John Bruno has served as visual effects supervisor for some of the bestFX films of all time, winning an Academy Award for The Abyss, and beingnominated five times for Ghostbusters, Poltergeist II, Batman Returns,Cliffhanger and True Lies.His latest achievement, X-Men: The Last Stand, continues this legacy.Working with director Brett Ratner, Bruno focused on maintainingcharacter development. He also kept a physical reality in a comic-bookworld, so the audience’s experience would feel familiar.In the case of character, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) has the ability tofocus her mind to destroy a building or atomize a human, but Bruno didnot resort to using laser beams. “We wanted it more cerebral. As anaudience, you understood what she was doing,” he says.Grey’s character arc begins as a nine-year-old girl; her powersincrease as she grows. Water or objects would drift vertically, avisual cue that the alter-ego Phoenix was surfacing. “That was enhancedall the way through the story to the final act when water rises fromSan Francisco Bay, a visual that started with water flowing from agarden hose at the opening of the story,” Bruno explains.Avoiding connections to the actors’ previous characters was also a highpriority. “If Ian McKellen raises an object and it glows, then he’sbecome Gandalf,” he says. Bruno spoke to Weta who worked on the ending,clarifying they didn’t want a Lord of the Rings fantasy. “We tried toavoid our characters being mistaken for wizards. That’s not what theywere.”With only 12 months from start to finish, Bruno decided to do as muchas possible in camera. One literal leap of faith was to have the mainactors, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, Ben Foster, Ian McKellen and PatrickStewart, do all of their own main stunts and wire work. “It’s very hardto get an actor to do that these days. They had to put a lot of trustin Brett Ratner, and our second unit director Simon Crane and Mike’sVezina’s rigging to feel that safe.”When Angel (Foster) jumped out the window of Worthington Labs, it beganwith a stuntman dropping 100 feet. But the second part was the actorflying 50 feet above the crowd, across the intersection and over thetop of the church. “That was the quickest and best way to get the shotdone with the schedule that we had,” says Bruno.They later tracked wings on the character using VFX. In Halle Berry’stornado shot, she had to take the motion sickness drug Dramamine to dothe three takes. “That’s the kind of thing we could do because of theactor’s cooperation.”Bruno feels the X-Men films have perfect casting. “Ian McKellen andPatrick Stewart are two powerful Shakespearean stage actors that couldsay and do anything and make you believe it.” Jackman, Janssen andBerry knew the characters and could help develop the visuals Bruno andRatner wanted to do.”Brett was a joy to work with,” says Bruno. “From the beginning hementioned that his expertise did not lie with VFX and that I had freerein to impress him. He was also a lot of fun on the set during a verydifficult shoot.”I would have to say that X-Men: The Last Stand drew on the last 20years of my experience in film. I think it was some of my best work.”1995: Nominated, Academy Award, Best Visual Effects, True Lies;Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, Best Visual Effects, True Lies. 1994:Nominated, Academy Award, Best Visual Effects, Cliffhanger. 1993:Nominated, Academy Award, Best Visual Effects, Batman Returns;Nominated, BAFTA Film Award, Best Visual Effects, Batman Returns. 1990:Won, Academy Award, Best Visual Effects, The Abyss. 1985: Nominated,Academy Award, Best Visual Effects, Ghostbusters. 1984: Nominated,Academy Award, Best Visual Effects, Poltergeist II: The Other Side.
Written by Renee Dunlop