ALEXA M and XT on X-MEN

The X-Men--those Marvel mutant superheroes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby--have enjoyed a tremendous transformation from comic book to feature film since director Bryan Singer helmed the first X-Men movie in 2000. 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST trailer

Directed by Bryan Singer, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST in 3D is the seventh film in Marvel's X-Men series. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC, who had worked with ALEXA on previous credits SEVENTH SON and DRIVE, chose to use the ALEXA M and also the newly released ALEXA XT, with in-camera ARRIRAW.

Now, 14 years later, the seventh film in the series is being released -- X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST in 3D. Bryan Singer again directed and this time brought in cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, ASC, who shot with ALEXA cameras, just as he had on previous credits SEVENTH SON and DRIVE. "I'm a fan of ALEXA and really like the look," he says. "For Bryan and myself, the ALEXA has been almost the gateway to getting the look we like in film."

 

Singer wanted to shoot the stereoscopic 3D natively, which meant they would need compact, nimble 3D rigs. "The ALEXA M was on the market and had been field-tested, so we decided that was the way to proceed," says Sigel, pointing out that the ALEXA M's smaller size was a big advantage. The film's main unit carried three 3D rigs, totaling six ALEXA M cameras.

ARRI had also just unveiled the ALEXA XT, which offers in-camera ARRIRAW recording, internal FSND (Full Spectrum ND) filters and lens data for VFX, among other features, and Sigel liked what he saw. "It's got the beautiful look we all like on the ALEXA that's made it so popular," says the cinematographer, who rated the XT so highly that he bought one. "The fall-off is so subtle and gentle. I was getting the same beautiful look except in full-resolution and a smaller profile."

The ALEXA has such nice highlights and a beautiful color range.

Sigel used the ALEXA XTs for the production's 2D work, including 2nd unit. "The 2D work tended to be action photography that couldn't be captured in 3D," he explains. "It was converted to 3D in post and accounts for about 20 minutes of the movie." Sigel appreciated the flexibility and simplicity of the XT's in-camera ARRIRAW. "I didn't need a recorder or extra cabling," he says.

 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST takes place in two time frames; scenes set in the future have a colder, blue-cyan look, whereas scenes in the past have a warmer, de-saturated look. "One of the great things about the ALEXA is that, because it creates such a beautiful raw image, you have a lot of room for moving the image in one direction or another in post," says Sigel. "The ALEXA has such nice highlights and a beautiful color range, so you can make those subtle manipulations and it looks very organic, rather than electronic. That was one of the selling points of using the ALEXA." 

The film integrates approximately 1,200 visual effects. "We shot greenscreen as extensions of existing sets," says Sigel. "And the ALEXA is quite beautiful for greenscreen work." For one sequence that takes place on the lawn in front of the White House, the crew built an enormous greenscreen box to contain the many actors involved in the action. Later, the VFX department replaced the greenscreen box with White House backgrounds in every shot.

The ALEXA is quite beautiful for greenscreen work.

The ALEXA's low-light sensitivity was also a boon for the film's native 3D. "You lose a stop in 3D due to the mirror, so having all that extra latitude with the ALEXA was a huge bonus," says Sigel. "I definitely think we were able to use smaller lighting instruments in general than we would have in the past."

 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST posed a raft of tricky challenges: native 3D, heavy VFX and distinctive looks. The ALEXA M and ALEXA XT came through with flying colors. "I've gotten really good results and I haven't found anything I like better," says Sigel. "It's my favorite camera." 

 

Debra Kaufman