When it came to blockbuster movies, 2012 was an amazingly crowded year. Christopher Nolan completed his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises; the Twilight franchise came to a close with Breaking Dawn Part 2; everyone’s favorite webslinger was reborn in The Amazing Spider-Man; Peter Jackson returned to Middle Earth for The Hobbit; James Bond made his comeback with Skyfall; and a new young-adult sensation was created with The Hunger Games. But when the dust settled there was one movie that was clearly king of the mountain: Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
The superhero film that brought together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk was nothing short of a phenomenon, not only becoming the third highest grossing film of all time – with a worldwide take of $1.5 billion – but also having brilliant success with critics - with a 92% rating on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. And as though that weren’t enough achievements for one movie, later this month the film will be competing with some of the best movies of 2012 for glory at the Academy Awards.
The Marvel Studios film has been nominated for this year’s Best Visual Effects award, and in anticipation of the ceremony I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Executive Producer Victoria Alonso and ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Jeff White both about the movie’s most recent accolade and what went into the making of the movie. Read on!
Let me just start by saying congratulations on your Oscar nomination! Just knowing how much incredible hard work went into the making of this movie, what does it mean to receive that kind of recognition?
Victoria Alonso: I believe in the dream, so it’s a dream come true [laughs]. Every time that you start with a production you can get jaded by everything and then you can become quite negative. But the way that I work, and the way that I hope the teams that work with us behave is that we always try to keep it in a positive way. And I always say, if we do it right potentially we will be honored by a nomination. So it’s a joy, it’s an honor, and I know it sounds kind of cliché but it’s true. All I ever wanted to do is get one, so to me it’s a dream come true every time it happens.
Jeff White: I couldn’t agree more. It’s an incredible honor. It’s so nice. Visual effects as a nomination is really a nomination of so many people, and all their contributions in the entire process. They spend years on it before we even see it, and then we spend a crazy year and a half putting it together. So to see that work be recognized by the Academy is really thrilling.
You mention the sheer number of people who work on the visual effects of a film, but that all ties into a strange thing about visual effects, because it’s one part of filmmaking where you are trying to make your work as invisible impossible. You don’t want audiences to be able to tell the difference between your work and what was shot live-action. Does the victory for you come when audiences can’t tell what’s real and what’s not?
VA: It’s kind of hard in this particular films…
Well of course there are some things…[laughs]
VA: If you don’t know if there’s a metal suit flying, and that is a visual effect…
But that’s the illusion that you’re trying to create, right?
VA: You hope that it’s integrated and done in a way and that the story relates in a way that you buy it. And not only do you buy it that it’s happening, you walk away from the screen and you go, “I would like to buy me one of those!” [laughs] You know how when you see a Ferrari or an Aston Martin you go, “I want to drive one of those!” Well, I want a suit. I want to get into an Iron Man suit. I would like to have the hammer for one day or the shield from Captain America. [pause] I don’t know that I’d want to turn into The Hulk [laughs]. But it’s one of those things where for these particular movies we’ve actually been honored and given the responsibility and the task to make sure that the story that we’re trying to tell is seamless with the amount of CG and visual effects. Details and characters.
JW: I definitely agree! One of the great things about this project and also working with Joss [Whedon] is that 2,200 plus visual effects shots is overwhelming to create. And you can get lost in it, and he’s always incredibly focused on made sure that it supported this great script and this great story that he was putting together. And for us, we know there are going to be effects that you’re going to know are effects – like The Hulk, which is so fun for us because we’re making great characters. But then there’s a class of work that we don’t want you to know. And that’s creating New York City. If people don’t even know it wasn’t shot in New York then that’s a real plus for us.