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Modus FX Creates Surreal Combat Scene for Immortals

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Montreal-based visual effects studio Modus FX delivered a surreal dream sequence for Immortals, the stereo 3D feature film released in theaters on Nov. 11. The 16-second scene produced by Modus depicts a surreal combat sequence between Theseus (Henry Cavill) and King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) on a small boat, set on a sea of shields. Other than a live action shot of the actors in the middle of the sequence, the entire scene was created and rendered in CG.

“It’s a very artistic piece which aims to capture the iconic imagery of Greek mythology,” explained Martin Pelletier, CG supervisor at Modus. “Developing the sequence was a collaboration between our artists and director Tarsem Singh. For us it was an in-depth process of visualizing and clarifying the director’s imagination.”

The scene begins when the film’s hero Theseus touches Phaedra – a psychic oracle played by Freida Pinto. In that instant, the camera swoops into Phaedra’s mind for the vision sequence.

Red CG petals fall from the sky and we see King Hyperion and Theseus spinning around in combat on the boat. The scene cuts to a wider shot and various fighting poses are discernable in the whirling mass. The audience sees that the boat is sitting on a mass of warriors’ shields, like a Greek phalanx, with the water in the background.

For a moment, Hyperion and Theseus freeze and the camera pans down to show a mummy lying on the ground with the petals falling onto it: beauty, transience and death in a single image. As they begin to fight and spin again, the view pulls back to a wider shot. In the background the sea, created by Scanline VFX, swells up into a giant tsunami approaching the shore.

At the start of the project in September 2010, Modus FX had several meetings with Singh to map out the shots and the look of the scene. Singh wanted what he referred to as a “clay effect,” with the figures becoming malleable organic forms, blending together as they spin in combat.

After the initial meetings, the team at Modus spent four months developing the ideas in a process of exploration and refinement, gradually shaping the final look of the scene. Test shots were sent back to the director for review on a weekly basis.

Early on the team had decided the scene would be done in three shots: close up, wide and very wide. Then they began working on the spinning figures – how fast they should rotate and how many poses should appear. Testing was done with Softimage XSI combining textures, including skin, glossy black helmets, a gold mask, blue cloth and brown leather. The textures were tried at different speeds with different motion blurs and shutter speeds.

“It took a lot of experimentation, but as we progressed, we started to develop some really interesting ideas,” said Pelletier. “We liked the clay effect, but it still needed something more to look believable.”

He explained that the team at Modus then developed a “force field” effect to augment the scene, which had to fit in seamlessly with the overall aesthetic and the other surreal effects of the film. “It worked very well,” said Pelletier. “It shows how important it can be to keep the creative process going right to the end. The effort paid off.”

“We wanted the lighting to look magical or even supernatural,” said Pelletier. “We played around with sky colors until we had the right tones and then redid the lighting on the live plates to match the CG lighting. This was an interesting challenge because usually we do the opposite – match the CG to the lighting in the live shots.”

Immortals is a 3D fantasy adventure film directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto and Mickey Rourke. It was released in 2D and 3D on Nov. 11 by Universal Pictures and Relativity Media.

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