Still reeling from the most faithful big screen adaption of X-Men comics, Deadpool, fans can find the most faithful X-adaptation on any screen on the internet. Here’s how the New Mutants, Dazzler, and their friends jumped from 1980s color pages to computer screens.
Okay, before anything else, you have to watch the music video starring mutant pangalactic teleporter Lila Cheney and the New Mutants.
Oh, and if that isn’t enough for you, check out Dazzler’s solo debut from a year ago.
Both fan films were by writer, director, visual effects master, and life-long comic reader Arvin Bautista of Greasy Pig Studios. Here’s the premiere of the visual effects breakdown:
“I thought it was just going to be a silly thing that people would like on an ironic level,” Bautista told Monomythic. “Little did I know there were as many people who were as passionate about Dazzler as I was!”
Comic books were Bautista’s first love, and what encouraged him to become a storyteller later in life.
“I was born in the Philippines, where comics have always been huge,” he explained. His family moved to the states in the early 90s when Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and Filipino-born Whilce Portacio were forging new paths for the X-Men. Although Bautista wanted to be a comic book artist, he felt more comfortable as a filmmaker, attending USC film school before getting work in Hollywood as a motion graphics artist.
That love led him to Dazzler (Gentry Roth), one of the greatest Marvel mutants, and possibly one of the most powerful. For the record, Dazzler was originally conceived as a joint venture between Marvel, music studios, and movie companies, but in the end she settled for being one of Marvel’s longest-running female-led comics. Dazzler, or Allison Blaire to her friends, is a world-famous pop star who can turn any sound (except her own voice) into brilliant displays of light, heat, and energy.
“She is a really nice an decent person who really wanted to have a life outside of being a superhero,” Bautista said.
Despite the desire of her father (Justin Ross) to follow his example and become a lawyer (and in the fan video, attend Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic’s alma mater Empire State University), she followed her own musical dreams.
In the comics, she eventually falls in love with (and has a child with, in a weird, twisted version of reality) the otherworldly Longshot (Dillon Dinkens), who has the ability to have really, super amazing luck. No really!
When Bautista told people he planned to make a comic book-accurate Dazzler music video with his own original song in April 2014, most were nonplussed. “A bunch of them didn’t know who Dazzler was, and the few who did could not believe I would want to make a Dazzler movie,” he said.
He made sure to include as many nods to the comics as possible, but some fans saw things he didn’t. “They started asking whether the base player in the Dazzler video was Lila, and I thought, yeah, why not!”
That led to the new video filmed over a few days in December 2015, starring the more obscure mutant rock star, Lila Cheney (Sage Montclair).
“I thought if I make a Lila Cheny video, that would deffinately be one that was just for the fans. … The people that I was making it specifically for, I knew they would like it, but I felt that it would have an even more limited audience than the Dazzler video.”
Think of Lila as the Pat Benatar to Dazzler’s Abba.
This meant finding actors to fill bit roles in the X-Men mythos, like Stevie Hunter, a human who became a close friend to mutants over the years, as an aerobics instructor (it was the 80s) and physical trainer.
“The person that really got into their character … was Christine Atieno, who played Stevie Hunter. She really got into her character. … She was looking up Stevie Hunter’s relationship with Kitty Pryde, and Storm … it was really gratified to know that [she put that much effort into it].”
Bautista based much of the second video on the The New Mutants Annual #1, which had the titular young heroes attending a concert by Cheney and meeting the interplanetary rock goddess for the first time. “Done. I barely have to write anything for it,” Bautista mused. That meant finding actors for cult favorites like: the country-raised human rocket Cannonball (Dennis Martin), the shape-shifting techno-organic alien Warlock (Cody Dowell), the living universal translator Cypher (Eric Eberle), the walking volcano Magma (Victoria Hallebo), the innocent young werewolf Wolfsbane (Katie Hemming), the demonically-empowered Magik (Josephine Hies), the illusion-casting Mirage (Arianna Lemus), the psychic blockade Karma (Mary Ly), and the solar-powered powerhouse Sunspot (Anthony Eftimeo, who Bautista says already knew his character from the comics).
Since Lila would be the big star this time around, Bautista included her bodyguard and long-time X-Factor member, Strong Guy (Nate Moore). The comic character is infamous for being proportionally challenged, with his upper body several times larger than his lower body, and Bautista knew that was something even a fit guy like Moore couldn’t exactly pull off. “He is actually a very fit muscular guy, but he’s actually more of a Silver Surfer muscular guy.” To pull it off, Bautista decided to show hints of himin the main video, allowing hardcore fans to recognize his distinctive glasses and speech patterns, then reveal his full look in the credits. “Once I committed to doing Strong Guy, I knew that I was going to reveal him at the very, very end. … That really worked with the whole point of it being a reveal.”
Since Bautista does a lot of graphics work for a living, he had various ideas, and some last-minute fixes, to bring the characters to life – not all of which the actors knew about.
“They’re just standing in front of a green screen and we had a big fan. … I was like you guys are going to land here, and we’re going to have an alien egg thing here.” After all of the post-production was completed, actress Sage Montclair was excited with what she saw. “Lila, she punched me in the arm, she had no idea that was what that was going to look like.”
Some of the video’s quirks came from the actor improvisations.
“The New Mutants originally weren’t supposed to show their powers for budgetary and time constraints, but these actors all looked their parts and the fans were going to want this,” Bautista explained.
“I had a thought that I would do a thing where at some point [actor Cody Dowell] would just look like Warlock, but I didn’t plan that particular shot, the actor just did that. He twitched his head. … The Warlock actor doing that affectation gave me the encouragement to do the effect then. … I was able to like, mine little moments to get the most out of what we shot.”
Although the 3D planet model was purchased from TurboSquid.com, the black-and-gold Technarch head of Warlock and all other graphics were designed by Bautista. “That was the perfect frame for me to do, where he was just glitching out. … I was giddy, I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to be able to pull this off.”
Similarly, Bautista didn’t originally plan for so many mutants to show off their powers. “It’s kind of a silly thing, but it’s a very comic book thing for them to do,” he said. “That’s a comic book trope… You would think they would be very reasonable superheroes, but they meet a person and want to pound each other’s heads in.”
The same goes for Cannonball, who wasn’t originally set to visit the alien planet. As things started to come together, the video evolved. “I had to, originally, be very economical with what I was going to show. … I had my way, frankly, I would have all of the New Mutants on the planet.”
Bautista had hoped Lila would be visiting her second home, a Dyson Sphere the character lives on in the comics (recently revealed to be home to a civilization that communicates solely in musical numbers), but the specifics were too hard to realize with the limited time and resources. “To me, she goes to a different alien world and maybe steals the M’Kraan Crystal or something like that. … In my perfect world she and Cannonball would go back to her planet and it wouldn’t be sunset because it was noon all the time and there would be a kissing scene, but the whole alien world thing is what we already had.”
Although Bautista wrote the lyrics and planned the shots, the distinctive sound of the videos came from musician Taiwo Heard.
“I gave him the vibe that I was going for with Dazzler. I wanted it to be more 80s, as opposed to disco,” Bautista said, acknowledging Dazzler’s roots as a disco-based hero. “I told him, find 80s girl pop, Madonna, Cyndy Loper, Paula Abdul.”
The end result was a resounding success. “It kind of embodies the kind of outrageousness and silliness I would want in an actual Dazzler video.”
Heard was also instrumental in finding most of Bautista’s principal cast. Gentry Roth and Sage Montclair have gotten into cosplay and have participated in some of Bautista’s convention visits, something he hopes he and the cast get to do more of, just as he hopes they can produce more music videos. “Making the music videos really works well with my aesthetic, and music videos is something that’s unique,” he said. “The tough thing with the template that I’ve created with myself is, me being an X-Men fan is that we don’t have too many other mines to tap.”
Inspired by fans like the Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast, Bautista is busy planning the next moves for he and his team.
“If wanted to do another 80s one, I would do like a Fallen Angels one,” he said, namedropping the short-lived New Mutants spin-off. “That would be kind of a silly kids-in-America feel attached to that. … I don’t know how I’d really pull off a Devil Dinosaur.”
He’s also considered making a more romantic, dramatic video spotlighting Mystique and her decades-long love Destiny, based on a Peter David story, but neither concept is set in stone yet.
Bautista also plans some original film work – as he can’t make money off fan videos – but he’s more than willing to play in Marvel and Fox Studio’s playgrounds for real. “If Marvel ever wants to knock on my door, I will absolutely be ready for when that happens, but I have several projects that I am marinating right now. … There’s only so much I can keep exploring somebody else’s world, especially on a fan level.”