×

‘Avengers: Endgame’: How ILM Used Cutting-Edge Technology to Reinvent Hulk

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains key details about the plot and characters of “Avengers: Endgame.” Do not read if you haven’t watched the movie.

“I put the brains and the brawn together — and now look at me:” On of the biggest surprises of Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” is the reinvention of Hulk, who embraces his powerful side to become a smart and sensitive green guy. Marvel comic book fans already know this incarnation as Professor Hulk, and in “Endgame,” he is building impressive technology, keeping his temper, and even cracking some jokes. “I know! It’s crazy,” he can be heard saying in a pivotal scene that reintroduces the character. “I’m wearing shirts now!”

Hulk is once again played by Mark Ruffalo, as he has been since “The Avengers” in 2012, with the help of visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). To turn Hulk into Smart Hulk, the team at ILM decided to inject a bit more of the actor’s human side into the character than in previous Marvel movies. “We wanted to get that proper balance between Ruffalo and Smart Hulk,” said ILM visual effects supervisor Russell Earl in a recent interview with Variety.

CREDIT: © MARVEL

Essential to making Smart Hulk more of a complex character was the use of cutting-edge performance capture technology dubbed Anyma. The Anyma system was originally developed at Disney Research, and productized in partnership with ILM. In fact, ILM had been testing Anyma since 2012, and the technology is being used for a few other movies that are currently in production as well. However, “Avengers: Endgame” is the first film to feature an Anyma-captured character to be released on the big screen.

The key difference between Anyma and previous performance-capture systems is that it is capable of capturing a lot more information. “It analyzes pixel-level detail,” explained Earl.

Existing performance capture systems largely rely on dots that are glued all over an actor’s face to capture basic facial expressions. Anyma on the other hand can capture pore-level information, which can then used by animators to control over 200 individual facial attributes — think subtle eye muscle movements, or different types of smiles. “It definitely created more of a cohesive face,” Earl said.

CREDIT: © MARVEL
CREDIT: © MARVEL

However, ILM didn’t replace its existing performance capture system outright. Ruffalo was still being filmed with dots glued to his face just to give the team some options for the processing of the captured data. ILM also still made use of Medusa, its existing performance capture system, to capture facial poses.

The combination of marker-based technology and Anyma was in part due to the timing of the production. “Avengers: Endgame” was shot right after “Avengers: Infinity War,” and things were already very much underway when ILM was ready to implement the new technology. “We were full, heavy into production,” said Earl.

Changing out a key piece of technology while the production of a movie is underway is a bit like swapping out a car’s engine halfway through a race. “We basically rebuilt the entire facial pipeline,” said Earl. Getting the new tech up and running came down to the wire. “It was nerve-racking,” he recalled. “It kept me up at night.”

In the end, the result was all worth it — especially since the work helped to deliver a major surprise for theater audiences. “Smart Hulk wasn’t shown to the public in trailers and marketing,” said ILM animation supervisor Kevin Martel. “It was kept under wraps until it came out.”

What’s more, “Endgame’s” use of time travel as a plot device made it possible for audiences to directly compare the newly-reinvented smart Hulk to the green giant they remembered from past Marvel movies. “Getting to see our 2 Hulks on screen was a lot of fun for us,” said Martel.

Speaking of time travel: ILM’s role in the production of “Avengers: Endgame” wasn’t just to create smart hulk. The visual effects powerhouse also had its hand in creating the end battle scene, and most of the other animated characters, including Iron Man, Iron Patriot, Ant Man and others.

Lavc57.89.100
CREDIT: © MARVEL
CREDIT: © MARVEL

ILM’s visual effects also were at the core of the time travel in “Avengers: Endgame,” which included a trip back to the world of the original 2012 “Avengers” movie. Reusing some of the original assets from that film was a challenge on its own, especially since production technologies have advanced so much. “Everything was still on floppy disks,” joked Earl, adding: “Nothing worked out of the box.”

The team did some enhancements to the original 2012 Hulk, including an upgraded muscle system. However, it only could take upgrades so far, as the results weren’t supposed to look out-of-place to fans of the franchise. “It almost feels like a deleted scene for the other film,” said Martel.

Revisiting the original “Avengers” also helped ILM’s team to appreciate the advancements in technology as well as artistry. “The tools have gotten better, and the artists have gotten better as well,” Earl said. No one could have better encapsulated that progress than the new smart Hulk character.

Said Earl: “Mixing the brains and the brawn is (akin to) mixing the tools and the art.”

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Alex Jones

    Google Removes Infowars Android App From Online Store Over Coronavirus Misinformation

    Google on Friday removed the Android version of the Infowars app from the Google Play online store, after comments made by Infowars founder Alex Jones about the COVID-19 pandemic were deemed false and harmful. Google Play was that last major internet platform that provided an outlet for Infowars, which trades in right-wing conspiracy theories and [...]

  • Van Weezer

    Weezer Debuts Online Video Game as Throwback to Simpler Times -- And Album Promo

    Eight-bit diehards, get your thumbs ready: pop rock darlings Weezer have launched a nostalgia-heavy online side-scrolling action game, playable via web browsers.  The “The End of the Game” game has users playing as one of the band’s four members and jumping and shooting their way in a (surprisingly difficult) boss fight against an oversized, beanie-clad [...]

  • Google-Mountain-View-Calif

    Google Commits $800 Million, Mostly in Ad Credits, to Coronavirus Relief Efforts

    Google and parent Alphabet are pitching in to help small businesses, health organizations and governments dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The internet company has earmarked more than $800 million for coronavirus relief, about three-fourths of which ($610 million) is in the form of Google Ad credits to small and midsize businesses and governmental orgs, Alphabet [...]

  • Why Are Music Streams Down If

    Why Are Music Streams Down If Everyone's Stuck at Home? Experts Weigh in

    While it might seem counterintuitive that music streams would decline at a time when so many Americans were ordered to stay home, data-savvy label executives were neither startled nor concerned by the 7.6% drop in plays that happened in the March 13-19 tracking week. Simply put, they say it’s down to focus on news and [...]

  • MipTV Online Plus Initiative Launches

    MipTV Online Plus Features Showcases, Pitches, Presentations

    Reed Midem launches its MipTV Online Plus initiative Monday as a digital alternative to the conference that was scheduled to open on the same day in Cannes, but it includes many of the elements that were planned for the physical event. Among the streamed sessions on Monday morning (Paris time) will be the invitation-only Drama [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content