How The Avengers Made A Motion Capture Hulk And Snagged An Oscar Nomination

By Eric Eisenberg 2013-02-12 13:18:34discussion comments
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To kind of go back to the very start of this project, I’m curious about how you both felt going in to make The Avengers, because not only is this film the capstone of the Marvel Studios Phase One plans and bringing all of the heroes together in one movie, it also happens to be a film with a 30 minute long action sequence in the third act. How intimidating was it going in?

Victoria Alonso: Well, I started about seven years ago, and that was the first journey with Iron Man 1. And Kevin Feige, who was already at Marvel – he was there prior to us – and he was the force that said, “If we tell the origin pictures in a way that the characters find a home with fans then we could tell the group story and the collision of all of these forces together in a way that we can make them happy and satisfied. Because not everyone is an Iron Man fan, not everyone is a Cap fan, everybody has their own favorite. And so the greatest responsibility was to create something that would make fans happy knowing that we had so many different teams to make happy. As it was with actors in the production, because to get all these phenomenal talent together at the same time – and also to give them the amount of screen time that they deserve! It was a big juggle, and I think that that’s the one thing that we’re so, so grateful for. Because you can have seven years of trying and then nobody sees it! [laughs]

Jeff White: A couple people saw this one [laughs]. What’s great is that visual effects is very integrated right from the beginning of the production process now, so you know as you’re getting into pre-viz and [visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs] was really involved. We can’t go out and do that 30-minute third act without an incredible amount of planning ahead of time. We had a six week photography shoot just to capture all of the raw materials of New York, and kind of had to know where all of the action was going to take place. So I think that collaboration with Janek and Joss was very important in making this successful.

I’m just going to be blunt in saying this because I just find it to be fact: The Avengers is one of the best, if not arguably the best comic book movie that we’ve seen and really is something special when you realize it as the sum of its parts. But in your process actually making the movie, did you ever have any kind of moment of realization that this movie was special?

VA: You don’t.

JW: No, you don’t.

Wow, never? Okay [laughs]

VA: No, because the moment you think, “I’m working on something special” it just… you work, and you work, and you work like a horse, and you work, and you battle the storm and the snow and the sand…

JW: Survival [laughs].

VA: You work and you hope to god that you make it on time [laughs]. I mean, you work through being sick – we both got awfully sick – and you work and you just hope that time is on your side. You just hope.

JW: And you really trust in your creatives, like Joss, that he has the whole picture in his head. And we at ILM we don’t see the whole movie – [turning to Victoria] you probably see it much earlier than we do – we don’t see the whole movie sometimes until it’s out in the theaters. So that’s always a really magical experience. You’ve worked so long on something and really focused on details, and then you see it kind of click in to the whole picture – and it’s like, “Wow, that’s a really great film.

VA: [To Jeff] Was it up to your expectations when you saw it? Well, you must have seen this one before…

JW: I’d seen it probably two months before – and it was actually at a perfect point because it was a hard show. We were all working really hard on it, and to go see it. There is something to… people really want to invest their time and their energy into something that’s great, and to be able to go and even see that early screening and come back and say, “This is a great movie that we’re working on,” that helps revitalize everybody for that last push.

I also really want to talk a bit about The Hulk in this movie, because each time I watch the movie he continues to be my favorite part of the film. And obvious credit has to go to Joss Whedon for his script and Mark Ruffalo for his performance, but this is also just the best physical representation of the character we’ve seen on screen. And a big difference between The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers is that this time around motion capture was used to capture the character. What was the motivating factor that led to that decision?

JW: When we were looking at Hulk and taking this on again it scared us to death, because creating a believable, digital human is at least one of the most challenging thing you can do in computer graphics. And the only way that we could really figure to get through it was that we have to have something in reality to base everything around. And luckily we also had a really willing actor in Mark Ruffalo, who just went through everything that we asked him to. Dental molds, and life casts and scans and photography…and he’s just the nicest guy. He still sent me an email when the award came out and he’s like, “Let’s do it again!” He’s just that kind of guy.

VA: He’s just a wonderful, wonderful person to work with.

JW: So with all of that data we took everything and made our digital version of him, and that’s where we solved the problem. Do the eyes look right? Does the skin look right? Are the pores the same? So everything that you see in Hulk was from Mark Ruffalo.
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