How Did They Do That Quicksilver Scene in “X-Men: Days of Future Past?”

Posted on May 31, 2014 at 3:59 pm

The most mind-blowing scene in the blockbuster “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is when the Quicksilver character played by Evan Peters stops time and rearranges everything from the trajectories of bullets seemingly suspended in air to the positions of the soldiers’ arms and legs.  CinemaBlend explains how it was done.

By speeding up the frame rate on everything but Evan Peters, you could then film the actor at regular speed, and when combined together, it would make Quicksilver appear as if he’s moving 150-times faster than everything and everyone around him. This allows Singer to let Peters manipulate his surroundings – moving a bullet or shifting a security guard’s arm – without disrupting the scene.

Be sure to check out the full description.  That’s why they call it movie magic.

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Behind the Scenes Special Effects

Interview: John Ottman, Editor and Composer of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Posted on May 27, 2014 at 8:00 am

I last talked to editor/composer John Ottman about “Jack the Giant Slayer” and loved hearing about his unique combination of roles, often working with his former classmate, director Bryan Singer.  They collaborated again on X-Men: Days of Future Past and it was a pleasure to catch up with him to discuss the challenges as both editor and composer of working with so many characters and two different time periods.

You have so many characters in this film and some of them change their appearance a lot, either due to use of their superpowers or being played by different actors in different time periods.  How do you as an editor help the audience keep everybody straight?

The hardest thing when you have many characters in a room in one scene is to basically keep their presence alive in the scene.  If you spend too much time with one character talking, your mind inevitably wants to know what the other characters are thinking or how they are reacting.  And if you spend too much time away from showing their reaction to the other character talking, the more I think you feel uncomfortable in the scene. So the challenge is sort of the keep everybody alive even if they’re not speaking.

What are some of the ways that you do that?

I just put myself in the mind of the audience. I’m watching someone speak and I as soon as I start to wonder what the other character or character being spoken of might be a reacting, I want to see them. I use my own reaction to cut to another character.

And there are different time periods in this film also.

Yeah, there’s a dreary future and then there is 1973.  Logan’s consciousness was fed back into his younger self so that he can change an event that happens in the past so that the future might be fixed or not be so dreary.

How do you keep the audience constantly aware of where they are in time?

It’s pretty obvious where you are.  Nevertheless, we did have internal debates sometimes where people were like, “Are you sure people know that we are in 1973?” “I think so.”  But that wasn’t a huge problem. It was just basically the timing and keeping the storyline as clear as possible. It’s extremely convoluted and a very complex story.

Ottman_1You’ve got the young and old version of some of the characters, right?

Correct, yes. And the other biggest challenge of the film was the time travel aspect.  It’s like the “whack a mole” game where you whack one mole and then you create another problem. It’s sort of like you have to keep whacking a mole until you can live with the smallest problem. But there will always be imperfections in time travel stories so that was a big challenge; sort of building consensus with everyone to try to accept what we were going to accept.

Did you once again do the editing first and then composing second?

Of course, yes.  It’s overwhelming to actually deal with all of the management of the film to get it together. The editing is not just putting pieces together.  At least for me it’s also storyboarding scenes, it’s designing the pre-visualization of the scenes with the pre-vis artists, it’s generating the shot list with the second editing director, visual effects issues, looping the actors and all that endless stuff.  I have no hope of even starting to write the score until I have some sort of editor’s cut.

So do you work with a temporary music track as you are editing?

Yes, but people would be surprised to know that I don’t really use music to cut my scenes together. I wait until I get my full editor’s cut together before I put any temporary music in. And working without music, I know where the film is strong and it’s not reliant on the score. Once I get to that point, I spend about two weeks putting temporary music in so we can have screenings and show the studio.

I’d like to go back to that same challenge of two time periods and so many characters.  How do you use the music to help the audience keep it all straight? You don’t have different themes for the characters, right?

In fact this has fewer characters themes than X-Men 2. It’s not so typically superhero-like when a character walks and you hear a motif for them.

This film is different so it does not really lend itself to have numerous character themes. There is the overall theme of the film; the X-Men world, which is my theme from X-II but then there are really three other themes in the film. The main one is Charles Xavier’s theme because it’s really his story about how his character has lost all the hope when we see him in the 70’s.

And it’s Logan really trying to get him to rekindle that hope. That’s the centerpiece of the score; at least subliminally, his music. And also he’s trying to fight for Raven’s soul so she has a little bit of a motif in the movie and then Magneto himself has a very simple very accessible motif. There’s not much time in modern movies to establish a beginning, middle and end theme for each character so you barely have time to do signature sound that you can recognize, so his is very simple but very sort of malevolent.

For lack of a better description, there’s a metallic sort of sound. And Mystique has her transformation swishy kind of sound. So I obviously left room for those things. I am very involved in the sound design so I think I surprise people when I am directing the dub as the editor, how I often bury the music or intertwine it with the sounds I use.

What about the time period differences? Are there different instruments or different time indicators?

The 70s gave me an excuse to use some analog synthesizers; we use some old keyboard synthesizers and electric piano and guitar, sometimes very subtly but it was fun to do that. And especially for the sentinels of the past, I was able to do some sort of electronics that were of the period. The score for me is unlike Jack in that Jack was a very pure orchestral swashbuckling score where you had basically everything emulated from the orchestra. This score was very synthesizer heavy with orchestral supplementation. So that was just our decision because every movie is different and that’s what felt right for this film.

If you could take one of the X-Men, which powers would you pick?

I guess I would have Mystique’s power so I can sort of… I can be really out of shape and morph into someone has a great body.

Yeah, I think we’d all like that one!

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Behind the Scenes Composers Interview Music

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Posted on May 22, 2014 at 6:00 pm

x-men dofpX-Men fans will see this film anticipating the pleasure of watching their favorite X-Men characters in one of the comic book series most acclaimed storylines: the time-bending saga of a desperate trip to the past to undo one tragic mistake. Wolverine, Mystique, and the old and new versions of Professor X and Magneto are all here and there are grandly staged action scenes involving the White House lawn, Chinese ruins, and a sports stadium. But the powerhouse knock-you-socks-off what-did-I-just-see moments come from a new character in the movie franchise, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who does a little time-bending of his own in the most dull and domestic of settings, a kitchen. Well, it’s a kitchen in the Pentagon, but still. Part “Matrix,” part Chuck Jones, it is sure to be on end of the year best lists.  And of course Jennifer Lawrence is terrific as the conflicted Raven/Mystique, whose loyalties shift almost as often as her chameleonic exterior, and who looks sensational in a costume so revealing that would make a Las Vegas showgirl look like she’s wearing a parka.

Marvel’s X-Men are mutants, the next stage of evolution past homo sapiens, with a range of intriguing and sometimes mutable superpowers. They also represent the next stage of evolution as superheroes, with conflicted characters and complex extended storylines that resonate the themes of societal, political, and psychological struggles. Characters go back and forth between the “good guy” (want to work with humans) and “bad guy” (believe humans can never accept or keep up with them so they should be wiped out in a Darwinian overthrow of the less-fit) teams.

We’ve seen the present-day X-Men in a trilogy of films and stand-out Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in two starring vehicles. And saw the origins of the first X-Men, Charles Xavier, known as Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, known as Magneto, in X-Men: First Class. Now, everything comes together in the time-travel saga “Days of Future Past,” a little bit “Terminator,” a little bit “Back to the Future,” as Wolverine goes back in time to change one event in order to prevent the creation of an army of killer robot drones that wiped out most of the mutants and humanity, too.

This will require getting the band back together, including teaming up sometime friends/sometime enemies Charles Xavier (played in the past by James McAvoy and in the present and future by Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (played in the past by Michael Fassbender and in the present and future by Ian McKellen).  (Nerd note: In the comic book series, it is Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) who transmits her consciousness back in time to her younger self, but in the movie she sends Wolverine’s consciousness back to his younger self instead.)  Thankfully, they minimize the “How do I know you’re really from the future?” stuff and get to the action, starting with breaking Magneto out of the most secure prison facility on earth, buried under the Pentagon.  This is where Quicksilver comes in very handy.

Newcomers will enjoy the action and it may lead them to check out the earlier movies and the comics to find out more about the X-Men universe.  Fanboys and fangirls will appreciate a couple of insider references.  Those old enough to remember the 70’s will appreciate some insider references, too, like the recording device in Richard Nixon’s oval office and the synth-infused score.  As in all the best X-Men stories, the themes feel visceral to our times — national security, the definition of “other.”  Just don’t try to resolve all the temporal anomalies, and you’ll have a blast.

Parents should know that this film has extended action/comic-book humor, with many characters injured and killed, guns, explosions, fire, some graphic and disturbing images, some strong language, drug use, brief nudity and very revealing attire.

Family discussion: If you could go back in history and change one thing, what would it be?  If you could have any of the powers of the X-Men, what would you choose?  How should the government make decisions about threats like the X-Men?

If you like this, try: the other “X-Men” movies and “The Avengers”

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Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy Scene After the Credits Science-Fiction Series/Sequel Superhero

Summer Movies 2014

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 8:00 am

godzilla-movie-posterHurry for summer movies!  Sequels!  Superheroes!  Cars!  Kisses!  YA books!  Gross-out comedies!  Quirky indies!

Summer movie season kicks off in a big way tomorrow with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”  Other comic book superheroes coming soon to a theater near you include “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (which unites both casts from the previous films).  Next week, we’ll get the new “Godzilla,” starring Bryan Cranston.

how-to-train-your-dragon-2And summer means sequels.  I’m very excited about “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”  I’ve seen some footage already and it looks amazingly great.  They don’t want us to call “Transformers: Age of Extinction” a sequel!  It’s a reboot, with a new cast including Mark Wahlberg (but Stanley Tucci is back).   “Dawn of Planet of the Apes” is a both a reboot and a sequel, if you know what I mean. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is a sequel to the Frank Miller story, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, and Mickey Rourke.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back for more pizza and action.  “Think Like a Man Too” takes the gang to Las Vegas.  For families with young children, “Planes: Fire and Rescue” is coming from Disney.  I’m always glad to see another “Step Up” movie — this one is “All In.”  Angelina Jolie stars as “Maleficent,” giving us another look at one of Disney’s scariest villains.  And “22 Jump Street” looks very funny in a totally NSFW way.

YA novels come to the screen with the much-anticipated “Fault in our Stars” (bring a box of tissues, maybe two) and “The Giver.”

Quirky indies include Jon Favreau, returning to a small-budget, intimate story after the “Iron Man” blockbusters with “Chef,” and Daniel Radcliffe, Adam Driver, and Zoe Kazan in “What If.”

It looks like a great year for sci-fi special effects films.  I’m especially looking forward to the Wachowskis’ “Jupiter Ascending” with Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum and Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in “Edge of Tomorrow.”  And we’re getting a second Hercules film this year, this one starring The Rock.

And Scarlett Johansson continues her extraordinary year with Luc Besson’s “Lucy.’

Off-the-wall gross-out comedies include Melissa McCarthy’s “Tammy” with Susan Sarandon (as her grandmother!), “Sex Tape” with Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz learning to their dismay what “the cloud” means, and Seth Rogan and Zac Efron as feuding “Neighbors.”  Adam Sandler reunites with his best co-star, Drew Barrymore, in “Blended,” the story of two single parents who have a disastrous date and then find themselves and their children sharing space on vacation on an African safari.  I’m guessing there will be animal poop.

One of the most intriguing films this summer is “Boyhood,” filmed over a 12 year period so that it could follow the story of a young boy as he goes through adolescence, from Richard Linklater of the “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” series.

We’ll also get some great documentaries this summer, led off by the brilliant film I saw last week at Ebertfest, “Life Itself.”  I can’t wait to see it again.

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