Bruno: Yeah, we have quite a few more visual effects in this movie than in the last two films. And a tighter deadline.

Q: What does that mean to you as the supervisor? Is it just like a seven day a week grind for you? Are you just always on the go with not a moments rest?

Bruno: Well, this film, I’ve been here 7 months, had 2 days off, because if it’s not first unit, it’s second unit. And the problem we’ve got, no, it’s not a problem, it’s just the issue we have is the biggest sequence, visual effects wise, is the entire end of the movie which we are shooting now. Usually you try to schedule that in the beginning, and the original approach to the film was that there are so many visual effects shots, we should try to get as much done in-camera as possible. So we built a full size section of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I don’t know if you’ve seen, and a 1 to 1 section of Alcatraz that matches Alcatraz that we have to basically line up visually, and with photographs and real helicopter footage, and footage we shot looking at the island from the ocean. So, it’s very complicated and part of the concept, even with the second unit working with Simon Crane, is that we try to do as much, he can do as much in camera as possible. Like Angel flying for real in a location. What Simon’s been really helping with is putting the actors in the real environment, for real flying them on wires, dropping them off the roof up here. We have our Angel character, we pulled him 200 feet up in the air and swung him over the street in Briarton, out here, it was supposed to be downtown San Francisco. We really did it, and then basically what we have to do, in that concept, is take the cable and the rigs out and then add wings in CG. So the lighting’s going to be right, we know what the shadows are supposed to look like, it will advance us into our schedule, and there will also be a guy, where we’re not compositing him into the shot, just adding the wing. So that approach on a lot of levels throughout this film will take it to another level. The whole goal that I’ve seen studying the first two films, because I wasn’t involved in the first two, is that realism is the goal. It’s not fantasy, it’s not a ‘Lord of the Rings’ approach to anything in there. These people don’t do magic, they really have some strange power, and what it has to do is lock somewhere in reality. So whatever we do has to be based in nature, and that’s the goal, and we’re trying to stick to that.

Q: Now, we were told yesterday, I think by one of the producers, that obviously there’s a template for many of the visual effects from the two previous films. You’re using several of the same houses that worked in X-Men and X2, is that correct?

Bruno: Wherever something worked really well, we don’t want to change it, so the company that did Mystique is doing Mystique. We are doing a couple of sequences with London houses. We’ve now brought on Weta. They’re a bit late, because they were delayed in delivering King Kong, but they’re here tonight actually, and they’re going to take on the bulk of the end of this movie. Just because of our schedule we need to really amp it up.

Q: Were there things, effects, in X-Men and X2, that you saw that maybe you didn’t understand or thought that you could improve upon that you are now implementing for this film?

Bruno: Well our approach is to start with what everybody knows and see if we can enhance it a little bit. We’re not trying to alter things entirely. I think we’re going to try to make the rays from Cyclops a little more visceral, a little more realistic looking. But we do have all these new characters. We have Beast, who in the books is very agile, but we have Kelsey Grammer out there who’s freezing, so we’ll be adding some moves based on some style that’s described in the books, the comic books, of what he has to do and that will be digital. But we have done digital, basically digital scans of every member of the cast in case they have to do something that’s impossible. We don’t even know what that is yet, but we’re ready.

Q: Was there any technology forced into existence in this production?

Bruno: Well, yeah, the opening of the movie. Well, yeah, there’s things in the opening of the movie that’s ground breaking and that didn’t exist until this movie. And we’ll be the first ones to be out in theaters with it, so it’s a technique. I think Simon Crane’s second unit stuff with cables and flying rigs are pretty outstanding because we’re actually using our actors. Every actor seems to have been flown at some point in this film – flown by a camera – so it’s pretty harrowing looking scenarios. Halle does some spectacular stuff, she creates a tornado, but we fly her up into the sky and it’s really good.

Q: What would you say is the most difficult effect in this film?

Bruno: Moving the bridge. Because, we’ve been looking at that, it’s pretty fun stuff. It’s scenes you’d like to see and it’s Magneto at his most insane, so it’s really good.

Q: Did you have a moment when as you read the script and you came aboard the project, “I just have no idea, this is amazing, and it reads great on the page, but I don’t have a clue how we’re going to bring it to life on the screen?”

Bruno: There’s nothing now that does that to me. In my whole career there’s been certain things that sort of panic me, nothing here, it’s just can I move this bridge from where it is to this new location in the amount of time that we have. And we approach that by doing gigantic miniatures, and using them as much as possible, and then matching that, even working with the art department, Ed Verreaux, we designed the wreckage on this bridge to be matched to what we can do in miniatures. We’ve been pretty much in sync the whole time, so working with the production designers on this, we’re so well in tune, it’s kind of made that job, at least I realize we can do it. Dante, this phenomenal DP, has helped and we’re in complete sync in how to do interactive lighting, how many passes we have to make, how we get this down. I work with Jimmy Morrow who is also sharing credit on the film, and on Titanic and on True Lies. I’ve worked with these guys before, so we kind of hand off things back and forth, if I need something they do it. They’ll ask me if they can do something and try to help out that way. So it’s pretty collaborative at this point.

Q: When you say gigantic miniatures, are these the biggest that you’ve ever worked with in the films that you’ve done?

Bruno: Just the section of the Golden Gate Bridge that we use in the film is just from the tower forward to where it breaks off is 60 feet, and we flew it. We couldn’t break it hardly, it’s the real thing. We had to weaken it somehow. Yeah, then we took the Fort Ross side and built that in similar scale and collapsed that. So it joined the San Francisco side. Pretty big. [On] Alien vs. Predator everything was third scale.

Q: We heard a little bit yesterday about the bridge sequence. Without giving away story details of what actually happens, can you tell us about it?

Bruno: Well, again, full size practical. It really exists. We built that set out there that you’ll be able to see on your way from here. Simon again flew Halle, flew Wolverine in some sequences. We have something called the “Fastball Special” that is part of the Marvel Universe. That’s done for real. Basically it’s Terminator 2 landscape. I’ve been there, I know what that looks like. I was having some flashbacks, I would say, when we were shooting that.

Q: Are you using very many miniatures?

Bruno: Yeah, San Francisco stuff was miniature. Something happens to the house, to Jean Grey’s house, we have a chunk of miniature in there.

Q: How do you safeguard yourself so you’re not dancing outside of the X-Men Universe?

Bruno: We have Kevin Feige here who just tells us if we have any questions. I mean script wise they run it by Marvel and by him. And if I have any questions, like how does Kitty Pryde rise up out of the ground, any technical stuff on that side, then he’ll advise us on that. So we’re constantly in the loop on that stuff. You know, Beast was one that I don’t know how he looks, and they’ll get information to us. As far as the other characters they’ve been pretty much established in the last two movies. Plus the actors themselves know what they can do. When I talked to Pyro about how do you throw a fire ball, he goes, “Like this.” (Flicks his wrist.) “Okay we’ll do that.”

Q: Are you working on a lot of digital extensions of the sets?

Bruno: Yeah, what we’re trying to do in this whole thing is try to get…..I always start out saying I want 90% practical so that we can only add 10% digital. We’re using all the tools to complete this film on our schedule, and I’ve seen a lot of the sequences now cut together and it’s all working so we’re just trying to shoot this out, but as you’ve seen tonight it doesn’t help when it snows especially when we’re in San Francisco at sunset.

Q: What’s more fun, doing this kind of special effects work or directing?

Bruno: Directing or this? This one I’m having a good time on. When I did Virus I was in hell but it doesn’t have to be, so, yeah we’re on a ship at sea in a storm. No this is okay, it’s just I wish we had more time as usual.

Q: You’ve worked with Jim Cameron several times, are you going to be working with him on some of his future projects?

Bruno: He’s in the process of doing….he’s got two things lined up. We haven’t talked about…I know which one he’s doing, and I sort of pick ’em on their level of interest. But yeah, Jim and I are friends.

Q: Are you doing anything special with Kitty Pryde’s phasing power?

Bruno: We do a very fun sequence here with Kitty being chased by Juggernaut, that should be very cool. That’s where we got the company. I’d seen a commercial one time where somebody crashed through a wall, and we basically got that same company. We just expanded into some exponential chase scene, very funny.

That concluded the formal Q&A, but we chatted a little with John Bruno informally afterwards. In that time he mentioned that we’ll see Bobby Drake ice-up into Iceman. “That’ll all be CG. You’ll see through him actually.”

He also spoke about that new technology that has never been used in a film before: “The opening scene of the movie takes place in 1985 with Xavier and Magneto as Dr. Lensherr and Charles Xavier and they’re going to meet Jean Grey. So they have to be 20 years younger. So we just filmed them normally and we have a company that has sort of come up with this technique, and we’ve already seen the first scene, we actually took them back 5 years, 10 years, to 30 years. It’s really creepy. And all the references as far as Xavier’s is Star Trek: The Next Generation. So we studied a lot of what he looked like 20 years ago. And Ian McKellen gave us some photographs of him as an actor 20 years ago. And what we’ve gotten back is absolutely spectacular. It hasn’t been seen in a film previous to this.” Bruno mentioned that the actors had seen the footage and that another actress played Jean Grey at age 9 in the scene.

We chatted with him a little more until the first group returned, then made our way to the makeup trailer to see Kelsey Grammer as Beast. Check it out in Part 5 of our X-Men: The Last Stand set visit report!

Source: Scott Chitwood