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How Project Power turned Jamie Foxx into a superhero - Exclusive

Over his long career in the movie biz, Jamie Foxx has been no stranger to big action roles, whether he's taking on Floridian drug lords in Miami Vice or wreaking havoc in the Old West in Django Unchained. He's even dipped his toe into the world of super-powered cinema, portraying Electro in 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Still, his turn in the Netflix original film Project Power is something else entirely.

Aiming to tell a street-level story of super powers and the people who wield them, Project Power posits a world in which illicit pills offer those who take them a seemingly randomized special ability for five minutes. Foxx plays an ex-soldier who was an early test subject for the substance, and the power it grants his character is kept under wraps for much of the movie. When it's unleashed, though, it's an epic moment, made all the more potent through Foxx's performance and some pretty impressive special effects.

To get to the bottom of how Jamie Foxx's big moment was brought to life, we sat down with Project Power's Overall Visual EffectsSupervisor Ivan Moran of the effects company and creative studio Framestore to learn about what went into rendering the film's explosive conclusion.

Jamie Foxx's big powers came from small beginnings.

One of the ways the people behind Project Power attempted to ground the film was to root its superpowers in the real world — specifically, the animal kingdom. When it came time to create an explosive climax, Moran turned his attention to a somewhat unlikely source: the sea. In specific, he decided to base Foxx's powers on one of the most peculiar aquatic creatures, the pistol shrimp.

"We knew something had to be explosive," recalls Moran. "We wanted it to be based from the animal kingdom, which is tricky. I mean, what kind of animal has explosive abilities? But they also wanted it to be really unique. So, how can we do an explosion that's really different? We spent this whole movie grounding everything, and then it's like, 'Oh, what do you mean he's got a ray gun inside him?'"

The creature in question does indeed seem to fit exactly that description. "What the pistol shrimp does is it creates a shockwave and basically the bubble that it creates — and it happens very quickly — basically turns the water into plasma," Moran explains. "The center of the bubble is like the temperature of the sun. It's like 6,000, 7,000 degrees Kelvin."

How did Moran and his team extrapolate that to something big enough to serve as Project Power's climax? "The idea is that he takes the pill power amplifiers, and his subatomic vibrations are far greater than we've seen, because obviously he's the original source," says Moran. "It becomes infrasonic waves, which are basically outside the range of human hearing, but very powerful. There's infrasonic technology used in the military where they can floor trees in forests. And it's those infrasonic waves that then basically turn the raindrops into plasma. They vaporize it and then they ionize it and that causes a chain reaction, and that's what the explosion is."

Getting Jamie Foxx fired up with VFX

According to Moran, the moment Foxx's character unleashes his powers proved particularly challenging. "We've got Phantom cameras at 900 frames a second in real rain, in New Orleans, outside with mosquitoes," he explains. "If I closed my eyes, I could envisage the whole sequence. I could just see it before me, but nobody else could. So the whole crew, all of the actors, all of my visual effects crew, would quite often along the journey sort of turn to me and say, 'Is this is going to be cool? Is this going to look good? Do we know what we're doing?' And I'm saying, 'It's going to be great.'"

The solution lay in two areas: storyboarding and varying camera speed. "It had to be, like, okay, on this day, we're shooting that storyboard, that storyboard, and that storyboard, and they're going to take four passes," says Moran. "We're going to shoot it at this speed, that speed. It's a mixture of speeds because high-speed camera work has a low light problem. It needs a lot of lights. So, given that it was nighttime, that was really challenging. The Phantom stuff, we could only sort of shoot close-up. The wider shots we achieved, we slightly cheated. We used the Venice camera at about 200 frames a second, so we didn't have so much light problem. And then, we did a lot of CG rain to sell the speed of it."

In front of the cameras, it became a matter of breaking things down for the actors. "We had boards up on the day, and we would take Jamie and Dominique [Fishback] and the rest of the cast through it," Moran remembers. "And we would go, 'This is the moment when this happens. It's going to be shot like this,' because for them, a lot of the action, it's like, a millisecond. Then obviously, when it's drawn out, that gives us the action that we wanted. So it was an incredible amount of prep. It was incredibly challenging. I mean, the poor actors out in the rain all night, night after night after night — it was almost a bridge too far."

Still, the effort proved worth it, as the unleashing of Foxx's full force stands as one of Project Power's most dazzling scenes. You can see it on Netflix now.