Has there ever quite been anything as cool as the original Bamfing effect in ‘X2’? UPDATED!
In May 2003, I had what may still be one of the most rousing superhero movie moments I’ve experienced: a packed cinemahouse in downtown Sydney cheering at the opening audacious attack on the White House by the character Nightcrawler in X2.
It’s a stunning scene in which Nightcrawler (played by Alan Cumming) swings about the hallways of the White House on his way to the President, dodging and attacking several guards via a flashy and smokey teleportation effect. Impressively, the shots appeared to happen in incredible oners, even if that’s not quite how they appeared (it was at least how I remembered them).
I learned only later—possibly via Cinefex—that this had been dubbed ‘Bamfing’. It was like a perfect description of the moment Nightcrawler jumps and reappears into that smokey haze, completely with brilliant sound design.
Later I would also learn that some of the live-action stunts were captured in multiple passes with a Zebra dolly motion control system from Aerocrane at 72 frames per second.
Cinesite then brought them together using its Cineon compositing system, alongside Houdini sims and an internal particle system, to give the appearance of Nightcrawler being sucked inwards and outwards as he teleports.
I asked then Cinesite visual effects supervisor Stephan Rosenbaum, who worked with production VFX supe Mike Fink on the film, to break down for befores & afters what he thought worked so well about the VFX for the Bamfing. Here’s what he said:
For the Nightcrawler White House sequence, we spent a lot of time – uh – researching his character and mutant power by reading and re-reading his comic books. In addition to his ability to teleport, he’s very acrobatic and uses his tail as an active appendage so the action was designed to make full use of his abilities.
We shot the sequence with a stunt body double on a traveling wire rig. While we did shoot clean passes after each plate was shot, we mostly relied upon LIDAR scans of the sets for his reveals and disappearances. This teleporting (Bamf) effect was a fluid simulation spawned from a body scan of the actor.
While I think we nailed the effect, what made the sequence fun to watch was the skillful choreography, photography and editing. Using a real person instead of a CG Nightcrawler physically grounded his performance and the reactions to them.
It really is still one of the coolest effects out there. Happy 20th anniversary, X2.
UPDATE: Jerry Tessendorf (yes, that Jerry Tessendorf) was a software developer at Cinesite back on X2, and got in touch with me about the simulations for the Bamfing. and for the Cerebro effect seen in the film. Here’s his notes on that development.
The mix of technology and techniques for the smokey part of the bamf was developed by Vijoy Gaddipati and I at Cinesite. It was not a fluid simulation. We developed a custom particle creation, modification, and rendering tool called partman. Partman used “shaders” to emit and move around particles, then render them in a highly compact custom statistical rendering technique described here.
The fluid-like motion of the particles was achieved by moving the particles through a combination of static vector fields that had the properties of a turbulent noisy velocity with a kolmogorov spatial spectrum. The code for the vector fields used Fast Fourier Transforms on a random realization of zero mean noise with a power law (Kolmorgorv) spectrum, and was written by Dan Weston. The fluid-like motion also involved slowly translating the static vector fields with respect to each other.
I was responsible for developing partman and the advection shader, and Vijoy developed the Houdini plugin so that it could be used in the standard production environment. He and I went through a number of R&D iterations on the motion and look until the supervisors were happy. Bill La Barge was the lead artist setting up the particle emission and nursing the smoke through the production pipeline.
In addition, the shafts of light in cerebro were achieved by distributing particles on the surface of the globe, and instead of emitting particles, the partman shader emitted elongated tetrahedra that partman volume rendered. Partman also emitted and rendered hair strands very efficiently, which was used to render a slow-mo closeup of a bee in Clockstoppers. Sadly, the Hollywood Cinesite office closed shortly after, and I assume the software disappeared with it.