X-Men effects had Singaporean touch

X-Men effects had Singaporean touch
Skeel Lee, a visual effects artist whose real name is Lee Keng Siang but is known widely by his surname and initials in reverse in the business. He was part of the special effects team for X-Men: Days Of Future Past

SINGAPORE - When you watch X-Men: Days Of Future Past and see Fan Bingbing teleporting through what looks like cool, purple volcano craters, know that a Singaporean helped to create them.

Visual effects artist Skeel Lee, 31, was part of the eight-member team at international visual effects company Moving Picture Company's branch in Montreal, Canada, which was responsible for the computer-generated portals.

In the superhero blockbuster movie, which opens in cinemas today, the portals feature prominently in the beginning: mutant Blink - played by Chinese actress Fan - uses her powers to form them so that she or others can use them to instantly jump to other places.

Lee was involved in both developing the look of the portals, as well as the actual visual effects work to realise the finalised concept. Says Lee, who worked on the film for six months, from last November to last month: "The biggest challenge of working on the project was trying to define the look for these effects that do not exist.

"I had to work on several versions of the portal effects for a few months, trying to get different plausible looks for the director to approve."

He contributed to about 15 to 20 visual effects shots - "which is a decent amount considering the complexity of the shots", he says. Other than Blink's portals, he also worked on a few shots of the ice spray by mutant Iceman (portrayed by Shawn Ashmore), as well as the fire that shoots from the chest of mutant Sunspot (portrayed by Adan Canto) during battles.

Getting to work on the project was a "childhood dream come true", says Lee, who has a bachelor's degree in computing from the National University of Singapore.

"I watched the X-Men animated series when I was young and I've grown up wanting to be part of movies and animated films, especially the X-men franchise."

Now that the film is finally ready for release, he is pleased with the results: "I've read the online comments for the movie trailers and people are absolutely thrilled with what they've seen.

"These comments make me feel that all the hard work that we visual effects artists have put in is totally worth it."

Lee, whose real name is Lee Keng Siang but is known widely by his surname and initials in reverse in the business, has been working in the visual effects industry since graduation in 2008, with companies such as Double Negative in London and Singapore, and Industrial Light & Magic - the visual effects division of Lucasfilm - in Singapore.

He has previously worked on visual effects and technical work for other Hollywood movies, such as Pacific Rim (2013), John Carter (2012) and Sherlock Holmes (2009). He got the gig at Montreal's Moving Pictures Company based on the recommendation of a former colleague. One huge challenge about being a part of the X-Men film has nothing to do with special effects or computer coding: the Singapore son had to brave freezing temperatures in Montreal.

He is based in Singapore, but was stationed in the Canadian city while working on the project.

"Temperatures dropped to minus 30 deg C for a couple of weeks, and there was still snow there in March," he recalls.

Then, there was the language barrier. "All the signs and menus are in French, so I had to pick up some French to make my way around," he says.

"I can now order food in French, but being away from Singapore for a long time meant that I missed the food. I had to cook my own chicken rice and bak chor mee to get a taste of Singapore."

This article was first published on May 22, 2014.
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