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December 06
2022

ISSUE

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BEAUTY BECOMES TRANSFORMED IN SHE-HULK BY DIGITAL DOMAIN

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios and Digital Domain.

The offices were essentially glass boxes that were constantly influenced by the weather, which made it hard to get the green tone of She-Hulk to behave correctly.

The offices were essentially glass boxes that were constantly influenced by the weather, which made it hard to get the green tone of She-Hulk to behave correctly.

As much as there was an irreverent attitude displayed by She-Hulk in the Disney+ series named after her, the female cousin of the original gamma ray-infused green monster was treated with the utmost respect by Digital Domain VFX Supervisor/Head of Animation Jan Philip Cramer. “Especially with me being a guy, we weren’t initially aware how challenging this would become,” Cramer admits. “She-Hulk is a female character who is bubbly, positive, happy, uses makeup, and wears high heals and a lot of different outfits. Makeup has such a huge affect on your appearance. There were lots of things to learn. There are certain colors that don’t go well together with the green. One of the problems for us was how much subsurface you would see coming through, which would be sometimes covered up with makeup. Similarly with rouge, we would put some lightly on She-Hulk because we had to be so careful that her overall skin tone would stay untouched. If the skin appeared to be too smooth because of the additional layer of foundation on top of it, that would not help us because she would look CG. We would remove that and try to find a balance.”

Unlike Hulk, bodybuilders were not referenced for She-Hulk, as the character is not meant to be a muscular person.

Unlike Hulk, bodybuilders were not referenced for She-Hulk, as the character is not meant to be a muscular person.

“Early on we were going for a more muscular appearance [for She-Hulk], but it was locked into a specific time range in the comic books. She is not meant to be a muscular person. The whole story is about Jennifer Walters struggling with the fact that she becomes pretty when transforming into She-Hulk and everybody wants the prettier version of her. There’s this great scene in the beginning from Wētā FX where Jennifer transforms, and can do it just like that, while Hulk took years to figure out how to maintain himself.”

—Jan Philip Cramer, VFX Supervisor/Head of Animation, Digital Domain

Interaction with other characters was achieved by Tatiana Maslany wearing specially designed outfits on set to give her the proper proportions.

Interaction with other characters was achieved by Tatiana Maslany wearing specially designed outfits on set to give her the proper proportions.

Making a cameo from the MCU is Wong, portrayed by Benedict Wong, who is defended by She-Hulk.

Making a cameo from the MCU is Wong, portrayed by Benedict Wong, who is defended by She-Hulk.

It was important to avoid the makeup causing the skin to look too smooth, otherwise She-Hulk would literally look like a CG character.

It was important to avoid the makeup causing the skin to look too smooth, otherwise She-Hulk would literally look like a CG character.

Unlike her male counterpart, She-Hulk was not modeled on a bodybuilder physique. “Early on we were going for a more muscular appearance, but it was locked into a specific time range in the comic books,” Cramer reveals. “She is not meant to be a muscular person. The whole story is about Jennifer Walters struggling with the fact that she becomes pretty when transforming into She-Hulk and everybody wants the prettier version of her. There’s this great scene in the beginning from Wētā FX where Jennifer transforms, and can do it just like that,  while Hulk took years to figure out how to maintain himself.” Then there was the extensive wardrobe which influenced the physique of She-Hulk. “We had 12 different outfits,” Cramer notes. “She needed to be wearing different bras. For us, this is something we don’t talk about so much. We had to develop a shape-wear system, because we realized that when you wear a pyjama or tight-fitting legging or ball gown, the body is a completely different shape because of the outside forces. We were running a muscle system that we needed to maintain. It was a huge problem for us because we had a 1,000 shots that needed to get approved in animation, so we had to develop a pre-simulated look so we would know, ‘This is how all of these different areas of her body would behave once it was simulated.’”

As the series progresses, Jennifer Walters has custom-made outfits that incorporate spandex to accommodate her transformations into She-Hulk.

As the series progresses, Jennifer Walters has custom-made outfits that incorporate spandex to accommodate her transformations into She-Hulk.

“We had 12 different outfits. She needed to be wearing different bras. For us, this is something we don’t talk about so much. We had to develop a shape-wear system, because we realized that when you wear a pyjama or tight-fitting legging or ball gown, the body is a completely different shape because of the outside forces. We were running a muscle system that we needed to maintain. It was a huge problem for us because we had a 1,000 shots that needed to get approved in animation, so we had to develop a pre-simulated look so we would know, ‘This is how all of these different areas of her body would behave once it was simulated.’”

—Jan Philip Cramer, VFX Supervisor/Head of Animation, Digital Domain

Risers were placed on set to give Tatiana Maslany the proper height, and two head-mounted cameras provided the necessary facial capture footage.

Risers were placed on set to give Tatiana Maslany the proper height, and two head-mounted cameras provided the necessary facial capture footage.

Everything was about beauty. “The hair had to move nicely, behave beautifully and look realistic,” Cramer states. “We spent six months on hairstyles early on because we wanted this big hair from those comic books from the 1970s range. It was a big simulation challenge. We were meant to have a shimmering coral look. She had lowlights that go into bright tips. Her hair was so dense. We had different ponytails and long hair.” Tatiana Maslany, who portrays She-Hulk, is 5’4” while her superhero persona is 6’7”. “Tatiana would walk on risers on set, and we would use that motion on She-Hulk to start with. When she sits down, it’s one to one.” For interaction, different busts were made for Maslany to wear. She could have a football player outfit on, so she needed to have the correct proportions when people hug her. For fights, we would have a 6’5” stand-in, Maliah Arrayah. For any given shot we would do a grey ball pass, a bust pass, which is a beautiful maquette of her, and then we would have a pass of Maliah, who was almost the size in a muscle suit. At times. she would be fully painted green. It was helpful to understand the dimensions.”

To maintain the proper eyeline for cast members, a cut-out of the face of She-Hulk was placed at the right height on the motion capture suit worn by Tatiana Maslany.

To maintain the proper eyeline for cast members, a cut-out of the face of She-Hulk was placed at the right height on the motion capture suit worn by Tatiana Maslany.

Digital Domain had to produce 42 minutes of character animation of She-Hulk.

Digital Domain had to produce 42 minutes of character animation of She-Hulk.

“For interaction, different busts were made for [Tatiana Maslany, who portrays She-Hulk] to wear. She could have a football player outfit on, so she needed to have the correct proportions when people hug her. For fights, we would have a 6’5” stand-in, Maliah Arrayah. For any given shot we would do a grey ball pass, a bust pass, which is a beautiful maquette of her, and then we would have a pass of Maliah, who was almost the size in a muscle suit. At times, she would be fully painted green. It was helpful to understand the dimensions.”

—Jan Philip Cramer, VFX Supervisor/Head of Animation, Digital Domain

No matter the lighting conditions, the green skin tone of She-Hulk needed to remain consistent.

No matter the lighting conditions, the green skin tone of She-Hulk needed to remain consistent.

Everything was about beauty when it came to the character of She-Hulk.

Everything was about beauty when it came to the character of She-Hulk.

A bunch of walk cycles for She-Hulk were captured in September 2020. “We had picked all of the props that we had seen that She-Hulk has in those comic book covers,” Cramer describes. “The mocap stage had all of the props, and we said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ I just wanted to try it to see what Tatiana would do and give her some time to play with the character. She-Hulk gets drunk and would do all of these different fun things. I edited a short piece out of that like a music video of She-Hulk, and we did that as an initial test. There is one shot in the room of feelings that is two and a half minutes of She-Hulk talking on her cellphone and starting to cry. We had captured a test version early on during that capture session. That was the second test – a 30-second dialogue bit talking about something serious. Those were our big tests. It helps a lot to have something to show everybody, as it defines the character even if it’s not the final version.  The actor can see this and go, ‘Okay,’ before going on set.”

For the sitting shots, the performance of She-Hulk is one-to-one with Tatiana Maslany.

For the sitting shots, the performance of She-Hulk is one-to-one with Tatiana Maslany.

A special shape-wear program was created to deal with the how the different pieces of clothing impact the physique of She-Hulk.

A special shape-wear program was created to deal with how the different pieces of clothing impact the physique of She-Hulk.

“To make a character for [Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios], we weren’t too sure it would stick. The robot is a little bit older and rattles. Two years ago, we started the character tests for K.E.V.I.N., and the funny bit is that we never got big changes or pushback. I believe it was constantly shown to Kevin Feige because everybody was nervous that if somebody would say ‘no,’ it might be him. He was cool with everything. If you listen to the dialogue in that section, it’s constantly making fun of Marvel Studios and storylines and Marvel Studios movies.”

—Jan Philip Cramer, VFX Supervisor/Head of Animation, Digital Domain

Forty-two minutes of CG character animation had to be produced by Digital Domain. “On this we used heavily Masquerade 2.0,” Cramer explains. “With Thanos, we would get from Medusa a minute of training material of super dense geometry of different dialogue sections, and that was our training material. We did the same at the beginning with She-Hulk, but we have a way with Masquerade 2.0 to generate our own training material based on the 2D material that we’re getting from the helmet cameras, and that is equal or better than Medusa for us. One thing that you need to understand is that Thanos is angry most of the time; he’s not this bubbly, joking-around personality that Tatiana was. This was a massive problem for us. Besides She-Hulk being 10% larger, green and all of the makeup, I was talking about when you see the side-by-side of our performance, it is one-to-one with Tatiana.” The fourth wall gets broken with She-Hulk speaking directly to the viewer. “It was incredibly hard,” Cramer confirms. “The eyelines were horrible. We needed to lock an eyeline so that everybody thinks that she is looking at them in the camera. Those are beautiful performances.” The performance transfer program Charlatan assisted with the She-Hulk transformations. Comments Cramer, “We shoot the actor under numerous lighting conditions and use machine learning to regenerate her face a la deepfake, and use that as a transition element. To get from plate to She-Hulk, you would run Charlatan in between so that you have a continuous photoreal look.”

Unlike Thanos, She-Hulk had to convey a vast array of facial expressions.

Unlike Thanos, She-Hulk had to convey a vast array of facial expressions.

Appearing as a guest on the show is a robotic version of Kevin Feige, who is President of Marvel Studios.

Appearing as a guest on the show is a robotic version of Kevin Feige, who is President of Marvel Studios.

Making a surprise appearance in the streaming series is the robotic version of Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, who is credited for orchestrating the blockbuster success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “To make a character for him, we weren’t too sure it would stick,” Cramer remarks. “The robot is a little bit older and rattles. Two years ago, we started the character tests for K.E.V.I.N., and the funny bit is that we never got big changes or pushback. I believe it was constantly shown to Kevin Feige because everybody was nervous that if somebody would say ‘no,’ it might be him. He was cool with everything. If you listen to the dialogue in that section, it’s constantly making fun of Marvel Studios and storylines and Marvel Studios movies.” Reality intersecting with the MCU was an enjoyable aspect of the show. “Going meta for me was so fun,” Cramer offers.  “There is a moment in the last episode when She-Hulk goes into the writers’ room and goes through the Marvel Studios lobby. These are all of the real areas that you would go into to talk to people there. It’s so bizarre having been there and having the character sign into the iPad where I signed in. That was so great!”


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