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Immersed in Movies: Revisiting 'The Avengers' and Handicapping the VFX Oscar Race

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood September 6, 2012 at 3:08PM

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). Of course, there's still quite a heated race ahead when Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters December 14...
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In fact, Whedon, Ruffalo, and ILM took inspiration from Lou Ferrigno's popular TV performance. He was a believable physical presence, who flexed his muscles but whose physique had a smooth flow. "He was real and there's something very physical about his performance and we wanted to make sure that we replicated that so he didn't feel disconnected once we put him in a scene with live people," explained animation director Marc Chu.

And thanks to advancements in facial performance capture, new rigging, and procedural skin shaders, ILM got the Hulk just right. The detail in the skin is spot-on right down to the pours; and the extreme poses have the correct muscle mass. Plus, it helped having a great performance from Ruffalo. He was as much an unexpected pleasure as Robert Downey Jr. was when he debuted as Iron Man. Like the film overall, Ruffalo isn't too serious or silly. "The scene between Hulk and Loki's almost a Hanna-Barbera moment," remarked associate VFX supervisor Jason Smith. "But as it came together, that's exactly what viewers wanted to see the Hulk do."

But "The Avengers" is far more than the Hulk in its coalescence of several Marvel worlds. ILM also tweaked Iron Man, making him more nimble and less constrained in his new Mark VII suit than in his previous two standalone movies, which was another Whedon directive. "We're back to a round RT on his chest but the biggest change was giving him a rocket pack," added VFX supervisor Jeff White. "That was a conscious decision by Joss to give Iron Man different poses and not have his hand always as part of the thrust component. We also provided a little extra weaponry with a hand laser and thigh missiles."

This article is related to: Features, Awards, VFX, Franchises, Immersed In Movies

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.