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Hydraulx Makes its Mark with Sapphire Plug-ins on X-Men: The Last Stand

From digital facelifts to levitating the Golden Gate Bridge, X-Men 3 is hailed as a visual effects masterpiece (June 27, 2006)

The third and final installment of the Marvel Comic's cinematic X-Men series finds the mutant population facing the threat of extinction by way of a "cure". A mutant antigen is created, which the government exploits--ultimately resulting in open war between humanity and the anti-cure mutants. Ever seeking a peaceful coexistence, the decimated X-Men join forces with their human counterparts in a parry to restore the balance of power between the two races. From digital facelifts to levitating the Golden Gate Bridge, X-Men 3 is hailed as a visual effects masterpiece. With a total of 900 post production shots, Twentieth Century Fox entrusted over a quarter of them to Hydraulx, an 80-person visual effects and design company out of Santa Monica. Esteemed for their award-winning commercial and video work, Hydraulx and its sister company Lola Visual Effects are rapidly gaining prestige as lead vendors for feature film visual effects.  Co-Owner and VFX Supervisor Greg Strause asserts, "Our company has been built around two primary goals: hire the best artists in the industry and arm them with the latest and greatest in tools and processing power." Among these premiere tools are multiple Discreet Inferno and Flame systems, the world's largest 64-bit Burn installation, and GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins loaded across the board. According to Strause, "I couldn't imagine having any compositing system without Sapphire installed. It's a bread-and-butter, go-to tool over here for all of the artists."

Fittingly for X-Men: The Last Stand, Strause relied upon the proven prowess of his Discreet systems pipeline and Sapphire Plug-ins to handle everything from ground-breaking vanity work to photorealistic special effects.  

The Fountain of Youth

Magneto can bend metal to his will, and Professor Xavier can read minds--human and mutant alike, but these supermutants have nothing on the digital wizardry of the Inferno artists at Hydraulx and Lola VFX. The critical, audience-grabbing opening sequence begins in the past, depicting former allies Magneto and Charles Xavier visiting a young Jean Grey on a mission to bring the powerful girl into the X-Men fold.  Tasked with making two sixty-something actors look twenty years younger, the Hydraulx team created a revolutionary technique they dubbed "rejuvenation"--involving a sophisticated series of parts whose sum is a face-lifting, jaw-dropping whole. GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins were integral to the overall success of this de-aging technique, specifically a patented threesome of effects which Strause and his team have previously used on CG shots to create organic, photo-real results.

Strause explains, "We have a proven set of tricks that involve the BlurChroma, Glow and Layer Sapphire sparks, simulating light absorption for a cool optic effect. With CG footage, even if you're using global illumination, sometimes there's just too much light. Sapphire GlowDarks makes everything more real looking by blurring and darkening edges in the source film. The Layer spark then brings chroma from background through to the foreground which simulates the natural color of the environment's lighting reflecting off the CG.

"For the rejuvenation sequence, we added BlurChroma to the mix, which is effective at smoothing out the skin tone of an aging actor without removing detail. Sapphire Glow also mitigates inconsistencies while maintaining the sharpness of the pores and hairs. In general, adding a Glow makes people look more youthful--sort of like a digital facial."

Lethal Lightning Bolts

Controlling Mother Nature is all in a day's work for Halle Berry's character Ororo Munroe. In fact, her mutant moniker--Storm--says it all. With a glance heavenward, her eyes cloud with cataracts, and then any manner of foul weather rains down upon her foes.

In X-Men: The Last Stand, Storm meets her match in the form of Callisto, a malevolent, Magneto-aligned mutant whose enhanced reflexes and super-human strength are among her many formidable talents. Storm and Callisto face off in the final battle sequence; and after a good old fashioned cat fight, Storm summons an impressive electrical show, ultimately directing a deadly fistful of lightning at the vanquished Callisto.

For this shot, Strause and his team relied on the Sapphire Zap effects to create organic, credible lightning bolts.

"Our Inferno artist MaryBeth built this entire special effect with Sapphire's Zap and ZapTo effects--laying it out and easily animating where the bolts were coming from and going to. Then she applied different variations of the Glow spark, and then various Sapphire Lens Flares on top of that. So by layering these three effects and then animating the flares on and off, we created a cool, believable sequence in the movie--with convincing lightning bolts that everyone was very happy with."

Strause stresses that GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins allows him to easily create essential optic effects, and he appreciates that each plug-in is highly customizable.

"Sapphire is the only way to achieve certain vital effects on our Inferno. We pound on them pretty hard over here. Really, I can think rarely of a Hydraulx shot where Sapphire Plug-ins weren't used."

About GenArts, Inc.

Founded in 1996 in Cambridge, Mass., GenArts, Inc. is a premier provider of digital visual effects plug-ins for the film, broadcast and video industries. Their product, Sapphire Plug-ins, equips digital artists with a collection of over 175 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects such as: Glows, EdgeRays, LensFlare, Lightning, FilmEffect, Warps and Textures. They seamlessly integrate into a number of editing and compositing systems such as: Adobe® After Effects® and Premiere® Pro; Apple® Final Cut Pro® and Shake®; Avid® AVX Products; Autodesks® Discreet® Systems and Combustion®; Eyeon® Fusion®; Sony® XPRI®; and Quantel® generationQ products.

Sapphire Plug-ins have become an industry standard for high-end visual effects creation by providing unrivaled image quality, a unique organic look, and ease of use. They have been used extensively in an array of television programs, music videos and feature films, including: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars Episode I, II and III, Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3, Sin City, The Matrix trilogy, X-Men 1, 2 and 3, Titanic, Lost, American Idol and CSI. Additional GenArts product information can be found at

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Related Keywords:Hydraulx, genarts, Sapphire Plug-ins, X-Men: The Last Stand, plug-ins, visual effects, x-men, film production


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