THE AVENGERS: Interview with ILM's Marc Chu

The Avengers is coming to Blu-ray/DVD on September 26th, and HiDefDigest.com scored a trio of incredible behind the scenes interviews on the film with the visual effects team at ILM. What follows is an excerpt of their chat with Animation Director Marc Chu.

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By EdGross - 9/12/2012


HIDEFDIGEST.COM:
Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man suit has evolved over the last few movies, in part to make him more comfortable on set. Do you approach enhancing a partial suit any differently than character animation or a fully CGI character?

MARC CHU: You know, it's a different challenge and after the first movie, when Robert saw, oh, wow, look at that, he realized he could not wear as much as he needed to. It gave him freedom. He was like, wow, I don't need to wear half of the suit and I could get the same effect. And that allows him to be more comfortable for sure because that thing is not built to be worn any long duration. It'll pinch you, I can't even put the helmet on. I tried one time. We got the helmet up here and I was like, oh, good, I'm going to put it on and I couldn't even get it over here. They have to cast - the first person they had to cast, the stunt guy had to just be able to put the helmet on and that's Clay, Clay is the stunt guy who always plays Iron Man. But the approaches to doing, for this movie, when he takes the suit off, he didn't even wear anything for that. He just wore what he was going to be revealed in.

The t-shirt and the pants. So that's a different challenge. We have to imagine his movements exactly and then place the armor on him. And then figure out ways for us to take the armor off. And everything, I think when they try to plan these things, looks great on a drawing. When they actually build the platform and you go, the platform doesn't even look like the drawing, it becomes our responsibility to figure it out. We need to figure out where the arms go, what gets taken off, how the mechanisms work and fortunately, we have lots of people who are well versed in robots and things to create that from scratch.



HIDEFDIGEST.COM:
You mentioned tailoring the Iron Man CG with Robert Downey's movements. How did you assist him, or did you need to assist him on how to walk a little bit like he's wearing the suit because he had nothing on at the time?

MARC CHU: Well we never interfere with what Robert will do, so he's just going to walk the way he does. And we just want him to be natural. In the end, all those shots are tight shots, right, they're all going to be like this on his body, on his shoulder or whatever. So it wasn't that important. When he first lands and he starts walking, that's completely CG. And that's something that we did on our mobile cap stage. And that's us interpreting his walk and putting it on the CG character. And then once it gets to him, it's just a matter of brute force, imagination, let's figure out how this thing works.

HIDEFDIGEST.COM: There's a misconception that motion capture (MOCAP) means that tradition key frame animation is no longer required.
MARC CHU: For this movie, for Iron Man, for Avengers, for the Hulk, it doesn't matter, it's a combination of - sometimes it's MOCAP, the suits that we use on set when we capture the stunt performer's actions. Sometimes it's MOCAP on our stage, sometimes it's pure key frame animation. I think each one of those is a tool. And each one of them has their place to be in the movie. And the sequence where he's running after black widow and he's running down that little grating, we're using a combination of key frame shots and motion capture shots. And we're cutting between, back and forth to those things. And you can't tell. Each one, I think has their place. I think motion capture is a valuable tool but as you said, you'll always need an - I firmly believe it's always the case. You will always need an animator to pulse it out.

Either because you need to preserve the size and the weight of the Hulk, for instance, so you might need to adjust it, different proportions. It's always going to be an animator that gives it that level of final polish. With the actions, with the face, especially, we had Mark as a reference, we his face as a baseline for performance but it's always going to be the animator to go, you know what, I could push that expression a little bit more in the Hulk brow. And sometimes they would ask for to be a little more wild or this is the specific tool that we give him. He's fully CG. We can start with Mark's performance. If that's not enough, we can push it. Or we can completely change it based on what we've captured with him before. We've captured all his expressions so we can come up with a performance that's from scratch that is going to look like Mark because it's based on his expressions.

HIDEFDIGEST.COM: What's more challenging, working on organic characters or something mechanical like Iron Man?
MARC CHU: I don't know, I'm kind of a geeky guy, so I like mechanical stuff too. And for Iron Man it's always like, let's look at reference, let's look online like when he's putting this little thing on the pipe that diverts energy at the beginning, we looked at a ton of stuff that people were doing with underwater, I don't know. I don't even know what they're called but let's look at all this pipe cutting reference underwater and see what they do. Okay, let's make a conversion of that. It's - I think the more you always kind of hinge things off of reality, the more things look believable. For the Mark 7 suit, when it kind of unfolds and sticks onto him and transforms, we wanted to make sure that didn't feel too magical, that the volume of the pieces didn't feel like they were coming from nowhere. Like a magical tortoise of a suit, I don't know. That's how I felt the suitcase suit was in Iron Man 2. It felt like it was unfolding from nowhere. So we kind of paid attention and wanted to make sure this felt like it was physically possible, that this thing, X amount of size, could actually hold a suit and it didn't actually. The guys upstairs are crazy technical.



HIDEFDIGEST.COM: As each new challenge arrives, is part of the thrill knowing you're going to get put in a corner where something's never been done before?

MARC CHU: I think that's how ILM approaches the work that they pursue. We want to do something that is ground breaking, that you haven't seen before and getting to do the Hulk was one of those things. And it's, okay, let's do a photo reel, Bruce Banner, transforming into photo reel Hulk, a character that needs to act and performance next to live action counterparts. I think the next step will be, can you fully - can you really make a CG human and not make it seem CG? That's tough. It's tough, I mean you have to uncanny valley and everything to fight against. It was hugely fun, and I got to work on first two Iron Man films so it was, for me, a real treat to be part of this series and see them pull it off with The Avengers. It's like, you're going to do what over how many years? And, oh, you did it.

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Source: HiDef Digest
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21 Comments
figuresmaniac - 9/12/2012, 6:34 AM
They did a great job
Jollem - 9/12/2012, 6:35 AM
"MARC CHU: Well we never interfere with what Robert will do"

mr. chu knows well enough to fear the ego :)
EdGross - 9/12/2012, 6:44 AM
The ego... and the talent. Hard to argue with his portrayal as Tony Stark/Iron Man.
Jollem - 9/12/2012, 6:51 AM
robert is definitely a very talented fellow
toco89 - 9/12/2012, 6:54 AM
The special effects team and RDJ deserve full credit for the success of the avengers.

The whole 'Joss Whedon taking so many characters and stories and making them work thing' just doesn't fly considering he touched on their individual backgrounds as little as possible.

Movies like Snatch, Pulp Fiction, Sin City and even Smokin Aces had a lot more characters that were way more complicated and still had action sequences. With avengers you knew the finale was going to be a long action sequence, that was a given. But the whole movie didn't have to be a lead up to the special effects. Not the conflict, nor even the action sequence, the special effects.

Great respect to the Special Effects team.

Joss Whedon did much better writing in the Angel and Buffy series. And that's saying something.
RocknSntchRvlvr - 9/12/2012, 7:07 AM
@toco89. No back stories? Were you aware they made 5 other films before the avengers that were solo films? Guess not! You have no idea what you're talking about and I'm pretty sure hulk made the movie buddy... Although I agree with the safe films you've chosen as an example, avengers is a cbm and not even in the same category of any, save sin city alone. Avengers is a great ensemble cast, mixed with action, turmoil, the feeling of utter defeat, and learning how to work together ultimately. It's ok, not all of us think before we speak...
Jollem - 9/12/2012, 7:24 AM
i kinda agree with the thing about making so many characters in a movie work. was that really so much a challenge? thor 1 had multiple superhero characters in the film and that seemed to work just fine. they didn't even have their own individual movies beforehand.

isn't writing for a bunch of different characters in the movie-making 101 class?

that being said, the avengers was a tremendous feat. props to the special effects guys
breakUbatman - 9/12/2012, 7:30 AM
@RocknSntchRvlvr (Guy ritchie fan? If so Why no Lck :( )

Not all of us think before we speak, but we also don't share the same opinions. I give Joss credit for the writing and directing but the very nature of Avengers mean credit must be given to the other directors especially Favreau. It's true that there are 5 movies worth of back story but as a single movie it's obviously lacking in that department. Don't know why that bothers people - Kill Bill Vol.1 had less character development than Vol.2, still an awesome movie
EdGross - 9/12/2012, 7:34 AM
While The Avengers was helped immeasurably by the background provided from the previous Marvel films, Joss deserves credit for ensuring that in every sequence those characters sounded as they should. That sounds like common sense, but remember that each of the previous films were written by different people, so the challenge was to make sure that this dialogue and their portrayals matched what came before.
breakUbatman - 9/12/2012, 7:35 AM
Aside from Iron Man and Hulk all Marvel movies have struggled a bit with the additional characters though.

Thor - Warriors 3 and Sif in favour of Darcy and Jane
Cap - Howling Commandoes
Iron Man 2 - Black Widow
Avengers - Maria Hill

I especially want more Warriors 3 and Balder the Brave
HRDWYR - 9/12/2012, 7:38 AM
That pic of IM...looks like Stark built a mini Stargate, heh heh.
Jollem - 9/12/2012, 7:40 AM
"but remember that each of the previous films were written by different people, so the challenge was to make sure that this dialogue and their portrayals matched what came before."

quality and valid point
breakUbatman - 9/12/2012, 7:45 AM
@Ed

That's true I especially loved what he did with Cap, in Avengers he just felt more like a soldier in character and it seemed his little nap had jaded him a bit.

The nap did him good though: taking that blow from Thor and he still stood strong unlike the time the shield got ripped out of his hands by the Hydra weapon. Add the ability to absorb the explosive forces of a Chitauri blast with his abs and you have one hell of a restful sleep. :)
Fogs - 9/12/2012, 8:02 AM
@toco89

To me Avengers succeeded in the ensemble simply because their motivations and characteristics remain the same as shown in their solo flicks (some eolved like BW). The goal there was to show them getting along and overcoming a threat.

Stark was still Stark and Rogers was still Rogers. That's amazing.

And it had plenty of action. Of course the 1st half had much more interactions and talkie-talkie (great dialogue btw imo) but from Loki's SHIELD invasion, passing through the car chase, fight in Germany, Thor/IM brawl, Helicarrier scene and finally the battle of NY I believe we were well served on the action department.

To say the movie had no action makes no sense at all, and that's not a matter of opinion, that's a FACT. One could list the timeframe of these scenes and see these were well distributed through the flick.
EdGross - 9/12/2012, 8:05 AM
What was interesting about Cap in The Avengers was the way he was trying to adapt to modern times, but his old sensibilities kept coming out. Just terrific.

Also - as a complete aside - I thought of a total dick line Tony could have said to him during their argument. Cap says, "I know ten guys that are worth one of you" (or whatever the line was). Tony SHOULD have said, "Knew." "What?" "Knew 10 guys worth one of me."

Well, I made myself laugh anyway.
Fogs - 9/12/2012, 8:10 AM
@breakUbatman - Which blow from Thor? You mean in the forest scene? You remember the shield absorbs impact, right?

Chitauri hand weapons blasts exploded? In this scene below you can see a Chitauri shooting widow's ship and nothing explodes there. Same when IM joins Cap in battle, and some shots are fired towards Hulk too. No explosion.

Fogs - 9/12/2012, 8:21 AM
@EdGross

Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I've seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.

Hehe great lines.
breakUbatman - 9/12/2012, 8:57 AM
@Fogs

I remember it absorbs impact just saying the way it ended up in Bucky's hands was wrong, because it should have absorbed the impact from that blast.

No explosion there you're right but did you see the glowing molten metal where it hit? Item 47 also shows those things aren't to be messed with - blasting through walls, bank vaults etc.

Either way you cut he brings a new meaning to the term 'power nap'
Fogs - 9/12/2012, 10:46 AM
@breakUbatman - oh yeah, now I remember the train scene you're referring to. That's right, I thought that was strange too. Power nap all te way :)
Fogs - 9/13/2012, 7:42 AM
I already have it in DVD.... Saw it twice already at home (not counting the downloaded version).
toco89 - 9/13/2012, 10:19 AM
@Fogs

I understand you're logic, even though you're going easy on him.

As far as the action, there was more than enough. I was highlighting the special effects and by that I basically meant the action.

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