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With Marvel’s THE AVENGERS about to assemble on BLU-RAY 3D™, BLU-RAY™, DVD, DIGITAL & ON-DEMAND tomorrow, I was invited to ILM in San Francisco, California to speak with Jeff White (ILM Visual Effects Supervisor), Jason Smith (ILM Associate Visual Effects Supervisor) and Marc Chu (ILM Animation Director) about their work on the film.

Jeff White (ILM Visual Effects Supervisor for THE AVENGERS) joined Industrial Light and Magic in 2002. Since arriving at ILM, he had worked as a Creature Technical Director on a variety of films including : Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, War of the Worlds, and Star Wars: Episode III “Revenge of the Sith”. White served as Digital Production Supervisor on Transformers, and Associate Visual Effects Supervisor on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Jason Smith (ILM Associate Visual Effects Supervisor for THE AVENGERS) joined the ILM team in 2001 as a Technical Assistant. Some of his notable projects include Rango, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Star Wars: Episode III “Revenge of the Sith”, and Super 8. Smith is also a member of ILM’s technology advisory group.

Marc Chu (ILM Animation Director for THE AVENGERS) came to ILM in 1994 as a 3D artist. In 1996 Chu transferred to ILM’s features division to work on Men In Black. He served as Associate Animation Supervisor and Lead Animator for Davy Jones on the second and third installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga. In February of 2007, Chu’s work on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was recognized with the Visual Effects Society award for Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture. His talents can be seen in such films as Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and War of the Worlds.

Check out some of ILM’s Hulk effects here:

Melissa: The Hulk has been established on-screen quite a few times before – what were you most eager or excited to change about the Hulk when you found out that was what you were going to be working on? And how important was it for you to make the Hulk your own?

Jeff White: I think, you know we were really excited about the initial previews that we got because Josh clearly understood like the kind of performance people wanted to see the Hulk do. And I think for us, you know we’ve had a lot of developments in terms of the technology side of it, both in terms of performance capture and in terms of rendering and muscle simulation and everything. So for us it’s kind of this ultimate like okay, let’s throw everything at it that we’ve got.

Jeff White (Cont.): And then my background is working as a character TD, so really kind of like rigging and simulation and anatomy and so, you know you can’t think of a better problem to try and solve than working on something like the Hulk.

Jeff White (Cont.): So, you know we were very – you know I was the most worried about it, but when we saw the initial designs where we’re going with the more de-saturated scan and we’re incorporating Mark Ruffalo into it, that gave us some really tangible goals in terms of how we needed to make this Hulk different than the previous ones.

Melissa: You mentioned Joss Whedon’s understanding and his initial previews. Does this mean that Joss had this all lined up exactly how he wanted or did he just have a few ideas?

Jeff White: They had an art department down in Los Angeles that iterated on his design for a while. So we started with a piece of artwork, a mockquette – and that was a great basis to start from. But there are a lot of questions and problems that come up when you try and translate that into 3D and put it on-screen. So that’s where I think, you know we were able to really get involved in the process.

Jeff White (Cont.): But I think it really came down to some initial really good design decisions by Joss in terms of what his body structure looks like, letting us put, you know body hair all over him. That’s not something, you know the fans could have reacted very negatively to a sort of hairy-chested Hulk. But – I don’t know if you saw in the breakdown, but when you zoom into his eye, like everything’s there down to like little nose hairs. And I think that lends a lot of credibility.

Jeff White (Cont.): Plus we knew – we’d already saw in the previews, like there was gonna be a foot close-up, face, you know hand. So we never said okay, this area you can go more low-res. Like we built him top to bottom to be able to hold up really close to camera.

Melissa: The facial hair on the Hulk is so detailed. Can you tell us how you go about designing something like that, and why do you think details like that are so important for the audience?

Jason Smith: Yeah. So in the Hulk’s case, we knew we had a shot that went kinda from lip to, actually lip to eyebrow early on in the movie. And then later on in the movie, we had something going from about chin to forehead. Right? And so when we started developing the asset, we put a camera – even though we didn’t have the camera’s on, we put a camera in about that position and started looking at the asset every day that close up.

Jason Smith (Cont.): And it was in those moments where we realized – and it was even less in the stubble than up on the eyebrows, we realized that you got this black hair and it just goes and stops in a way that your brain just says immediately “that’s not right.” And you would think who would obsess about something like that? It’s insane. But I think that to trick the brain, the brain is so subtle in what it notices that stuff that you don’t even know you’re noticing, but if one thing is an iota off, you get into that creepy realm or the realm where you know it’s CG. So yeah, we based it on shots and just kind of tried to match the camera early on.

Check out some of ILM’s Iron Man effects here:

Melissa: You’ve mentioned tailoring the Iron Man CG with Robert Downey’s movements. Did you give him tips on how to walk, as if wearing a suit or did you leave the movements all up to him?

Marc Chu: Well, we never interfere with what Robert will do, so he’s just going to walk the way he does. And we just want him to be natural. In the end, all those shots are tight shots, right, they’re all going to be like this on his body, on his shoulder or whatever. So it wasn’t that important. When he first lands and he starts walking, that’s completely CG. And that’s something that we did on our mobile cap stage. And that’s us interpreting his walk and putting it on the CG character. And then once it gets to him, it’s just a matter of brute force, imagination, let’s figure out how this thing works.

Melissa: You used cameras to capture New York for the film, and had more than 100 people out there positioning them at different levels. Can you elaborate on that?

Jeff White: They’re cameras you can buy. They’re Canon 1Ds Mark IIIs, you know so they’re high-end cameras, but anybody can purchase one. And then we have a special rig that’s kind of an arm out and an arm up. And it just – there’s an automated one and kind of a hand-click one that just goes, shoots a frame, turns, shoots a frame, turns, shoots a frame.

Jeff White (Cont.): So when we hang it off the side of a building you have a little computer controller. You hit go and it starts shooting the 360 degrees and that way we’re able to do, you know – like especially rooftops. That’s the trickiest part. We always have to have grips up there that build the rigs for us to hang it out the window or off the side of the building.

Jeff White (Cont.): But the other hard thing is lighting in time of day are difficult. So if we get street closure for a Park Avenue viaduct, we’ll do one side and then have to go someplace else and then come back at the same time the next morning and try and do the other side. And, you know if it’s overcast then you almost can’t shoot. So it becomes a very time consuming process to shoot all that photography, but in the end it is just standard kind of prosumer cameras that we’re using.

Check out some of ILM’s NYC effects here:

Melissa: At ILM, you are constantly developing new technology for special effects. Because the Hulk has been out of your hands for a little bit, what could you see yourself improving on at this time?

Jeff White: I think, you know one of the things – a lot of the hair was difficult, especially, you know his hair design and how different it came out in each shot. I think there’s more that we can push as far as the simulation of his skin and the muscles underneath. And it’s always a matter of like the level of detail that we can incorporate into him.

Jeff White (Cont.): And some of the shots, you know especially where he’s at a mid-ground, those are some of the toughest for us to solve in terms of, you know the sweat starts to look a little plasticky and things like that. So, you know if we can start from the basis that we have now – you know there were shots like the close-up smile where we got a long way, but we wanted to add little spit bubbles in between his gums and, you know things that we see in photo reference that there just wasn’t time for. So I think it would be great to have another opportunity to keep pushing that forward.

“Marvel’s The Avengers” stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston, with Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Directed by Joss Whedon, the epic action-adventure film is based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series “The Avengers,” first published in 1963 and a comics institution ever since.


Nerdy, snarky horror lover with a campy undertone. Goonies never say die.


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    September 25, 2012 at 8:36 am

    That was a good interview. Too bad most of the videos are blocked by WMG. I

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