EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Captain America: The First Avenger Visual Effects Studio, "Fuel VFX"!
Talking to us about their work on Captain America including the motorbike, submarine and "Arctic Discovery" scenes as well as the challenges of creation the Cosmic Cube and much more, check out this revealing interview with Fuel VFX...
Dave Morley, VFX Supervisor at fuelVFX was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions recently about the visual effects studios work on Captain America: The First Avenger. I've included a brief profile of them below, but you can learn much more by clicking HERE to visit their website. You can also find Fuel VFX on Twitter by clicking HERE. Thanks also to Anna Hildebrandt for her help in setting this interview up.
FUEL VFX is an innovative visual effects studio based in Sydney, Australia. The company was founded in 2000 with a vision to inspire and engage both clients and artists, building a studio from the ground up to do so.
Fuel has grown from the initial five founders to having a full-time staff of over 50. Our full-time staff is 'senior heavy' and has many years of experience delivering high-end work for commercials and feature films.
Working with the Fuel crew is much more than your typical client/vendor relationship. Our environment is open, accessible and above all supportive and collaborative.
The Fuel experience is based on trust, respect and diligence. Our company is artist driven, owned and operated. You will find a level of passion for the job that goes beyond the technical requirements and focuses on crafting a great result through building positive relationships.
Our work speaks for itself.
How big was the team you had working on Captain America: The First Avenger?
About 55 crew worked on the film at Fuel over the course of the project.
What kind of process do "set extensions" such as your work on the Hydra Base ‘Box Canyon’, and Radio City Dance Hall involve exactly?
In the film, the Hydra Base is nestled at the foot of the German Alps. All the scenes were filmed near to Shepperton Studios in the UK which doesn’t look like the Alps at all of course. So digital environment extensions were required for almost every camera angle.
The look and layout of Box Canyon was designed by Fuel’s art department, with significant input and references supplied by Marvel of course. Matte painting projection techniques were used to create the surrounding cliffs and the looming peaks of the Alps. These matte projections were integrated behind foreground trees and set dressing, such as the concrete ramparts, with yet further projection of matte patches. The rear cliff face with the large iron doors leading to Hydra’s underground cavern was a fully CG build.
The Radio City Music Hall scene was filmed on a small sound stage with green screen backdrop. As this location exists in the real world we placed the sound stage in a CG version of the real Hall and dressed it in patriotic in red, white and blue. Roving spotlights, a bit of smoke, and layers of crowd elements complete the Hall environment for the wide shot.
To create the on stage entertainment we built CG props - the tanks, the large star, the rear-projected film of the bombers flying overhead, and the spurts of confetti. Multiple separate elements of chorus girls were also comped together.
Can you tell us about your work on the various HYDRA vehicles in the movie, and which ones you specifically worked on?
We needed to create digital doubles of the Hydra bikers and their motorcycles which we obviously matched to the in-camera versions. We did the same for Captain America’s motorcycle.
The Hydra tank was also needed in a few of our shots. This was an actual prop and we received a scan of that vehicle which we then textured, shaded and rendered from there.
Take us through what Fuel VFX did with key action scenes such as Cap pursuing a submarine and the motorcylce chase.
The Submarine Chase was probably the most challenging of our sequences as it was filmed wet-for-wet in a tank. We match-moved the sub so we had a locked camera based on its movement; we then parented the camera and proxy sub geo together and animated additional movement on top. This was placed within our created underwater environment, which include the hull and rudder of a container ship and the wharf wall and piers.
We added a lot of underwater particulates, seaweed, fish life and general waste to create a murky look to the water. The particles then helped us sell the speed that the sub is travelling at. Proxy geo of Cap was also match-moved in to allow for interaction of the particles around him and we also added a cavitation effect trailing from the sub’s engines.
The Motorcycle Chase was the largest for us in that it contained the most number of shots. Our work required us to create some digital doubles – the Hydra Bikers – as well as CG flame-throwers, explosions, the 'blue bolt' lasers and tree extensions, as well as the environment set extensions described above. One of the bikers crashes and explodes in a mass of flames, which is all CG too.
How about your work on the Cosmic Cube? This is obviously a well known and important object to comic book fans...how did you go about bringing it to the big screen?
Yes the Cosmic Cube is definitely important to the Marvel universe. It took a lot of iterations to get it looking just right! The fully CG shot with the bathysphere reaching out to the cube was fun and we had some input into the design of the bathysphere. The director was generally happy with it but wanted the look of the arms to change. So we took the philosophy that, being a Stark Industries creation, the design of the arms should reflect early ideas of what would become the Iron Man suit.
And the 'Arctic Discovery' scene?
The opening Arctic Discovery sequence was filmed on a sound stage which was dressed and lit convincingly well and only required small enhancements for some shots. Apart from the film’s opening shot of the headlights resolving out of the blizzard (which was fully CG) our main work was creating the wide shot of the buried aircraft.
The plate for this was a locked off shot of the aircraft wingtip in a snow bank and a few actors in the foreground. From this we created a moving camera that pans up to reveal a wide shot of the frozen wasteland compete with digital doubles, CG snowcats, blizzard, and the marker lights that map out the extent of the buried aircraft. We also worked on the following shots where the scientific team cut through the ice with a laser and enter the aircraft to discover Cap’s shield frozen in the ice.
Anything else you'd like to add about your work on Captain America?
Just a big thanks to Chris Townsend (VFX supervisor), Mark Soper (VFX producer) and Victoria Alonso (Co-producer) who were so great to work with.
What were the main challenges you came across while working on the movie?
Probably the single trickiest challenge was creating the shot were Cap’s motorbike runs off on it’s own towards the entrance to the Hydra base and explodes. The bike was filmed in camera but the timing and speed of it within the camera move just didn’t work and we spent quite some time coming up with various solutions with Chris and Editorial to make the shot work.
In the end it became a full reconstruction. We put in a digital bike and re-animated it. All the people in it became rotoscoped elements that were stolen from other shots and we added CG vehicles, explosions and debris to dress the frame. In the end the only thing left from the original plate was a truck that appears for the first 20 frames.
Will you be working with Marvel Studios again, on The Avengers perhaps?
Hopefully! We love working with Marvel and look forward to doing so again. In addition to being great clients, they offer fantastic projects to work on that challenge us, but also play to our strengths.
What else is next for you guys?
We have a few projects currently in production, but the only one we can mention publicly at the moment is Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ for Fox – which of course is extremely exciting to be a part of. One of our recently completed projects, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ is screening in North America at the moment. We did some very complex CG fire work on that for Industrial Light & Magic which we are really proud of.
And here are just a small selection of stills from the movie featuring their work.
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