We present an exclusive interview with Aaron Sims from Aaron Sims Creative, who worked on the visual effects and concept design for X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the last chapter of the X-Men saga directed by Simon Kinberg.
When did you start working on Dark Phoenix?
Around May 10th, 2017, so we’ve been working on it for quite awhile. In that time, we did over 2000 concepts for the film.
You already worked on X-men: Apocalypse and now you are back to work with Marvel mutants. What differences did you notice between the two movies?
We were more involved in Dark Phoenix, from a lot of the creature, and character transformations, new mutants, all the different interactions we went through. So that’s the big difference from X-men, more involvement for a good portion of the film. And apocalypse involvement was very minimal.
What technologies have you used? Could you describe to us how they work in detail and how many people have actually taken part in the movie?
Technology wise, there’s nothing new that we came up with, except that we experimented with compositing, with the software Nuke, to do some tests, effects and the dark phoenix look. Using different methods of elements, effects, but nothing new with technologies just a creative approach on how we used them.
What was the hardest challenges you faced while working on the movie?
Hardest challenges were probably designing the aliens that were not seen and how to expose them in interesting ways was a challenge, because they were never truly seen except for pieces here and there, but we designed the aliens you saw underneath but we were never really able to show them in the film. We had to disguise them but see enough of them. It was a challenge on how to expose them so that it looked like an alien underneath and not like a human with a wound or something. Additionally, what can be challenging is how do you create something for these characters have been scene in 8,9, however many movies, the challenge is always trying to create something that feels new and fresh and a world that can be saturated for these familiar characters.
Did Simon Kinberg give you suggestions? If so, what kind of advice did he give?
We mainly worked with Curt Williams for the most part, Simon did work closely with the visual effects producer and supervisor. Mainly we worked with Curt Williams and also with Serge Riou and our correspondence was through Simon, but didn’t really have a one on one.
How did you decide to work on the representation of the Dark Phoenix’s powers, one of the most famous and loved comic characters out there?
That was a challenge because we’ve seen so many characters in the Marvel universe that have flame effects so how do you create something that’s unique and different, was definitely a challenge. As far as, the direction we went was exploring everything from fire to energy to plasma and the combination of all to make something unique and other worldly.
In this movie, young mutants have now become actual superheroes, so there’s plenty of room to show off their superpowers. How did you represent the consequences of those incredible powers, especially the negative ones?
Most of the characters that we were designing had already been designed as far as their powers, but there were new mutants that weren’t in the comics that we were exploring, most of them young teen characters that made us get creative with their different with their abilities. Like, growing a flower in your hand, or creating a larger object from something that’s smaller, or there was another character that had tentacles for hair, which was semi-challenging. He was a new character, Medusa Man, not sure if that is his character name but that’s what we called him. As one of the villains, he was designed as a stand alone character that we created as concept art, and then we also did key scene art, something like him on top of a vehicle fighting some of the hero characters in the street to help represent how he might fight and to help with scale. His hair can grow and change in size, so his tentacles can grab and be used as weapons. Many times we would represent them (the characters) in these key scenes, in a series of images that represent what their abilities are within a key piece of art, which usually deals with the character and their environment while interacting with other characters.
The train scene is possibly the most spectacular and rich of special effects in the entire movie. How much did it require? What choices did you have to make and what challenges presented?
The train scene, we helped design the train itself, to make it look like it fit into the world and time frame, the 90s, but as futuristic as we could go with that technology and make it look like it could contain superheros. The exterior basically had some weaponry and some armor but when you were inside the train was very barren for the most part, expect for the x-men were strapped in with these harnesses around their neck, ankles, and hands that prevented their powers from being used. So how we represented that was doing a million different approaches, different poses, from standing, sitting, strapped against the wall, until we finally found one where their sitting, looking at each other. From there it was designing the battle that would happen inside the train and how that would actually work. Showing some of the aliens coming in, getting ripped apart by the military and guns, and then how each of the characters would fight them, how the beast would fight them. We had to show the exposed the alien underneath like the human form, by ripping the face, claw like, really tearing the face open showing the alien. Various designs illustrating how they would battle.
Could you tell us a bit about your future projects?
There’s not much we can talk about right now, except that were working on many cool projects, including developing projects under our own IP and developing internally, and those consist of horror, sci-fy, and fantasy.