By TREVOR HOGG
The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.
Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.
By TREVOR HOGG
Initially meant to be the first small-screen venture for Marvel Studios on Disney+, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent production lockdown caused The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to follow after WandaVision. The miniseries provided an opportunity for showrunner Malcolm Spellman (Empire) and director Kari Skogland (Condor) to explore the relationship between the two heirs apparent to Steve Rogers as Captain America and the consequences of reversing the Blip, which resulted in half of the world’s population returning after a five-year absence. Even though not meant for theaters, the production had a blockbuster budget with each of the six episodes reportedly costing $25 million and featuring a total of 2,500 visual effects shots supervised by Eric Leven, who previously worked on The Orville.
“Most of the other projects I have worked on have been creature-character based, so The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a treat, because I always wanted to work on giant action sequences,” states Eric Leven. “The most important thing I remember Malcolm Spellman talking about was having this moment where a black superhero saves a truck going over the edge of something. We tried to make that as powerful as he wanted it to be. Kari Skogland was cool because she brought a different visual language to show. Kari wanted to go for this GoPro-mounted helmet-cam stuff that you see in all of these stunt videos.” Something that was unplanned for was the emergence of COVID-19.
“It wasn’t like we had to figure out a new look for an energy beam or something like that. It was to make this photographically real. … Just trying to figure out if you were shooting something for real, how would you photograph it? Where would the camera be? How fast would the camera be moving? We orchestrated two aerial units. We had a helicopter plate shoot in New York to capture plates for Episode 106 and then we had the skydiving unit for Episode 101. Stunt guys actually had a day when they went out on real trucks, drove down and pretended to fight just to see what that would look like.”
—Eric Leven, Visual Effects Supervisor, Rodeo FX
“As horrible as the pandemic has been,” Leven observes, “it gave us a five-month break that allowed us to make these already-created sequences even better.” Very few additional visual effects shots were caused by the travel restrictions, he says. “Any location that we didn’t go back to we either found a way around any issues that came up through a rewrite or an ADR line. We didn’t have to make anything totally whole cloth digitally that we didn’t expect to.”
“The wingsuit pilots were phenomenal to watch. Not only are they making these incredible maneuvers in the air but also photographing themselves doing it with just the right camera angles and action, and doing multiple takes during the freefall.”
—Eric Leven, Visual Effects Supervisor, Rodeo FX
There was also a matter of the trucks being stationary 90% of the time. “Rather than having our truck moving at 120kms down a CG highway, we moved the CG highway at 120kms past a CG version of the camera to get everything to match up,” reveals Marshall. “Subtle bits of details like stones, dirt and puffs of smoke going by added to the sense of realism.”
A couple of continuous shots appear in the scene. “When the shield gets thrown away and Bucky [Sebastian Stan] grabs it, that was a big stitch with two or three plate elements,” remarks Francoeur. “In the plates he wasn’t grabbing anything and his hand was too high. We needed to remove the arm and put in a CG arm grabbing at the proper height so we can see the expression on his face.” Not all of the actions were safe or physically possible to perform. “When you’re doing digital doubles for well-known actors such as Anthony Mackie or Sebastian Stan, you’re one brush away from not making them recognizable. The cyber scans were key in ensuring that we created high-quality digital doubles,” says Francoeur.
“Rather than having our truck [in the Truck Battle sequence] moving at 120kms down a CG highway, we moved the CG highway at 120kms past a CG version of the camera to get everything to match up. Subtle bits of details like stones, dirt and puffs of smoke going by added to the sense of realism.”
—Graeme Marshall, VFX Producer, Rodeo FX
Madripoor was inspired by Hong Kong. “Hong Kong is a nice city with weird-shaped buildings, but Madripoor needed to feel like a pirate city,” states Francoeur. “Something dark and heavy but with lights. We were two or three lights away from making it look like Las Vegas.” An economic class division is reflected in the cityscape. “They wanted us to push the contrast between Hightown and Lowtown,” remarks Marshall. “You want to be able to see the slums where dark criminal activities are going on and the high-rises where the rich and affluent people live.” The establishing shots are entirely CG. “We came up with an architectural language with some weird-shaped buildings, and by looking at the comic books were able to see how Madripoor was built around the bay,” explains Francoeur. “The main buildings are standalone. But we instanced the smaller-scale buildings. However, we scatted stuff on the top or elements around them so to create variation. That building might have a light pattern. The other one doesn’t. This one has a billboard. That kind of stuff that breaks up the repetition.”
“When you’re doing digital doubles for well-known actors such as Anthony Mackie or Sebastian Stan, you’re one brush away from not making them recognizable. The cyber scans were key in ensuring that we created high-quality digital doubles.”
—Sébastien Francoeur, VFX Supervisor, Rodeo FX
Digital doubles figure prominently in the Super Soldier Fight in Episode 104. “John Walker [Wyatt Russell] jumps out of the window and lands on the roof of a car to run after the Flag Smasher that just killed Lemar Hoskins [Clé Bennett],” states Francoeur. “All of this was a digital double of Walker running. The camera is behind Walker as he’s running and jumping through the window – that was a CG John Walker. In camera, Walker was running and stopping, but we needed to make the run continuous and have him slam through the window and land properly on the roof of the car. We had a stunt double falling on the car, but there was no dent on the roof. The face needed to be changed and the shield updated. To get the proper impact, we ended up having a full-CG digital double and replaced the roof of the car. We had a nice simulation to get the proper intensity of that smash and added those exploding car windows. Those are cool shots.”