Ashing, Teleporting Add to I Am Number Four Visual Effects
February 24, 2011

Ashing, Teleporting Add to I Am Number Four Visual Effects

In the world of I Am Number Four (a DreamWorks film, directed by DJ Caruso, produced by Michael Bay and adapted from the novel “I Am Number Four” by Pittacus Lore), nine youngsters from a distant planet have been evacuated to Earth. As the last survivors of their homeland, they are being hunted down by alien assassins who must destroy them one by one, in numerical order.
Visual effects for the movie were supervised by Greg McMurry and completed by several facilities, including Santa Monica- and Vancouver-based Entity FX, who handled ashing and teleporting sequences, among other effects.

“The film centers on John Smith, played by Alex Pettyfer, who is trying to live life as a normal teenager in Ohio,” said Mat Beck, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Entity FX. “He faces all of the usual problems of blending into high school with one additional challenge: he needs his extraterrestrial powers to develop before he is found and killed. If Number Three dies, he is in mortal danger: he is Number Four.”

Entity FX's key effects for the battles that follow include superspeed and teleporting powers for Number Six, played by Teresa Palmer.

“The character has the ability to disappear into pulsating energy and re-appear elsewhere; she would sometimes actually disappear in one part of the frame and re-enter in a different part,” Beck said. “We modeled her in 3D, which allowed us to track light and energy elements to her movement. We were also able to distort the background and bring the physical colors of her clothing, hair and so forth into the energy field.”

Aliens killed in the movie dematerialize with a signature "ashing" effect, another main type of visual effect done by Entity FX artists. When the evil Mogadorians die, they turn grey, transform into statues and then explode into chunks, which turn to swirling dust.

“The approach we developed uses 3D characters combined with particle and fluid simulations,” explained Beck. “It needed to be flexible enough so that we could apply different versions of the effect to different situations, since both bad and good aliens dematerialize but in different ways. We used in-house software to more easily customize and adjust the effect. When Mogs die, they turn to stone with skull-like faces and explode violently before disappearing into dust. When the good guys die, they transform into stone and swirling dust in a way that is more gentle and magical.”

The ashing effect was carried out in stages, each of which had distinct challenges and techniques. Beyond simply doing a desaturation on the character in the “greying” stage, artists often added texture layers to help the effect show more when darker clothing or lighting was part of the scene. In the second phase of “breaking up” the character statue, they modeled 3D versions of the character that allowed exploding pieces and elements to be correctly tracked to the human actor.

Entity FX's work in other scenes for the project included everything from CG animated bodies, body parts and digital blood to glowing swords and exploding crystals. The company also completed windshields, face replacements, split screens, green screen compositing, set cleanup and rig removal.