Marvel's The Avengers

CGSociety :: Production Focus

4 May 2012, by Paul Hellard



Evil Eye Pictures

Delivering top end results to the blockbuster movie industry has brought the small crowd at Evil Eye Pictures (EEP) into contention for more CG effects and environment work, while still remaining relatively small. This has helped the San Francisco-based EEP outfit take on more types of work, while remaining light and cost effective.

Several years ago, while working on Benjamin Button and Australia, EEP had a compositing emphasis, but began to stretch their limbs on a little more general CG work. “We did some Maya particle stuff, sometimes generating smoke and other supporting passes instead of working with filmed elements,” explains co-founder and Executive Producer John Jack. “The greatest challenge back then was balancing up whether we had the TD talent and render resources to take on more CG work. Those two projects occurred when we were beginning to diversify and expand.”

 


 

The Avengers

Jack, along with co-founders and Visual Effects Supervisors Dan Rosen and Matt McDonald, had worked with The Avengers VFX Supervisor Janek Sirrs on The Matrix sequels at ESC, and then later worked with him on Iron Man 2 at Evil Eye, which began their relationship with Marvel. Work on Thor and Captain America followed, so their relationship with Marvel continued to grow. “By the time The Avengers came up, we’d worked with just about everyone in the visual effects crew at Marvel,” says Dan Rosen.

Rosen and McDonald have compositing backgrounds, so they built Evil Eye based on that fundamental approach. “Being known initially as a very strong Compositing house was great, but we pushed to take on more and more CG work. Broadening our skillset by having Noah Vice as CG Supervisor, with such fantastic projects to prove ourselves on, is a great way to make our own challenges,” says Rosen. “On The Avengers we did a number of large green-screen sequences that required a lot of CG environment and effects work as well.”

 

The Avengers trailer

 

 


“Being able to build complex CG effects shots has given us more flexibility to art direct our work,” cited John Jack. “On The Avengers we were given the opportunity to develop the look for the Helicarrier ‘Atrium’, an entirely CG environment, which is what we were looking for in this project.”

Evil Eye delivered nearly 200 shots for The Avengers, 130 of which take place in the Wishbone Lab on the Helicarrier. These were split half and half between night and day, requiring two different looks out of the lab windows.

“One of those scenes includes the Lab area with a large bay of windows behind it, looking out over the back of the ship as it’s flying through the clouds. We’ve added an extension of the ship’s body outside the window,” describes Rosen. “We created that series of views, including clouds, skyline, the exterior ship body and hallways with digital doubles seen in the background. We were sharing some assets back and forth with ILM, but we established the night look for this environment.”

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“I thought the extensions were particularly challenging,” adds Rosen. “We have this massive flying aircraft carrier, and this atrium that is half interior, half exterior, and the night and day looks were completely different. The lab is up underneath the ship, and although it’s an exterior environment, the atrium is covered, so in the end we did some cheats to establish a more exterior feel.”

Matching the live-action set lighting, while keeping within the design frame of shots brought in from Weta and ILM, was part of the skillset of the Evil Eye artists, many of whom had worked at bigger houses like DD, ILM and Weta. “Despite parallel development and some shared assets, we realize at some point we’re on our own to create, modify and deliver our shots,” explains Vice.

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Formats

During the ILM work on The Avengers project, the proprietary software at Lucasfilm was used to bundle up the shot assets for sharing. “When assets from ILM are sent to us, they run a conversion on it and hand us a scene file and a pile of textures organized in directories based on color, reflection, et cetera. Then it’s up to us to write scripts to set up our shading network so we can then work with the maps and the models in the Maya files, in a similar way to how they are set up at ILM," continues Vice.

"We'd also done Super 8 alongside ILM and we'd shared assets with them in a similar fashion, so we had that to draw on as well" adds Matt McDonald. "But at some point, we have to make the decision to share to a point, but then become our own island and get down to work doing the day and night lighting and shading."




 

 


Wishbone Lab

For the Wishbone Lab set, Evil Eye Pictures delivered nearly all the shots from within the lab looking out at the ship’s Atrium, whereas ILM created the shots that were from the reverse angle, looking from the exterior of the ship in towards the lab. ILM built the whole ship, including the exterior shots, which were split up between ILM and Weta. The digi-matte department at ILM then built the initial version of the Atrium ship extension, and this is what Evil Eye received as a starting point for their work. Their challenge was developing the final look, for both day and night, as seen from within the lab set.


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What made all the difference for the studio was having that direct connection with Marvel. "Certainly the direct relationship with the Marvel vfx team means we can work quickly on their requested updates," says Jack. "Being a smaller vendor, it's great to work with such a talented and organized client. There were perhaps 16 or more vendors on The Avengers, and Marvel kept everything running smoothly and efficiently."

Although it’s not an action sequence, this shot from the Wishbone Lab is quite active, with Tony Stark (Iron Man), Bruce Banner (The Hulk) Steve Rogers (Captain America), a moving CG background (Helicarrier Atrium), animated graphics, and Loki’s scepter all on screen at the same time. “A number of vendors worked on the scepter effect, which was a challenge, but for this sequence we really got to own the swirling energy look,” says Rosen. There’s also a lot of interaction between the characters and the various screens and displays in the lab. Cantina Creative designed and delivered nearly all the graphics for the film, so EEP took in Cantina’s work to place into the Wishbone Lab shots as well. Many of the screens are articulated and transparent, allowing daylight and backgrounds to seep through their displays.

For the QuinJet sequence there was a heap of daylight atmospherics, ocean surface, clouds and sky to be added. “I think we’re really good at handling these kinds of sequences,” says John Jack. “We’ve had a lot of experience making the speed of travel feel correct, without distracting the audience from what’s happening in the foreground.”

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Noah Vice

Noah Vice grew up in country Australia among a family running an organic winery in Coonawarra near Adelaide. Anyone with a palette for South Australian wines will know the name of Coonawarra.

After covering all the bases he could in education, finding (like many) the dual interest in computer science AND digital arts were not catered for in the mainstream, he took part in the first ever computer games course at game company Micro Forté in Canberra (Australia’s capital) run by the Academy of Interactive Entertainment Inc.

“They took me in as the token artist,” says Vice. “It was a smaller incubator, run in conjunction with the games company. There were choreographers, programmers all in together. In the end, they asked if I wanted to join the cinematics department, which allowed me to work on a new software package from Alias called Maya, using the first ever educational licenses in the world for the software. As you can imagine, it made us quite employable by the end of it." After a few years, Noah landed in Sydney working in advertising on high-end commercials for companies such as Fuel VFX. Eager to work on blockbuster films he travelled to San Francisco to work at The Orphanage until the closing year of 2008. “There was a similar attitude to back home where you roll your sleeves up and dive in,” says Vice. “On the day that The Orphanage closed, Gisela Hermeling organized for ILM to come over and interview a group of us and that led to a position at ILM. It was a real career goal for me, I'd always wanted to work there and I stayed on for a number of shows. After working on Avatar and Iron Man 2, I then traveled back to Adelaide to work at Rising Sun Pictures on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, before heading to DD in Vancouver to help out on the tail end of Tron: Legacy. After that I decided that I missed San Francisco and wanted to return. For me, it's the mecca for technology and film making."

 

Noah Vice 2012 Reel

 

 

Look Development CGWorkshop

It is so hard to find a good Look Development Technical Director. Generally it requires a lot of good experience on the job. Noah Vice has been lucky to have had a lot of time in front of some of the industries best artists, supervisors, and directors. "Over the years I've accumulated a lot of really valuable look-development and lighting specific knowledge from many films and companies. I've used this knowledge to develop systems and approaches that help to break down the process of look development and lighting, which helps to streamline daily workflows," says Vice.
 

 

Look Development CGWorkshop

This CGWorkshop will explain what that process is, what it involves, and gives an overview of the tools and approaches that are required to generate the kinds of looks directors are after in a reasonable amount of time.

The other area of the course will detail collecting data and reference on set and making sure you know how to extract what you need from it. Vice will cover light probes, references, HDRs and the art of recreating the lighting conditions you’ve captured on set. Another part of the class is getting across the language used on set such as the different types of lights, equipment, and then translating that to those terms used in many software.