“We focused on the events, the acting, the camera placement, and camera involvement with the action, even picking lenses, which [Director James Mangold] knew would eventually be picked by the DP,” says Previs Supervisor Clint Reagan of the previs specialists at Halon Entertainment who worked on The Wolverine.
They worked hand-in-glove with Production Designer Francois Auduoy, who would sit with Reagan and Mangold and build the sets on the fly to meet the needs of the scenes they we were blocking. Halon's artists built the bulk of the sets, characters, and animations in Autodesk's Maya and MotionBuilder, using a library of rigged character models, sets, vehicles, and EFX stand-ins. "Once we had enough pulled together, we started to block the scenes Maya. We then moved the characters around the set to find the most efficient and interesting places for the action to occur and the most interesting ways to shoot the important story points."
The first pass at the film's climactic finale was blocked out in an environment built by Reagan and Production Designer Francois Auduoy; but, the group showed they could remain fluid and adaptable during the previs process when the entire set was scrapped months later after a new location was suddenly chosen. Quickly, they had to build a different version altogether and re-block the action for the new location.
During that early pass on the climactic, final sequence, Halon scheduled a motion-capture shoot at the stunt stages of 87eleven with Second Unit Director David Leitch. "We used several MVN mocap suits, made by Xsens and owned by 20th Century Fox, to capture the stuntmen flying through the air, doing martial arts moves, amazing flips and kicks, and sword strikes, and even much of the blocking of the action as it stood in the script," says Raegan. "Then we tracked the data and mapped it onto our character rigs of Wolverine and the villain of the film."
These mocap sessions paid dividends, not only in previs, but also by informing the crucial stuntvis used on the day of the shoot, often involving stuntmen performing in cables and harnesses. "We would track their footage and integrate the CG sets, vehicles, and characters to help the live-action [stunt crew] get a clearer picture of the scene, filling in gaps in their live-action edit with straight previs-style CG shots to give it context. They would take ideas [from our previs] and play it out in full with their talented artists on cables."
Halon's artists kept their geometry light, building a pipeline that maximized speed and adaptability by using "card tricks and cheats," as Reagan says, to keep everything - including trains and buildings, Logan and hordes of ninjas - in a single Maya file. Besides Autodesk's Maya and MotionBuilder, Halon used Andersson Technologies' SynthEyes camera-tracking software and Adobe's Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop to finalize their shots.
"Over late-night pizza and soda, [VFX Supervisor Greg Steele] and I figured out the blocking, action, and cutting to create an intense and explosive standoff," Reagan says. Such work illustrates the opportunity for self-expression and creative freedom that can exist within the job of a previs artist.