How frozen-in-time scenes are made for movies and TV

  • Movies can make objects and people appear to be standing in time.
  • The “X-Men” movies shot their Quicksilver scenes at a high frame rate to slow down the action.
  • Crews can hold objects and actors with wires and poles so they can be frozen in mid-action.
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Narrator: In “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Evan Peters was filmed running on a treadmill in front of a green screen so he could then be placed into these freeze-frames, which were shot at over 3,000 frames per second

On set, these actors and objects were stabilized with cables and poles, but these ingredients and this spilled soup were added with CG.

Frozen-in-time sequences have come a long way thanks to advances in technology and CGI.

Just look at this time-freeze scene in “The Twilight Zone.”

Here, boy. Come on!

Narrator: Without CG, it was difficult for director Douglas Hayes to hide subtle movements like breathing and shaking. So he found the best way to cover up these inevitable mistakes was to keep moving the camera, so viewers didn’t even have time to notice.

The motion trick is still used today, but modern cameras also allow filmmakers to slow down footage by changing frame rates. Most modern movies are shot at 24 frames per second. Increasing the frame rate results in more images, allowing filmmakers to stretch and slow down the scene frame by frame.

So, for example, this moment from “The Matrix” from 1999…

freeze it

Narrator: The camera actually ran at 96 frames per second. And to capture “Quicksilver time” in “Days of Future Past” and “Apocalypse,” the “X-Men” team used a Phantom camera capable of both shooting 3,000 frames per second and moving at 90 miles per hour.

So an action that occurred in just one second in real time could be extended to 15 seconds.

Visual effects artists can also reprogram a live-action shot, a technique that was needed to make Quicksilver appear to be moving faster than his surroundings. This meant taking the actor out of the original shot frame by frame, then filming him in front of a green screen so he could be re-timed separately before adding him back in.

Populating these scenes with various frozen characters and background elements can be done both practically and visually. And not everything in Quicksilver’s scenes was VFX.

Just look at these plates supported by cables and poles.

Often, practical effects in combination with CG touch-ups can add even more realism, as in 2021’s “Worst Person in the World,” which leaned heavily on the practical side of this scene, in which the world freezes around the protagonist, Julie.

Director Joachim Trier made a creative decision to make most of the film’s effects frozen in time in camera. Much of this was achieved through the clever craftsmanship of prop master Hedda Virik.

Hedda Virik: When it works, it works and creates magic on set that everyone is very excited to be a part of.

Narrator: Like when Aksel freezes in the middle of pouring coffee. To create this effect, Hedda studied photos of real coffee streams and sculpted a replica out of polymer clay.

Hedda: It’s not just a coffee line. It’s water, and water frozen in time is always unique, and you end up with these beautiful little lines.

Narrator: This sculpture was used as the basis for a negative cast, onto which he poured resin to add color.

Hedda: So you really want that clear, lush coffee.

Narrator: There was also real coffee in the pot to achieve the movement before and after the frozen sequence. So to keep the real coffee from spilling out, Hedda covered the opening of the pot with ultra-clear tape. And the resin stream was mounted to a coffee cup with a flexible cable so it could be repositioned on set.

While items like the coffee stream had to be made from scratch, others just needed some clever tweaks to look frozen. Like these headphones, which were attached to this extra’s shirt to keep their shape.

Hedda: Sometimes the real thing works, as long as there’s no wind.

Narrator: Similarly, Hedda used tape and metal wire on a real briefcase to keep it from moving. Inanimate objects are a challenge, but keeping everything in place becomes even more difficult when dealing with living, breathing creatures.

Hedda: It is very difficult to convince animals and get them to do what you want. And I don’t know any animal that just wants to sit still and do nothing.

Narrator: So those two dogs in the background are completely fake. But the fake puppies had to be placed in unique and dynamic ways, so they didn’t just look like stuffed animals. This included breaking one of the stuffed legs.

Hedda: Like I was doing a little strut.

Narrator: And holding them with stones, so that they do not fall.

Human actors can hold still on command, but holding certain positions for long periods of time still requires some extra assistance and can be painful and uncomfortable.

Hedda: And we spent hours and hours in each place. When you do it over and over and over and over again, then you’ll get tired.

Narrator: Wires are an option, as in this “Apocalypse” shot. But they have their own complications.

Ian Cope: If you use cables all the time, sometimes you’ll have some kind of pinching or an unnatural type of fishing.

Narrator: So how did Hedda manage to make everyone look so steady in that no-wire final shot? Small blocks of wood.

He brought blocks of all sizes to the set. The ones he chose varied according to the type of footwear.

On their own, the blocks would be very easy to spot, so Hedda covered them with black non-reflective tape. In this way, they could integrate into the shadow under the foot of an extra.

The best option is to cover these facilities with people and objects. This moped simply has its stand out, but it was locked out of the camera.

Bikes and scooters were a bit more difficult to place as their mounts are harder to hide. So Hedda built specialized metal supports to keep them straight and look like they’re halfway there.

Hedda: We had to place something under one of the pedals so all the weight could be on the pedal.

Narrator: Hedda also had to teach the extras how to position their bodies to make the scene look realistic. First, don’t change your weight.

Hedda: Because when you ride a bike, you just want to ride, right? You’re used to riding a bike and you treat it completely differently than when you have to pretend to be on a bike.

Narrator: Even when using practice for these sequences, a final VFX assist is crucial to bring everything together to look perfect.

Bike and foot facilities, for example, were digitally removed by mail. The same goes for the cables and poles in the Quicksilver scenes.

While animators can stabilize real performances to get rid of any movement and shake, digital doubles give them much more control. So to get every detail right, “Days of Future Past” and “Apocalypse” enlisted visual effects studio Rising Sun Pictures.

For example, Rising Sun Pictures created digital versions of these students that Quicksilver saves to preserve the delicate balance of keeping these characters frozen in time but not frozen in place. This is also why they created a CG version of this table for Quicksilver to surf.

Ian: We can use this to interact with any effect we are creating.

Narrator: Like here, when the animators digitally reconstructed a car so they could add slow-motion water splashing on the tires.

Ian: You can drive a car and that would work in the final shot. But it’s the splash you need to slow down that you might not necessarily get right. Because once you film something with that element, that’s what you have.

Narrator: Techniques like face replacement can fix continuity errors. As time slows down in “Days of Future Past,” Professor X calls out…

No!

Ian: When they actually filmed him, his mouth was taped shut, but contextually, it would have been more on his word.

Narrator: So his original expression was changed to one where his mouth was wide open.

In any of these sequences, there is the moment when time resumes and everything returns to normal. Since the frozen-in-time sequence in “Worst Person” ended with Aksel spilling coffee, they only had to do a single action to get him back to normal.

But for “Days of Future Past,” they had to sort all the objects that Magneto lifted into the air next to the positions that Quicksilver placed all those characters.

On the set, people and objects were thrown with cables and compressed air.

Ian: If this scene works and the weather works as we go back to normal time, then we’ll try to keep it as long as we can.

Narrator: But only objects within reason. All those bits of leftover food and extra dishes that land on the kitchen floor and keep moving? false

Ian: Pizza dog, which ended up becoming our crew’s favorite. So there was a tour of the mansion that was filmed by the cameras. So there was a pizza dog with a flapping chin that was a CG head. And here’s some slow motion footage where we’ve taken multiple shots. And so we’d do the trip back with the motion blur and the speed to make it look like, “Oh, this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Quicksilver: Wow!

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