Production Focus: Feel the Payne
Make no mistake: Detective Max Payne is one tough mother. That’s especially true when he’s angry. And somebody has made him very, very angry indeed. Such is the cursory premise of director John Moore’s Max Payne, a big screen, live action version of the popular video game starring brawny actor Mark Wahlberg in the title role. When you throw in a mercenary and corrupt pharmaceutical company; a hallucinogenic, hyperaddictive drug; and hordes of truly gnarly flying demons and…well, you know things are going to get complicated.
Spin Conjures Up the Devil (and His Minions) for John Moore’s film Max Payne
Toronto-based Spin VFX knew from the outset that Max Payne would be a complex project, and they went at it with gusto. Harnessing their design, animation, and modeling expertise, not to mention their prowess with several Autodesk Media & Entertainment products, the Spin team helped transform the dark premise into a stylish, sleek, and bravely brooding piece of graphic novel-style art.
Spin Visual Effects Supervisor Jeff Campbell, Senior Effects Artist Tim Sibley, Rigging Supervisor Glen Chang, and Modeling Supervisor Erin Nickolson sat down with Autodesk to talk about the challenges and triumphs of the films.
Spin’s initial introduction to Max Payne came when Everett Burrell, the film’s production supervisor approached the company – and ten others – with a series of HD plates:
“The plates were preliminary shots for a huge and terrifying drug sequence,” says Campbell. “Everett basically gave them to eleven different companies and let us go at it. I actually used Inferno as a tool for design and experimentation for our pitch. I love the system’s interactivity, and it enabled us to bring in entire sequences, try effects, and find out immediately what was working and what wasn’t. In the end, they liked our look best, and we won the job.”
The pivotal scene in question here sees Detective Payne emerging from the icy waters of what looks like New York’s Hudson River, where he has come close to drowning after eluding two men who want him dead. His body temperature plummeting, Payne realizes he must ingest two vials of Valkyr, an illicit drug that makes its users feel superhuman before dropping them into hopeless addiction, if he is to wreak his vengeance on the men who murdered his wife and infant son.
Needless to say, he swallows the viscous blue liquid. As soon as he does so, all that was cold turns blazing hot, including the multitude of snowflakes flying through the air.
“On the test we did for our pitch, we showed a snowflake transform into a glowing ember,” says Campbell with a smile. “Our reference came from lighting some cotton balls on fire and trying to emulate the look. Thanks to our own Tim Sibley and the magic of Autodesk Maya Particle Effects, it turned into a great effect.”
But that wasn’t all. After seeing Spin’s creature work on the upcoming film Outlander, Moore and his team decided to entrust the films multitude of demons to the company’s capable hands. That decision would result in some of the film’s most arresting and memorable scenes.
|“The Demons presented an enormous challenge. We used Maya and 3ds Max to build an immense, highly detailed creature which would hold up to the most challenging shots as a safety factor.”
- Tim Sibley, Senior Effects Artist, Spin
The Challenge: The Devils and Their Details
“The Demons presented an enormous challenge for us,” says Sibley. “But we kind of have ourselves to blame for all the work. Initially, the brief was about keeping the CG Demons mainly in the shadows, not seeing much detail. Working from sketches drawn by designer Rob McCallum, we built an immense, highly detailed creature which would hold up to the most challenging shots as a safety factor. We had a great time doing it, but each feather’s geometry ended up being very heavy and significantly slowed down our renders. It was a bit of a concern, but we got it done.”
The first and most compelling shot of one of the Demons comes during what is, in this reporter’s opinion, the film’s signature shot. Approaching a clearly troubled Valkyr junkie for information, Payne tries to coax the man back from a window ledge. Realizing that his informant is about to plunge backwards to his death, Payne makes a last, desperate dash towards him. As he does, the scene turns to hypnotically fluid slow motion, and we see a hovering, particularly fearsome Demon grab the man’s shoulders and yank him backwards out the window.