Bringing the fan-favorite DC Comics to the screen was an exercise in just about every type of visual effects imaginable.
According to the DC Comics hit Shazam!, “we all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out.” By the same token, it took the visual effects magic of Technicolor’s MR. X to bring out the superhero world of Shazam!
By shouting the word SHAZAM!, 14-year-old foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) turns into the adult-sized superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), thanks to an ancient wizard. At first having fun with his new-found superpowers, he soon must gain mastery over them in order to fight the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
VFX Supervisor Aaron Weintraub and the team at MR. X were brought on board three months before shooting began in Toronto – where the town was abuzz with this exciting project and the mayor talked it up frequently. Weintraub found working with director David F. Sandberg and the filmmaking team to be an open, inviting, and collaborative experience.
“They had done a lot of visual research in advance,” explained Weintraub, “and their Art department collected image and video reference material, and provided concept art and storyboards, to illustrate the different looks they were going after and all the different types of effects that they wanted to do with this film. We were entrusted with bringing all of that to life – a lot of which was David’s vision – but also knowing it all must remain true to the source material and the characters, and the built-in expectations of the fans.”
Among its work on the film, MR. X was responsible for the scenes inside the Rock of Eternity, a dark cave-like environment where the Seven Deadly Sins are imprisoned. Four major sequences take place here, including the opening scene when a young Thad enters and is rejected as the new hero; when he returns as the older Dr. Sivana; when Billy enters and becomes Shazam; and the final showdown between Shazam and Sivana.
Relates Weintraub: “When Billy goes inside the Rock of Eternity, the wizard explains the whole history and mythology against the backdrop of a gold environment created out of particle holograms which he shoots out of his staff. That was a big shot in terms of visual effects in direct support of the storytelling – as was the final showdown between Shazam and Sivana, in which the latter lets loose his gang of monsters, a 360 shot where seven creatures form from smoke unleashed from within.
While the first level of the Rock of Eternity was an elaborately built set, everything above 20 feet was a digital environment extension, and within that was every type of visual effect – from bringing Shazam’s chest bolt to life; to stunts with digi-doubles, people melting and statues crumbling; to the Orb and the Seven Deadly Sins flying in and out of it.
“MR. X along with MPC handled the majority of the shots on the film,” says Weintraub. “Because we’re both part of the Technicolor family, it really facilitated the sharing of assets back and forth, as well as the technology sharing we were able to do. And because we know how our roles complement each other, we were able to find the perfect balance of collaboration on this film.”
MPC VFX Supervisor, Pier Lefebvre added, "Shazam has a great balance of fantastic storytelling and visual effects. Director David F Sandberg’s aim was for the photorealistic VFX work to serve the story. MPC Film’s work on the movie included a wide range of complex VFX including Character and Creature work, CG environments and FX simulations. The result was a close collaboration between MPC’s studios in Montreal, Bangalore and London. We also had the opportunity to collaborate with our sister company, Mr X.”
MR. X’s work continues after the credits roll: look out for Mr. Mind, the villainous caterpillar from the Shazam universe. Is a sequel afoot?
Check out the smash trailer for Shazam! and let the fun begin!