Led by VFX supervisor Andrew Morley, the London-based studio was responsible for delivering some of the film’s most thematically important and technically difficult CG shots and characters, including Ebony Maw’s torture of Doctor Strange, the Iron Spider suit and the Avengers’ first encounter with the Guardians.
In his quest to obtain one of the Infinity Stones for Thanos, Maw has kidnapped and is torturing Doctor Strange on the deck of the Q ship. Principal photography for the sequence was shot on a partially built set in Atlanta. Cinesite created large sections of the environment in CG, based on concept work and previsualiation geometry provided by Marvel Studios’ art department. Cinesite’s team rebuilt the ship interior using a modular 3D construction, creating an alternative damaged version for later destruction sequences. The environments included the stunning nodule screen—a massive fluid, motion-based screen on the front of the ship showing the exterior celestial environment, complete with infinite stars and galaxies.
However, the most challenging aspect of Cinesite’s work was the creation of Ebony Maw, an important and entirely CG character seen in extreme camera close-up. Actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s facial performance was captured using a head rig; this data, combined with set photography and witness-cam footage, was used as a guide for the full-body animation. The team received artwork and a high-resolution digital sculpt, from which they rebuilt the character.
“Maw had to be an animation-friendly character,” said Morley, “and it also had to be able to accept all the facial capture gathered on the shoot. We did a true facial capture solve from the face cam, which was very high quality, and used that directly to stay true to Tom’s performance. Creating a full-screen CG Ebony Maw was quite a challenge—his head literally fills the whole screen at times. We combined the best of the team’s artistic and technical abilities to produce this very photorealistic character.”
Further character animation was required for ensuing fight sequences where Iron Man and Spider-Man (not forgetting Doctor Strange’s loyal cloak) battle to free Strange, and a later skirmish when they meet with the Guardians. Both Iron Man and Spider-Man, newly transformed in his enhanced “Iron Spider” suit, were entirely computer generated.
“For the fight between the Guardians and the Avengers,” said Morley, “we created several entirely CG shots and the action is very fast-paced, with Quill using blasters, Mantis trying to entrance Spider-Man, Spider-Man fighting back with his webs, and Doctor Strange fighting off daggers being thrown by Drax.” In the final fight scene, only the heads of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland were live-action—their bodies in the “bleeding-edge” suits were CG.
“There was a huge amount of VFX work in these scenes,” said Morley, “both in terms of rotomation and in blending the necks of the suits into the live-action characters.”
Avengers: Infinity War is the fourth Marvel Studios’ film to feature Cinesite’s VFX, with the studio first collaborating with Marvel on Iron Man 3, followed by Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War. Its Montreal facility is currently in production on the forthcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp, which hits theaters on July 6.