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Modus Does SUPER Work on New James Gunn Comedy

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In wry wink at Japanese Hentai films, SUPER depicts the Almighty with tentacles.
Montreal’s Modus FX recently completed visual effects for James Gunn’s SUPER, an eccentric superhero-comedy film starring Rainn Wilson as Frank D’Arbo, a.k.a. “The Crimson Bolt.” Frank is a bumbling everyday guy who fashions himself into a superhero with the hope of setting things right with his wife, (Liv Tyler), who has become involved with a drug dealer. SUPER premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, and is being rolled out this month in U.S. theaters. A team of 15 artists at Modus delivered all 131 VFX shots for the film within a tight four-month postproduction schedule.

“Modus are one of the most incredible companies I’ve worked with in this industry,” said James Gunn, director of SUPER. “What they were able to do for SUPER was amazing, especially considering the budget we did it for. Every time I watch the film, I’m still blown away by their work.”

The offbeat film highlights Modus FX strengths in integrating live action and special effects with invisible CG. One of the key visual effects scenes depicts a moment where Wilson’s character has a vision of meeting God. Depicted as a deity with tentacles rather than hands, the Almighty opens Frank’s skull and illuminates his brain. The shot includes a stunning, life-like model of Wilson’s head with a hinge at the back created by MASTERSFX in Los Angeles.

Modus worked closely with the film’s producers to develop the right aesthetic for the sequence. “Originally, they had planned to do it more in a cartoon style as a 2D animation,” said Jacinthe Côté, production manager at Modus. “We felt we could get a look and feel that worked better with the narrative style of the story using 3D tools. They liked the idea, so we modeled the CG tentacles, textured them, rendered them and integrated them into the shots.”

One of the challenges was that the tentacles had to interact with the live-action plates of the actor’s face, shot in close-up, and then transition seamlessly to the prosthetic head built by MASTERSFX. “We had to model a CG face and exactly match facial movements so that when we animated the tentacles, they had something to interact with,” said Côté. “You don’t actually see the 3D face in the final composite, but creating the 3D environment as a stepping stone allowed us to create more natural-looking movement.”

Modus’ visual effects supervisor Eloi Brunelle explained that the scene is a wry wink at Japanese Hentai films. “It’s the moment in the story where the character experiences a divine revelation that he’s destined to be a hero,” said Brunelle. “I worked on the design with our lead concept artist, Sylvain Lorgeou, to create tentacles that would have a certain look – kind of a cross between a snake and a worm. There is something repulsive about them, but that is the intention. It’s part of the ironic comedy style of the film.”

In one sequence, Frank throws up, while imagining the face of his wife. The artists at Modus manipulated the vomit in the toilet so that is appears to form itself into the face of Liv Tyler‘s character speaking to Frank.

A vision of Liv Tyler.

As they had done with the tentacles scene, the Modus team treated the sequence as a 2D element but built the shot in 3D space in order to create a more realistic animation of the face. “That was a very difficult shot,” Brunelle explained, “but it worked well – and, yes, you can recognize Tyler!”

“James Gunn is a very creative guy. He came up with some interesting challenges for us,” laughed Côté. “It was a really fun project for us, with some really unique shots – the kind of things that you don’t get to do everyday.”

SUPER is directed by James Gunn and produced by Ambush Entertainment and This is That. The film features a star-studded cast, including Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon.

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