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How 'Logan' made an effects-heavy movie that feels real

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Last month's gritty superhero hit "Logan" offered a grounded take on the superhero, but it still began with high-tech previsualization used to lay out the film's complex stunts and subtle special effects.

Last month's gritty superhero hit "Logan" offered a grounded take on the superhero, with a movie set in the future but that feels like a western. That doesn't mean that it was any less dependent on special effects, and that began with high-tech previsualization used to lay out the film's complex stunts and subtle special effects.

That point was driven home by director James Mangold with the team envisioning what scenes like the dramatic escape from a refinery would look like.

"He many times came to us and said, 'this is not a superhero movie. This is not a fantastic movie. What you're doing is too exciting, it's too great. If you can't do it yourself, today, out on the car, then it's not in my movie,'" visualization supervisor Clint Reagan told KPCC.

Reagan works on everything from movies and video games to rides and commercials. He also has a lot of experience with the fantastic — he's worked on dozens of films, such as "Transformers," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." But that wasn't what "Logan's" director wanted.

"Coming from many other films that are very fantastic, very over the top and all along the spectrum — this one, he wanted to make a really grounded, simple, small-feeling movie. But it wasn't small, it was a big effort," Reagan said.

One of the goals throughout the process wasn't making sure that the audience didn't feel or notice the effects. Reagan worked with Mangold to deliver that feeling.

"He knows what he wants to feel, but he doesn't know exactly where the camera's going to be. He doesn't know exactly what he wants to see, but he does know what he wants to feel, and when we show things, and we explore different ideas, he responds to that," Reagan said.

Reagan worked early in his career at a studio known for creating that emotion in audiences — he worked as a production assistant in Disney's feature animation division, working on color models.

"That's where the directors, and the studio executives, and all the department heads for the entire show would get together and talk about what they needed to do, and what wasn't working, and what was working. And I stood there the whole time," Reagan said. "I learned a ton, because that's really what I'm doing now, is I'm looking at all the different parties in a production, and what their needs are, what their desires are, what the limitations are, and I'm weighing those and trying to help get everybody's voice together on screen."

Being part of the beginning of a project lights Reagan up — the part where there aren't any effects involved yet.

"I really love figuring out situations — how to create physical situations, emotional situations, and put out a ton of ideas. And for every 20 ideas we put out and try, it's only one that's going to make it to the screen," Reagan said.

When he's trying to imagine what should go in a movie, he looks at the director's previous work, along with looking for reference in one of the same places many of us seek out video now.

"YouTube is a tremendous tool now for animating and for designing scenes, where you just get to see things that you didn't think of and consider before," Reagan said. "Everybody does that in some capacity, somewhere, where you're just laughing, and saying 'Oh, what if it was like that?' And you all get a chuckle. Well, I get to actually pursue those chuckles and that laugh, of 'Oh, that would be funny, let's make it happen and see what he thinks, see if that meets his need and what he's requesting.' That's inspiring to me."

The entire process of making a movie is about each person adding something new, Reagan said.

"We get a script page, sometimes, and we get that script, and the writer had something in his head, and all he was able to portray was these words to try to generate that image. And then we read that, and we say 'OK, well we've got these rough models, let's figure out what he meant by how fast that car should be going when he jumps in, versus how slow it should be going, and what situations we can create,'" Reagan said.

Next, the actors enter the process, seeing what's happening from their characters' perspective and adding another layer, according to Reagan.

"And if that's the way a film is working, all the way through production design, the stunts, the set builders — I'm going to leave people out, because there's so many people interpreting a bit, and putting their little piece on. It's like one of those gum walls, where everybody's putting their bit there, and then pretty soon, what was just small and felt insignificant and excited you for a little bit, turns into something big and amazing, and a complete whole," Reagan said.

Next on the list of films coming to a multiplex near you with a dash of Reagan's previsualization magic is one with a little more opportunity for the fantastic: "Spider-Man: Homecoming." It opens July 6.

See video of some of Reagan's other previsualization work below, including from "The Wolverine," the "Ghostbusters" reboot and the "Mass Effect" theme park ride:

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