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Toronto-Based vfx House Mr. X Takes Flight with Amelia

Mr. X, one of Canada’s leading creative visual effects houses, provided CG aerial scenes and other effects shots for AE Electra Productions’ Amelia, directed by Mira Nair.

Press Release from Mr. X

TORONTO: October 20, 2009…  Mr. X, one of Canada’s leading creative visual effects houses, provided CG aerial scenes and other effects shots for AE Electra Productions’ Amelia, directed by Mira Nair. The film tells the story of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart who disappeared over the Pacific in 1937 during her quest to become the first woman to fly solo around the globe. Starring two-time Oscar® award-winner Hillary Swank, Amelia includes numerous flight sequences designed and completed at Mr. X under the guidance of visual effects supervisor Wojciech Zielinski. Several of these shots were presented to the public during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony as part of the 2009 film preview reel broadcast during the show.

Mr. X served as the lead visual effects house on the project. Approximately 300 shots were completed, including full CG environments, CG aircrafts, (both in flight and on water), crash landing a vintage plane, crowd duplication and set augmentation, such as CG confetti for a parade sequence.

The full CG environment shots include stunning cloudscapes in the dawn and evening light, and dramatic flight scenes through storm clouds.

Although computer graphics were used for a significant portion of the film, director Mira Nair wanted the CG elements to be discreet and photorealistic, supporting the narrative of Amelia Earhart’s personal and public life, rather than drawing attention to themselves.

“We had a lot of freedom to design the aerial sequences,” said Zielinski. “We took the lead on these shots and presented our ideas to the director during previs. We were always in close collaboration with Mira. I’m a big fan of her work so it was a real pleasure to work with her on this project.”

As aspects of the narrative were refined during production, the feel of some of the shots, and even some of the visual details were changed, requiring a flexible workflow and efficient delivery. None of this phased Zielinski or the team at Mr. X. “Our goal is to make sure the director feels entirely comfortable with the VFX work so that he or she can focus on the story,” he explained.

The film calls for several water landing and takeoff sequences. The background plates for these shots were created using a real Cessna on location. The modern plane was then painted out and replaced it with CG models of the Lockheed Vega and the Fokker FVII b Friendship, two of the aircraft flown by Earhart. Shooting the scenes with the Cessna provided the basic water interaction for the final shots, which was augmented with CG water splashes and spray.

Providing all of this within the constraints of the production budget required ingenuity. One scene, depicting a crash landing, made use of an restored period aircraft. “The owner let us use it on condition we didn’t get a scratch on it,” laughed Zielinski. The team at Mr. X ‘crashed’ the plane with great care and the shot was captured using an articulated crash rig. The rig was replaced in post with damaged CG landing gear and propellers, accompanied by CG sparks and smoke. “You’d think we had ruined his plane, but in fact we returned it in perfect condition!”

Mr. X built CG models of the Lockheed Vega and the Fokker Friendship using cyberscans of full-scale models built by the production’s art department. These CG models were used for all of the CG aerial scenes in the film, both in the full CG environment sequences, and in daytime sequences, which use live-action shots for background plates.

“We don’t just provide a technical solution,” explained Zielinski. “We offer creative ideas making our work a part of the filmmaking process. Because of our expertise in CG technologies, we know what can be done, both technically, and in terms of the budget. This way we can help the director extend her creative vision through well-placed visual effects. It works because we approach the work the same way they do – as filmmakers.”

Amelia, directed by Mira Nair and starring Hillary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor, opens in North America on October 23. Anibrain, RocketScience VFX, Rodeo, and Invisible Pictures also worked on the project under the direction of Mr. X. For more information on Mr. X and the studio’s work on this film, please visit www.mrxfx.com

About Mr. X, Inc.

Founded by Dennis Berardi in 2001, Mr. X is a digital studio specializing in feature film animation and visual effects. By collaborating with filmmakers from pre-production through post, Mr. X helps to define the look and feel of a film. Mr. X has facilities in Toronto and Montreal with a combined staff of over 100 filmmakers, artists and programmers. For more information, visit www.mrxfx.com

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