Director Tarsem Singh is known for visually evocative movies that give an artistic take on the usual summer action-packed blockbusters, from “The Fall” to “The Cell.” Those hoping he would live up to that reputation for last year’s project, “Immortals”—which came out last November—were not disappointed. Even the New York Times’ film critic had to admire the $75 million spectacle, saying: “Despite the carnage, the effect is as artful as it is graphic.”
“Immortals” brings the characters and personalities of ancient Greek mythology into a decidedly modern art form, turning millennia-old marble statues of gods and goddesses into 21st century 3D CGI. To bring that world to life, director Singh brought in a whole team of special effects studios: BarXseven, Modus FX, Image Engine, and Rodeo FX, all from Montreal, Canada; Scanline VFX, of Los Angeles and Vancouver; and Tippett Studio, of Berkeley, California.
As one of the primary studios working on “Immortals,” BarXseven had a great appreciation for the highly detailed work they were responsible for. “ ‘Immortals’ is an epic feast—a renaissance painting brought to life through a stunning combination of live action photography and visual effects,” says Jay Randall, BarXseven’s founder and VFX supervisor.
BarXseven was given over 100 shots to work on in “Immortals.” According to Raymond Gieringer, the Production Visual Effects Supervisor for the film, BarXseven was chosen because of “the studio’s expertise in handling shots that require high degrees of creativity and skill.” Gieringer and BarXseven had previously collaborated on several projects, including “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” and “Law Abiding Citizen.”
That expertise came in handy during highly complex sequences, such as when the god Aries uses his war hammer to defeat a human army by smashing their heads off. “Tarsem figured that the gods’ version of real time would move so fast that humans would be firtually stationary and their heads would explode in slow motion,” says Randall. To achieve that effect, the sequence was filmed in multiple layers with different cameras. They filmed Aries hitting targets in front of a green screen, and then the human army was filmed in separate passes with a high-speed camera. After combining the layers, BarXseven was able to create computer-simulated heads exploding in extreme slow motion.
Another ultra slow motion sequence involved Zeus using a fire whip against Aries. “Creating a wind-blown fire whip at 500 frames per second in a computer is a challenging endeavor,” Randall says. “On set, we shot Zeus holding a whip handle but no whip. He executed a whipping motion, and we created a computer generated whip and simulated the fire. It was shot in extreme slow motion as well.”