Capping off Marvel Studios’ Infinity Saga and an arc of 21 preceding films, Avengers: Endgame had a huge scope, connecting cinematic stories and timelines, and delivering heroic highs, lows, returns, and goodbyes. As the dedicated visualization team on the project, The Third Floor worked for four years ¬– including time on the simultaneously lensed
Avengers: Infinity War – to help map the monumental vision, from key character moments to what would happen blow-by-blow in action scenes.
It was an epic undertaking as artists, headed by The Third Floor senior visualization supervisor and head of creative Gerardo Ramirez, created moving versions of 40 sequences – developing upwards of 7,300 shots and kicking off more than 12,500 renders – just in previs. The company also added previs backgrounds and characters into photographed plates for more than 7000 postvis shots and produced 100-plus technical schematics accurate to the real locations and equipment specs.
By the time Infinity War and
Endgame came around, The Third Floor had already contributed to 16 of Marvel’s prior movies and brought that body of knowledge to creative action blocking with directors Anthony and Joe Russo, visual effects supervisor Dan Deleeuw, film editor Jeff Ford, and others on the two films.
“It was amazing to help build out ideas to resonate with the audience and that would make for a historic conclusion to the cycle,” said Ramirez, whose other Marvel credits include Avengers: Age of Ultron,
Captain America: Civil War, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, and
Thor. “From comedic scenes like Hulk in the Diner and sending Scott Lang back and forth into the Quantum Tunnel, to weighty moments like Hawkeye and Black Widow on Vormir or Thanos’ ship making a deadly air strike on Avengers home base, we were able to make contributions to
Avengers: Endgame both before and after the shoot that made a lasting imprint.”
Scenes featuring everything from far-flung locations to familiar headquarters were visualized from a storytelling/impact point of view as well for connectivity with other sequences: for example, the Thanos Yurt Fight, Rocket and Hulk in Thor’s Cabin, and Hawkeye on the loose in Tokyo. Through its series of time jumps, going back to borrow Infinity Stones from the unsuspecting plotlines of earlier films, Endgame presented an interesting set of standalone but intertwined puzzle pieces.
“It was fun to go back to story points and locales of Marvel films we worked on earlier, for example, the Stark Tower from the original Avengers film, where we now got to help design the look of the building from the inside, working with concept art images from the art department,” Ramirez said. “We visualized the Captain vs Captain fight in postvis, compositing the background, adding shields, and visualizing versions of him with and without the cowl. In the
Guardians of the Galaxy timeline, we previsualized the interrogation of Nebula on Thanos’ ship, where we helped find ways to stage the action and tell story using the hologram projections from her eye.”
Ramirez says the team sometimes worked from storyboards or script pages but also frequently iterated shots from director discussions and artist brainstorms. The “three-on-one” fight between Thanos, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor presented a particularly momentous opportunity for artists to work from the ground up to pitch and design the best action they could think of.
“The sequence was visualized in such a way that the audience would feel the end is near for our big three Avengers – that we had them at a low point, so the moment when Captain America gets Thor’s hammer in addition to his shield becomes that much more ‘earned,’” said Ramirez. “Our artists were asked to build out the coolest and best fight moves they wanted to see Cap perform with those two weapons. Our visualization of that sequence presented to the filmmakers came together using the most goosebump-inducing of those moves.”
Visualization for Endgame not only involved brainstorming for exciting beats, but also how to thoughtfully put together sequences to pull different emotions from the audience. A pivotal scene that sets a good example is when the heroes reunite for battle.
“We visualized the epic moment when the lost heroes return through the portals in both previs and in postvis with the shot plates,” Ramirez explained. “We knew this would be one of the most important and memorable scenes, so we really focused on developing and laying out the action to serve the vision.”
The final battle was the largest and most challenging sequence, requiring the design of action and flow of shots to balance several overlapping stories and character moments while maintaining the energy and chaos of war. The battle covered not just the clash of armies, but also the portals opening, the lost heroes returning, and everyone assembling for a final charge.
“We knew this was the moment everyone had been waiting for so, we felt that we needed to exhaust every exciting option,” recalled Ramirez. “The directors pitched us to come up with an exciting shot – dubbed the One’r – that would take the audience through a portion of the battle right when the two armies clashed. In the shot, they wanted to see many of the returning heroes in action and have the audience feel like they were right there amongst the battle.”
Ramirez and The Third Floor’s other frequent Marvel supervisors are quick to note that one of the most exciting parts of any Marvel assignment is the genuine collaborative nature at the studio that encourages everyone to engage with the source material and see how far they can take it.
“One of the great things about having worked on many Marvel films is that we’ve been able to grow with the characters and story along the way,” Ramirez said, a veteran of nine Marvel films. “We’ve been able to achieve a high level of consistency with directors, producers, executives, and others and have a truly collaborative process for designing and developing scenes, stories, technical breakdowns, and preparing for editorial, visual effects, and test screenings using streamlined postvis. Marvel is a real proponent of creativity, and the idea that a good idea can come from anyone.”
From initial work on Iron Man 2 to movies like
Ant-Man and the Wasp, the
Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and
Thor: Ragnarok, The Third Floor’s work has expanded from previs for a few scenes to expansive visualization, techvis planning, and postvis across the project. The higher fidelity of previs characters, greater communication between departments, and the expansion of tech like LIDAR and photogrammetry now make it possible to deliver previs that can be shot 1:1 with the real world if that is the goal – or to use it to shape precise approaches to the shoot. Postvis has become a mission-critical endeavor, where CG characters and backdrops are routinely added to the production plates prior to VFX finishing. Visualization that takes advantage of virtual cameras, immersive reality, and real-time virtual production solutions is also coming more and more into play.
Yet, story remains king, especially in the world of a Marvel production. “It’s been incredible working on so many of these films, contributing to the effort at a high level, and having the opportunity to help introduce and evolve these characters,” said The Third Floor’s Jim Baker, visualization supervisor for the Ant-Man and
Guardians of the Galaxy films. Added Shannon Justison, co-visualization supervisor for
Captain Marvel and an artist or supervisor at The Third Floor working on all three
Thor films, “It helps that a lot of us are devoted nerds who love these characters and are fully aware of how awesome it is when your job is helping figure out how Hulk will fight a giant fire god or ways Captain Marvel can punch out a spaceship.”