How Marvel Redefined the VFX Industry with a Decade of Hard Work: Part I

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How Marvel Redefined the VFX Industry with a Decade of Hard Work: Part I

VFX Redifined by Marvel

The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has a reputation for leaving its fans with their mouths agape after every movie. And it’s not just because of their compelling storylines, incredible star casts or creator Stan Lee’s cameos. Nearly every single movie has some ground-breaking Visual Effects (VFX) that probably had only been a dream until MCU made them come to life.

Ten years after we watched the first MCU movie Iron Man in 2008, we take a look at some of the earth-shattering, mind-bending (literally) VFX creations that are still incredible a decade later. MCU has pioneered so many amazing visual effects, that we feel one simple article will not do them the justice they deserve.

So here is the first in our series of Marvel’s marvellous creations!

1. Iron Man

It’s only fair we start at the very beginning in this homage with Iron Man (2008) that would set the trend for MCU and VFX. The first challenge was to recreate a realistic looking and moving Iron Man suit that was true to the character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and artist Don Heck in 1963. Director Jon Favreau was well known for his scepticism of CGI and wanted the Iron Man armour to move like Tony Stark was actually in it. He also wanted to include shots that showed Robert Downey Jr. in the suit to make it more realistic. It soon became clear that CGI, even with motion capture technology simply wasn’t going to cut it.

Now this was where things got really interesting. An Iron Man suit was actually created complete with the sleek chrome finish we now know so well. Scenes were shot with Downey often wearing only parts of the suit and the rest was built in using CGI. The hard part was the tracking where the VFX teams had to match the computer generated suit parts exactly to the visible parts of Downey. At other times, they had to use shots of Downey in the full suit but make the motion look completely natural using motion capture. Reproducing the metal of the suit in CG was another challenge they had to face, especially when it starts icing up in the outer layer of the atmosphere. There were about 800 effects used in the entire movie but the most stunning effect of all was that it changed Favreau’s mind about the usefulness of CG!

2. Skinny Steve Rogers – Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger introduced the sickly young man Steve Rogers turned into muscular superhero Captain America. While this progression from skinny young man to buff superhero makes sense in terms of a storyline, using a muscular actor (Chris Evans) to play the skinny young man doesn’t – unless, of course, you are MCU. They wanted to create a believable weaker version of their superhero that looked real (not like a substitute actor playing the same character in a flashback sequence). And boy, did their dedication to detail pay off! Using the expertise of VFX company Lola Visual Effects, they managed to create the perfect skinnier, younger, non-superpowered version of Captain America.

Here’s a shortened version of how they did it:

  • They filmed Chris Evans doing his Steve Rogers thing and then used another actor as a body double, mainly for light reference on a skinnier frame. Think about it, the shadow an arm with a bicep will cast on the body is completely different from a thin one.
  • For about 5% of the shots, Chris Evans’ face was projected onto the skinnier frame.
  • The third method they used was actually using footage of Chris Evans and then slimming him down using VFX. The actor needed to use all his skills to appear smaller for these scenes like taking smaller steps. They also used other methods like lowering seats to make him appear shorter than the other actors on screen with him.

The combination of these different methods resulted in VFX that looked completely natural, like they had actually gone back in time to film the scenes when the actor was young!

MCU definitely deserves credit for creating worlds that come to life on the silver screen, allowing their fans to escape into uncharted territories one movie at a time. Keep an eye out for the next one in our series where we look at how (everyone’s favourite) Groot was made and a whole lot more!

And in the meanwhile, here’s a quick look at some of our past VFX projects that include the likes of Hollywood blockbusters such as Jupiter Ascending, Hunger Games and 300 Rise of an Empire.

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