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Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Why Creating Martian Manhunter Was A Challenge During COVID

Martian Manhunter in Snyder Cut

Major spoilers ahead for Zack Snyder's Justice League.

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The DC Extended Universe has had a unique life, and nowhere is that more obvious than the unprecedented release of Zack Snyder's Justice League. The four-hour project found its home on HBO Max, with the titular filmmaker given millions for the necessary CGI, editing, and limited reshoots. Those elements came together to bring Harry Lennix's Martian Manhunter to life, and it turns out that COVID-19 actually further complicated this process.

Harry Lennix played Calvin Swanwick in all three installments of Zack Snyder's DC trilogy, with the Snyder Cut revealing that he was actually the heroic Martian Manhunter all along. We got to see a few brief glimpses at the alien hero in his full glory, but that task was easier said that done. VFX supervisor Bryan Hirota recently explained why that character was such a challenge, saying:

Martian Manhunter was a new addition that did not exist at all in 2017. We based his model on a concept design that we received from Zack, but we were also able to incorporate our own ideas. Zack wanted to have his face look alien but still recognizable as Harry Lennix, who also plays General Swanwick in the movie. Because this character was a new addition, and due to the restrictions surrounding COVID, his creation was a bit unusual. As we could not use a character scan as a starting point like we usually would, we had to sculpt his face based on photo references. For his performance capture, we also had to get creative. Usually we would use footage from a head mounted camera but since that was not possible given the circumstances, we relied on regular cameras filming Harry’s head as he was recording his dialogue. We then used facial motion capture software to track his performance and apply it to Martian Manhunter’s face.

While visual effects and motion capture already grueling processes, the VFX team of Zack Snyder's Justice League were given a new challenge when rendering Martian Manhunter. Because since they had to start from scratch without being able to shoot new face scans, things got a bit more complicated. Luckily, it seems to have worked out in the end.

Bryan Hirota's comments to Art of VFX help to peel back the curtain on Zack Snyder's Justice League. The streaming event has been dominating pop culture since its release, leading fans to campaign for WB to #RestoreTheSnyderVerse. While it doesn't look like the studio has any plans to move forward with sequels, it was definitely exciting to see Martian Manhunter in live-action during his brief scenes.

Zack Snyder's Justice League is available exclusively on HBO Max. You can use this link to sign up for the streaming service.

The ongoing pandemic has changed the way various industries conduct business, and film sets are certainly no exception. Extensive new health and safety protocols have been adopted, alongside countless COVID tests. And unfortunately for Bryan Hirota and the team making Zack Snyder's Justice League into a reality, that prevented them from properly shooting enough detailed footage of actor Harry Lennix's face ahead of making him Martian Manhunter.

Martian Manhunter only appeared a few times throughout the Snyder Cut's lengthy run on HBO Max, it still took a ton of work in order to create the character's look. First we saw him after posing as Martha Kent, transforming back into himself after speaking with Lois Lane. But his bigger scene was in the final moments of Zack Snyder's Justice League, meeting Bruce Wayne and committing to helping in the battle against Darkseid.

Zack Snyder's Justice League is available now. Be sure to check out our 2021 release list to plan your next movie experience.

Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.