A Digital Nip/Tuck

'X-Men' thesps drink from Lola's fountain of youth

A shape-shifting supermodel. The destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Kelsey Grammer as a Beast.

Ho hum. Just another “X-Men” movie.

But “The Last Stand” kicks off with a real vfx eye-opener: a flashback sequence in which thesps Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen look much as they did around 1980.

They wore no special makeup to take the age off. Instead, they simply shot the scene as normal.

The artists at Lola VFX provided the fountain of youth.

Lola, an offshoot of Hydraulx, specializes in digital cosmetic enhancement. That usually means they can’t discuss who they’ve enhanced, or how. In fact, they’re usually under severe nondisclosure agreements. But in “X-Men 3” it’s obvious.

When Lola got the job, the staff members didn’t even know themselves if they could make it work.

“As far as I know, no one’s ever done it,” says Greg Strause, co-owner and vfx supervisor. “To reduce two aging actors 25 years? I’ve never heard of it. There are no manuals or white papers on how to do it, so we had to create the process ourselves.”

Taking off that much age is more than just filling wrinkles, says Strause. “Certain areas of a man’s face sag and others hollow out. They lose the density of the fatty tissue under the skin.”

The test footage that won them the bid showed only a 10-year reduction, but helmer Brett Ratner and the film’s producers gave the go-ahead.

On the set, there was not so much as a toupee for McKellen. “They shot it, gave us the plates,” says Strause. “They were still kind of concerned whether we could do it or not. They had no reason to believe this was going to be achievable.”

Getting a realistic look is part art, part science, and always subjective. John Bruno, vfx supervisor on “X-Men 3,” says the process ultimately had to be taken shot-by-shot.

“We probably (took the actors) 30 years back, just to make sure you got it.” Their skin got so smooth, in fact, that they had to put some pockmarks back. “It was beginning to look creepy, it was starting to look like they were 19,” says Bruno.

The results grabbed a lot of attention, but Bruno warns: “It’ s not cheap. It’s handmade. It’s manipulation, it’s not like you put numbers in a computer and it pops out; you have to physically do it.”

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