John Walker holding bloody shield in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

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One of the most striking images in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, if not the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, happened at the end of the fourth episode, “The Whole World Is Watching.” Having just brutally beaten a Flag Smasher to death because he incorrectly believed the man had killed Lemar Hoskins, John Walker stood solemnly holding the bloodied Captain America shield as people nearby recorded what he’d done. The blood was still stuck on the shield when Walker faced off against Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes in the following episode, “Truth,” but it turns out that the weapon and its tainted appearance during those moments were completely CGI.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier VFX supervisor Eric Leven, and among the questions I asked him was if there were any moments in the John Walker vs. Sam and Bucky fight that looked practical to the untrained eye, but involved VFX to bring to life. He explained why it was necessary to use CGI for the bloody shield with the following words:

The one thing that I think was pretty invisible and really successful was that shield needed to be replaced in almost every shot. One of the most impressive shots I thought was at the very end when Sam’s holding up the shield after the fight and wiping the blood away. That’s a CG shield with CG blood on it. Due to the fact that one, it was difficult for people to decide on the day what the blood was gonna look like. People were frankly hesitant to put blood on the real shield, because we’d never done that before, this shield is always pristine. But when they’re fighting, they’re fighting with a rubber shield, they can’t fight with the real shield. So the rubber shields typically don’t look 100%, they flex, so that needs to be replaced… People don’t realize that shield is usually computer generated.

Needless to say that we don’t have anything like Captain America’s shield in real life since vibranium doesn’t exist and, as Spider-Man noted in Captain America: Civil War, that thing “doesn't obey the laws of physics at all.” So when it comes to making the shield look like so fantastical, a blend of practical and VFX work is required, including using an actual metal shield for the calmer scenes being shot on set and a rubber shield when filming action-packed scenes. But with the blood, the combination of not wanting to stain the “pristine” shield and the it being impractical to try and smear the substance on the rubber shield necessitated that CGI be relied on, which is often already the case with showing off this iconic Marvel object.

After Eric Leven informed be about the CGI decision for the John Walker vs. Sam and Bucky fight in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I asked for clarification about if the shot of John Walker at the end of “The Whole World Is Watching” also featured a CGI shield. He answered:

I think it was a CG shield. I’d have to go back and double check, but more often than not it was a CG shield. Just because, for one reason or another, the shield didn’t quite do exactly what they wanted it to, didn’t quite have the right sheen. Even if it was the real shield on set, we replaced it with CG.

Even though the image was created through digital means, the bloody Captain America shield accomplished its job of showing how low John Walker sunk after failing to apprehend Karli Morgenthau, being humiliated by the Dora Milaje, taking the Super Soldier Serum and watching his best friend die. It would also be the last time Walker wielded the shield, as Sam took back the weapon that once belonged to Steve Rogers after he and Bucky defeated the second Captain America. But Walker’s landed back on his feet, working for Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine as U.S. Agent. Whether we see him wielding a new shield down the line in the MCU remains to be seen.

You can watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in its entirety on Disney+ now, so make sure you’re subscribed to the Mouse House’s streaming service. The next Marvel series primed to make a splash is Loki, which will debut on June 9, and Sam Wilson’s superhero journey is expected to continue in Captain America 4.

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