How James Spader and Ultron Become One

ILM makes its most elaborate robot yet for the Avengers sequel, modeled after James Spader’s inspired performance.

There was an early moment in Age of Ultron when Joss Whedon wanted to hide his giant robot’s face in the darkness of a church. Industrial Light & Magic was still perfecting the facial rig and the director wasn’t taking any chances. But then came a breakthrough: ILM showed Whedon the first close-ups of Ultron talking and it changed everything: Ultron could be Ultron without holding back.

More important, Ultron could become everything James Spader brought to the performance: the wit, the strut, the arrogance. ILM then went on to achieve its most articulate robot ever, far surpassing the Transformers. In fact, there are two Ultrons: the early defective version, and the sophisticated Ultron Prime.

“The facial performance was key and the Ultron Prime rig is by far the most elaborate we’ve done for a major character,” explained ILM visual effects supervisor Ben Snow (Iron Man). “It’s about 10 times the complexity of a Transformer. Ultron’s face alone had about 600 controllers to be able to get the nuance of James Spader’s performance reflected in this robotic face. But we couldn’t make it look like it was made of skin or flesh and we tried to avoid it squashing too much.”

So what the rigger had to do was set it up so that the plates of Ultron’s face slid under one another. But it kept Snow, animation supervisor Marc Chu and their ILM colleagues awake nights for several months until they got the first version out and saw the potential. “We went back and forth between model, rigging and animation, evolving this thing until it gave us the nuance that we needed but still looked like it was made of metal plates.”

However, there was still uncertainty about how much of Spader’s physical performance was going to come through: his head tilts in a certain way, and he has a slight curl of his lips. “Marc made sure that got through into the animation,” Snow suggested. “And that touch was the key. And when we showed Joss how that would look and how that would transfer, he confirmed that that was absolutely the right way to go.”

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, How They Did It, Movies, performance capture, previs, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

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