While X-MEN comics have been top sellers for decades, only today's cutting-edge special effects could bring them to cinematic life. Overseeing the technical wizardry were Oscar nominated visual effects supervisor Michael Fink and creature effects/special makeup effects
designer Gordon Smith. Stunt coordinator Gary Jensen (The River Wild, The Usual Suspects), second unit director (fight sequences) Corey Yuen (Romeo Must Die, Lethal Weapon 4), and special effects coordinator Cohn Chilvers (Academy Award winner for Superman) also made key contributions.
Fink relied heavily on computer animatics, a series of animated shots used as reference for a final product. For example, an explosive action sequence set at a train station was created as an
animatic, stored on a laptop computer and readily accessible on set as a reference.
Fink's biggest challenges were designing the computer generated effects for the characters' unique powers, including: adamantium claws, optic blasts, ten-foot tongues, the Blackbird jet, shape-shifting, and a character meltdown (literally). "We don't save our big effects for the third act," says Fink, who supervised the work of no less than six top effects houses to realize the X-MEN CG wizardry.
Working closely with Fink was special creature effects makeup supervisor Gordon Smith. Smith and his team from FX Smith, Inc. were responsible primarily for the design and execution of Wolverine's claws, Toad's elastic tongue and the special prosthetic makeup applications for Mystique, Sabretooth and Toad.
Smith knew that fans would be looking closely at one of their favorite X-MEN trademarks: Wolverine's claws. They'll no doubt be pleased that Smith designed and created fifteen different sets for actor Hugh
Jackman. Some were plastic or metal, others were flexible, or chopped off for scenes of Wolverine punching through walls. Other models were mechanical or created through computer generated images.
Another critical X-MEN component is Toad's tongue, which can stretch from six feet to fifteen feet long. Smith designed it as a dental plate that actor Ray Park bit to keep his mouth open, as Toad's elongated lingua (courtesy of Mike Fink's effects magic) wreaked havoc on the X-Men.
According to Smith, designing these special devices and, especially, the character makeup, provided new opportunities. "I had to jump into a new area of technology to achieve what was needed," Smith explains. "Although I have been working with prosthetic technology for the last seven years, X-MEN required the newer field of silicone technology that had never been tried before on film."
The Toad and Sabretooth makeup applications were relatively straightforward, because only the visible parts of their bodies — faces, heads and hands — had to be applied. However transforming Rebecca Romijn-Stamos into Mystique was a whole different ball of wax — or in this case, silicone.
"It was a very elaborate process," Smith explains. "From head to toe, she was wearing close to 70 self-sticking silicone prosthetics, and her entire body is painted blue, including ears, nose, soles of her feet, and just about any other place you could imagine. That's all topped off with a vibrant red wig and yellow contact lenses. The first time we did the application it took ten hours. By the end, we got it down to between six and eight hours."
Romijn-Stamos, not surprisingly, had mixed feelings about her makeup routine, which she calls a cross between "the coolest thing she's ever seen" and "the most obscene, excruciating and humbling experience" of her life. "The most difficult part was the amount of time," she states, "during which I was poked, prodded and painted in places I never expected." The extensive makeup process, time working on the set, and the two hours it took to remove
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