Marvel movies. Like them or hate them, they’re the world’s highest grossing film franchise, with a total worldwide box office revenue of $22.55 billion. $22.5 BILLION. The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has over 23 inter-connected movies, with one more soon on its way. It’s certainly an impressive feat, with recent films exploring a timeline and series of events that span the whole repertoire of movies. One thing Marvel movies are particularly advanced at is CGI (computer-generated imagery). After all, they have to be, showcasing entire fictional worlds and supernatural powers. I thought I’d take a look at some of the best examples of CGI in Marvel movies, and the impressive, detailed techniques used to create them. So, without further ado, here are the ten best examples of great CGI in Marvel movies (spoilers below!):
1. Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame)
Thanos – an 8-foot intergalactic member of the ‘Titanian Eternals’. A completely CGI character portrayed in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame by the actor Josh Brolin. So how did Marvel bring this fictional character to life? According to Digital Domain, the VFX studio that worked on Thanos, the process was roughly divided into 5 stages:
- Capture. Josh Brolin wore a motion-capture bodysuit, with tracking markers and a helmet with two cameras attached, as well as facial tracking dots.
- Processing. The basic geometric structures are compiled from the helmet cameras and then put through a machine learning algorithm to build a high-resolution facial structure of Brolin from a large database.
- Correction. The VFX artists check this result and correct it if needed.
- Comparison. An automated transfer is done from the model of Brolin to the model of Thanos, and the artists make sure that the same emotion is being conveyed, or if little tweaks need to be made to ensure that the performance carries over correctly to the model of Thanos.
- Animation. The model of Thanos ends up going to the animation department, who combine it with the body capture.
Thanos looks brilliant throughout the film, with a photorealistic body and clever subtleties playing out on his face. This true realism, in every aspect of the character, allowed audiences to connect with Thanos, and Brolin’s convincing performance led to a truly cohesive character.
2. Wolverine, X-23 and X-24 (Logan)
Throughout Logan, the 2017 superhero film, many shots contain CGI, which may come as a surprise due to the generally grounded and realistic representation. It’s truly a testament to the VFX company that worked on this movie, Imagine Engine, that people didn’t realise the abundance of CGI, an impressive feat. Apparently, many action scenes were actually performed by stunt doubles, and Hugh Jackman’s face was composited in, as well as an entirely CGI digital double of Dafne Keen. However, there is one scene in particular that truly demonstrates the scope and flawlessness of the VFX work in this movie. When Wolverine encounters X-24 for the first time by the staircase, a stunt double is playing X-24 while Jackman plays Logan. The entire head was CGI, with a de-aged version of Jackman playing the role. As you can see in the slideshow below, it looks truly photorealistic and was impressively convincing. You can read more about the process in Imagine Engine’s interview with Cartoonbrew, and the work that went into making such a scene possible.
3. Iron Man’s Suit (Iron Man 3, Avengers: Infinity War)
Iron Man has had many appearances throughout the MCU (certainly too many to put in the heading!) so I’m going to focus on some of the most impressive examples of the full CGI suit. One of the coolest things about the visualisation of the suits is the awesome ‘suit up’ scenes. A great example of this is in Iron Man 3 when Tony tests the Mark 42 suit. In this scene, the suit is entirely CGI, Robert Downey Jr is just wearing tracking markers and it’s astonishing how realistic it looks. In Avengers: Endgame, we see Tony’s suit materialise using ‘nanotech’, in a stunning, streamlined animation. It’s best to watch both these scenes for yourself but these are for sure some of the coolest suit appearances, and some of the best examples of Marvel’s advanced CGI.
4. Illusions/The Mirror Dimension (Doctor Strange)
Doctor Strange is widely recognised as having some of the most interesting and impressive visuals in any Marvel movie to date. Whether it’s the astral plane, mirror dimension or the generally trippy visuals, the movie looks fantastic, and has some incredibly interesting scenes. When The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) tries to convince Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that the universe is greater than he imagined, she sends him on a trip through a myriad of crazy psychedelic visuals that easily constitute one of the coolest scenes in the movie. It is mind-blowingly impressive, certain to leave anyone slack-jawed with awe the first time they watch it. Another scene involves the ‘mirror dimension’, in which actions performed within have no effect on the outside world. The mirror dimension can also be manipulated, and in this scene the buildings begin to warp and fold, while gravity shifts beneath Strange’s feet. In a scene clearly heavily influenced by Inception, all the buildings fold over, soon resulting in a kaleidoscopic world of architecture. One of the most impressive features of this scene is the interaction between the sorcerers and the environment, manipulating both gravity and the endless plethora of different structures. How cohesion is maintained in such an intricate realm I have no idea, but it’s certainly fun to watch. You can watch both scenes below.
5. Skinny and Old Steve Rogers (Captain America: The First Avenger/Avengers: Endgame)
Similarly, Steve Rogers also demonstrates some impressive CGI on two specific occasions. The first is during the original Captain America: The First Avenger movie.. For the majority of the movie, Chris Evans had to play the role of Captain America, a buff, enhanced super soldier, yet the movie still had to show skinny Steve Rogers at the beginning of the film. How did they do this? Well, originally, a body double was hired and a head replacement was tried but it was quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work for some sequences.
“Chris moves in such a unique way; he doesn’t move like anybody else. The body double could not move like him. As hard as he tried to watch Chris and duplicate the movements, it just wasn’t the same.”The film’s director Joe Johnston on making Steve Rogers skinny (via Reuters)
Instead, the filmmakers essentially removed parts of Evans’ body and used a shrinking technique to make what they call ‘Skinny Steve’. Another example of some impressive CGI on Evans is at the end of Avengers: Endgame when Steve travels back to the 1940s and returns in the present time as an old man. Unlike de-aging, with digital aging, there is no media reference, meaning that lots of experimentation was required to get the best look. Eventually, the team decided on prosthetics for Evans’ neck and the rest of his face would be aged digitally with the help of an older double, Patrick Goldman. You can see some examples of these in the slideshow above.
6. Young Nick Fury (Captain Marvel)
In Captain Marvel, fans were greeted with an appearance of young and eye-patchless Nick Fury during the 1990s when the film is set. Samuel L. Jackson looked utterly convincing as a younger version of his character first portrayed way back in 2008’s Iron Man. It is truly impressive that a film set in the past was able to include present-day characters, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the conclusive work of the VFX studio Lola Visual Effects.
“The thing I said to the gang at the beginning is from that first shot you see of Sam, you’ll go ‘Woah! Young Sam!’ But my intention was after that, nobody thinks about it. And hopefully that’s what we’ve achieved if we’ve done our job right, and that the audience never questions it and doesn’t even consider it.”Christopher Townsend, Marvel’s visual effects supervisor on Captain Marvel (via The Wrap)
Lola definitely achieved their goal, and the digitally altered co-star’s appearances were as seamless as if Jackson had travelled forward in time. Comparing old pictures of Jackson to his portrayal in Captain Marvel warrants a fair measure of admiration, due to the near-identical faces.
7. Endgame Final Battle (Avengers: Endgame)
Avengers: Endgame. One of the most anticipated movie releases ever, tying up the cinematic universe of a lifetime. As the final battle scene rolls around, tensions rise. Audience reactions are far and few between, muted, all eyes glued to the screen as the original 3 Avengers face off against Thanos. Like me, if you were watching this in the cinema, you’ll remember the sheer anticipation as the film began rolling towards its conclusion. Accompanied by a haunting, but soon to be awe-inspiring score by Alan Silvestri, you watch what is essentially every single MCU character ever visualised materialise into one scene, with the aid of Doctor Strange’s portals. Even the concept of it sounds incredulous; hundreds, if not thousands of characters all in one scene? At the beginning, it was just the original actors on a green screen set with the entire environment composited in around them. As all the other characters started appearing however, things started to get a little more complicated. The scene involved the CG crater, fire, smoke, atmosphere, embers, dust, ash and then the complex effects simulation of the portals. All of Thanos’ army was computer-generated, and the shot of Giant Man punching the Leviathan is entirely CG, before it transitions back to real shots of the Avengers’ army. There are so many complex elements and little visual details that all came together for this shot, and it really made a great ending battle to bring this movie, and the vast sagas of the MCU, to a conclusion. You can watch the full scene below.