Framestore completed 253 shots for the opening act of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War. From the moment Bruce Banner crashes into Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village to the epic “Race to Space” sequence, the varied and action-packed work includes building the New York environment in CG, digi-double work of key Marvel heroes, crafting the Q-ship, and working as lead vendor for CG friends old and new: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian.
Directed by the Russo brothers, and supervised by Marvel VFX Supervisor Dan DeLeeuw, Avengers: Infinity War marks the 10th anniversary of Marvel Studios and the final arc of the current Marvel narrative. Well-known characters from across the MCU, including Captain America, Black Panther, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, unite to defeat the powerful Thanos, who seeks the infinity stones needed to wreak havoc on the universe. Framestore had the unique opportunity to be creatively involved in the planning of the work, with a team of 160 artists, led by VFX Supervisor Patric Roos and CG Supervisor Rob Allman, crafting the dramatic opening.
The New York fight sequence sees well-known Marvel characters Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Wong (Benedict Wong) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) take on members of the Black Order in an action-packed attack. “We were awarded a whole act, which was a really nice body of work,” says Roos. “The work was a real mix of full-CG shots, plate shots, FX, set extensions, and a lot of character work.”
Roos supervised the shoot at Pinewood Studios, Atlanta in which large areas around Doctor Strange’s sanctum had been built, as well as the greenscreen, which the team extended to mimic Manhattan. The fight moves on to Washington Square Park, which was replaced in full CGI. Framestore’s Capture Lab spent a month in Manhattan and New Jersey shooting photo reference, LIDAR and gigapixel panoramas to capture the environments that had to be re-created in CG.
“Production closed down whole city blocks,” says Richard Graham, Capture Lab studio manager. “We came back with more than 250,000 photos and 15TB of data to be used by the environments team to build Washington Square Park and the West Village, among others.”
Framestore tackled the character development of the Black Order members for around a year before post production, feeding into the Marvel Vis Dev group. A small in-house team created animation vignettes to delve further into their personalities and character traits.
The Black Order, or so-called “Children of Thanos,” presented their own challenges. Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is the tall, sinister character of the group, delivering his lines in a deliberate and eerie manner. The animation team had to work out how much movement and expression to use, given that his facial design didn’t include a nose, a feature that usually aids a performance.
As the strongest of Thanos' children, Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary) is the muscle of the Black Order. As one of the characters developed early on by the Framestore team, the challenge was keeping the design close to the comic book while still being a believable and threatening presence. “He has a massive torso, reasonably thin waist, huge thighs and a bunch of weapons,” says Nick Craven, animation supervisor. “So the challenge for animation was, how do you take a character who has aspects of a toy and keep him looking heavy and dangerous?” The animators posed the character in a way that didn’t emphasis the silhouette, while the rigging team worked around the abnormally large biceps and unique bone structure, made up of pieces of bone protruding from his thick skin.
Iron Man has a whole new look in Infinity War; the team working closely with Marvel for nearly two years before the design was locked in. Iron Man’s Mark 50 “bleeding-edge” suit is a move away from his solid suit of previous films: Rather than unfolding, it is made up of singular nanobots, which move around his body to form a suit. The manifestation of the suit moving around the character needed to look both organic and mechanical, with new weapons forming from it. The FX team used a bespoke FX set-up and Houdini to achieve the several layers of simulations and components required to look like a second skin.
Infinity War afforded Framestore the chance to work on Spider-Man for the first time. “I was a fan of the comic books as a kid; it was fun to revisit that,” says Craven. Spider-Man is characterized by his dynamic and physical movement. Animators looked to past films for examples, and were often able to bring their creative flair to his performance. “They had previs’d the Washington Square Park shots in a rougher form,” says Craven, ‘”and I felt like we could really add some value to a lot of those shots, which was a great situation to be in.”
Within the 253 shots, Framestore also worked on the build of the Q-Ship, used by the Black Order; the Doctor Strange Eldritch magic, updated from the 2016 film; and an updated suit for Spider-Man. Fans were able to see a small glimpse of the Iron Spider suit in 2017’s Spider-Man Homecoming; it has an almost metallic-sheen and allows the character to breathe in space as well as adding an additional layer of armor.
“This film has been a lot of fun,” adds Roos. “It gave us the chance to be involved in so many different kinds of work, which we’ll be proud to see on the big screen.”