Saturday, May 19, 2012

ILM Singapore's VFX Puts The Smash Into "The Avengers"

Making gazillions of fanboys and fangirls all over the world squee with utter delight, Joss Whedon's fun take on Marvel's "The Avengers" movie has now crossed the hallowed USD 1 billion mark in the worldwide box office.

This would not have been possible, if there were no uniquely creative and hardworking VFX artists involved in various segments of the superhero ensemble film. For "The Avengers", the digital magic was done by ILM, the fore-runner of all things VFX!

Last Saturday at The Cathay, ILM Singapore hosted a VFX talk about "The Making of The Avengers" and special screening of the movie in 3D, to a group of polytechnic/ university students and faculty teachers as part of their drive to get more talent into Jedi Masters Program, an apprentice-training initiative.

The talk was to begin at 10 am but Red Dot Diva was a little surprised to see how early many of the young folks were at the venue. On a Saturday morning, no less! When she and her Evil Twin @_mriel arrived at the Hall 1 lobby 10 minutes before schedule, there was already a noisy melee of mostly eager and excited young men lining up at the theatre entrance.

It was a good thing she spotted a few older people standing aside near some booths, and by instinct approached them to see where she should be registering for the event. As it turned out, they were invited media/ guests, and one of the ladies was Rasa Buckley, Red Dot Diva's main contact from ILM Singapore! It was good to finally meet her in person!

Rasa assured the group that she will get them into the theatre first. After barking some quick instructions on her mobile, Rasa seemed to manifest superpowers of her own as she magically parted the crowd, and ushered the group in with very little hassle!

And because of this, Red Dot Diva and Evil Twin had first dibs on where to sit for the talk and movie screening. YAYY!

But before they plonked down thankfully into their seats, they both noticed blue paper-objects that have been placed on each chair. "What is this?" Red Dot Diva wondered aloud. Evil Twin promptly picked up the object and demonstrated what it actually was. "It's something from our childhood!" she exclaimed.

It was certainly something Red Dot Diva hasn't seen or played with in a long, long while.

The paper fortune teller had different statements marked out - like "I am a Drama Queen" or "I like to Break or BLOW things up". By playing with it, one could then see if their interests or personalities would be able find their place in a VFX team. Simple and ingenious!

Because of the big crowd that came for the event, the talk started a little later than expected, and by the time ILM Singapore managed to get things rolling, they had to move on a little faster than planned. So, in a succint yet interesting manner, Brennan Doyle (ILM Singapore's VFX Supervisor) started off the talk by going through the sequences and various VFX roles that were involved in the creation of the Incredible Hulk.

The scenes relating to the gigantic green creature were undeniably the more memorable ones in "The Avengers". Probably because the last two "Hulk" movies did not turn out to be fan favourites with comic geeks and pop-culture fans. Something was just missing in those Hulk variations.

But in "The Avengers", Mark Ruffalo's nuanced depiction and Joss Whedon's imagining of Bruce Banner/ Hulk was an awkward tenuous mix of smarts, heart and pure rage. And with ILM's ingenious digital touch to the character, fans had very little to complain about the current Hulk.

The creation of Hulk started out with the building of a physical model. The team studied in detail about Hulk's body frame, facial features, bone structure (i.e. how the bones bind to the body for movement) and skin texture. They compared Mark Ruffalo's actual skin texture/ tones and structure to the final model and tried to replicate his pores and marks. This part of the job is where aspiring modellers and sculptors could find their skills most useful.

Interestingly, the team also studied the important question: "How fast would the Hulk be moving?" Given the immense bulk of the Hulk, the dynamics had to be done right for Hulk to look realistic on screen.

Only after the model creation of the Hulk was approved, was he transferred digitally for VFX animation.

One of the crucial scenes that ILM Singapore worked on was the transformation of Bruce Banner to the Hulk. When Brennan showed the segment to illustrate the VFX, Red Dot Diva was amazed by the stunning details that went into those few seconds - the slight wind blowing in Bruce-Hulk's hair, how the shirt was shredded and the bits of cloth flying away from the ripping, the muscle movements and veins in the Hulk's arms..... Just Wow.

Brennan went on to show a few other key scenes, including the one with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) swivelling and falling down from a tall building and then, shooting an arrow upwards. That flying arrow was digitally animated by the ILM folks.

So was the creation of a believable New York City in the final alien-invasion sequence. Remember this 360-degree camera turn of the Avengers group in standby position on a bridge?

Well, the original shot had the actors standing around, scowling against a green screen. The background is all VFX magic!

For this scene, ILM Singapore had their hand in building a few blocks of digital NYC and was tasked to make it look as physically accurate as possible. A crew was sent out to NYC to capture pictures or panaspheres of the buildings' textures and different kinds of lighting for 3 weeks. Altogether, about 275,000 pictures were taken so that the digimatte artists could work on making NYC look realistic on film.

Together with the San Francisco team, 160 artists in ILM Singapore worked on "The Avengers" movie from last September to April this year. They laboured over 236 entire shorts and 158 partial shorts in the blockbuster.

After watching the back-breaking VFX work that was done, Red Dot Diva and most of the attendees stayed on after "The Avengers" movie so that they could give a rousing applause to the ILM Singapore team for their artistry and hard work when their credit roll came up on screen. Once again, they have raised the bar for superb quality of digital VFX.

Catch another look at some of the scenes from this trailer, just for the stunning VFX shots:

It is simply obvious that these people love and have so much pride in their work.

Kudos to you, guys!


Special thanks to Rasa Buckley and Christina Aureus from ILM Singapore!

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