Modus FX Makes Magic for Now You See Me
Montreal, QC -- Modus FX completed many of the key visual effects shots on Now You See Me, which was released in theaters May 31. Featuring a high-voltage ensemble cast, including Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson and rising star Isla Fisher, Now You See Me charts the progress of a team of illusionists who appear to rob banks during their performances, distributing the spoils to their audiences, all the while staying a step ahead of the FBI and Interpol. Modus was charged with many of the film’s CG sequences, creating compelling illusions that support the story and drive the narrative forward.
Modus delivered 227 VFX shots for the film, including a long camera movement sequence that culminates with a huge stack of money catching fire and vanishing entirely. The effects include a fight sequence in which a magician uses flash paper and playing cards as projectile weapons, before sliding down a CG garbage chute to escape. There is a spectacular CG “mirror box” magic trick, in which a sledge hammer is thrown in slow motion, shattering a huge pane of glass.
“Now You See Me includes several layers of illusion,” said Yanick Wilisky, VP and co-founder of Modus FX. “The storyline plays with time while our effects shots play with visual reality. Together this makes for a great story that keeps the audience guessing. We had a lot of fun working with director Louis Leterrier and VFX supervisor Nick Brooks on this project.”
One of the most complex shots of the movie involves the disappearance of a stack of money in a sealed stainless steel vault. The digital camera shot starts with a macro close-up of an origami rabbit catching fire, orbits around the stack of burning money as it disappears, leaving not a trace of smoke or ash, before pulling back to show a playing card and the entire vault, now completely empty. The shot required a lot of compositing to give it a photoreal look.
“This was the most challenging shot for us,” said Wayne Brinton, VFX supervisor on the project. “We had to decide how to make all the money vanish so it would be believable.”
Initially, the effect was conceived as a conflagration of magician’s flash paper, ignited by a series of wires and fuses.
“In previs the illusion was conceived as needing a digital timer,” Brinton said. “This created the problem of what to do with the timer and wires. We brainstormed and came up with an ingenious way of igniting the money involving potassium and water. The magicians could place some potassium above a pool of water so it would light the money on fire when they mixed.”
Modus suggested using an origami rabbit holding potassium and placed in a puddle of water so the fire would start when the water seeped into the paper rabbit. Leterrier loved the idea of having a rabbit in the scene. In the end the potassium-water mixture was cut as too complicated to explain in the story, but the director insisted that the origami rabbit remain.
“You get to know the director over the course of a shoot, and learn what they like and don’t like,” Brinton said. “Keeping the rabbit was great and it’s part of a visually neat effect.”
The final 500-frame shot involved simulation, camera animation, modeling and lighting and all of the elements had to be refined iteratively, until everything worked flawlessly.
“The CG lighting had to match that of the practical camera and, since the action takes place inside a stainless steel vault, the reflections on the walls had to match too”, explained Brinton. “Making fire look real in a stainless steel vault was especially challenging.”
The film culminates in an impromptu congregation of thousands of people from all over downtown New York at the 5Pointz building in Queens, all with the hope of collecting free money.