Unlike the Oscar race for best animated feature, there’s already a clear front-runner for VFX: The Avengers, with its dazzling work from Industrial Light & Magic (especially the Hulk). I recently visited ILM, where I saw some impressive presentations and sat down with animation director Marc Chu, VFX supervisor Jeff White, and associate VFX supervisor Jason Smith.
You can read more about it in my latest TOH/Indiewire column (along with some Oscar handicapping), which also features three breakdown clips of The Hulk, Iron Man, and virtual NYC. Meanwhile, The Avengers Blu-ray arrives Sept. 25 from Disney Home Ent.
Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk clearly steals the movie and is the best Hulk ever. That’s because ILM wisely avoided the cartoony look of the ultra green superhero it created for Ang Lee’s angst-ridden first movie, as well as the overly muscle-bound rendition Rhythm & Hues made for the second version starring Ed Norton. Right from the start Joss Whedon wanted to see Ruffalo in the Hulk and viewed him more as a wrestler than a super strong guy. That meant capturing an authentic digital double of the actor as Bruce Banner and then placing it on top of the animated Hulk so they would meld into an organic creature.
However, it turned out that the virtual New York City during the alien attack of the last third posed the biggest challenge. ILM sent four teams of photographers shooting spherical overlaps at all the appropriate locations, especially the Park Avenue Viaduct. They shot on the ground every 100 feet and up every 120 feet with a man in a lift moving down Park Avenue. They made close to 2,000 spheres and stitched together 275,000 high-res photographs like a Google street view. Then they replaced every window from the photography with a CG window and inside the building contains nearly 30 ILM offices that they digitally reproduced.