In the recent release of Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” all eyes are on the hero, Captain America, and his superhero crew. But, the villain, the Winter Soldier, commands an equally compelling performance, as do the visual effects integral to his role, particularly those used to create his bionic arm.
Luma Pictures’ contribution to over 375 shots in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” marks its sixth collaboration with Marvel, and its second duet with Luma’s Melbourne studio. The most notable contributions to the latest installment in the Marvel franchise took the form of the Winter Soldier’s bionic arm,. The studio also created CG cars, CG explosions, and a variety of environment matte paintings.
One of the most iconic features of the Winter Soldier character is his extraordinary bionic arm. Part armor, part super appendage, it is composed of a set of interlocking panels, with an underlying bio-mechanical infrastructure, giving him both superhuman strength and incredible resilience. In order to build the arm, Luma constructed a highly articulated CG exoskeleton, with a complex internal muscle rig to respond to the dynamic action in the fight scenes. Because the arm was married to a live performance in every shot, additional rigging had to be created to allow the animation artists to track the pivot points precisely to Sebastian Stan’s high-energy performance.
“Our sequences contained a large volume of fast shots with a lot of action," said Vincent Cirelli, vice president and VFX supervisor at Luma Pictures. “In order to establish a good base for the animation, our initial match-moves had to precisely follow the actor’s performance. Once we had a dead-on match, we could look at the flow and add enhancements to the animation in order to really art-direct the action.”
Luma was also was called on to create a number of CG explosions to augment the skirmish. The scope of the digital pyrotechnics included a number of full-CG explosions, CG cars and debris, as well as a few live-action explosion enhancements. “We had the benefit of a lot of very good practical on-set explosion work as a reference,” said Richard Sutherland, Luma's Melbourne-based CG supervisor on the project. “We took our cues from the on-set pyrotechnics and worked to make our CG explosions fit seamlessly with those in the rest of the sequence.”
One of the more challenging sequences involving the CG arm was in the lab, when after his first battle with Steve Rogers, The Winter Soldier retires for a series of painful repairs. During the scene, the actor sits in an operating chair, shirtless, while his battle damage is repaired. To fully integrate the CG into the live performance, part of the upper torso had to be re-constructed to make the relationship between the metal arm and the live flesh realistic.
“It was interesting crafting a seamless coupling between the CG and the practical elements of the Winter Soldier plate. We had to create a scarred portion of Winter Soldier’s chest that not only had to be perfectly photoreal, but also needed to remain interesting and not overly gruesome, while making sense mechanically,” said Pavel Pranevsky, Luma’s Santa Monica-based CG supervisor on the project. “The CG extension then had to have a smooth connection to the actor's body as his chest heaved and shook during the performance. It was a challenging piece of development to ensure the look and movement felt as natural as possible while preserving the dynamics of the actors movements.”
The close-up nature of many of these shots exposed much of the inner workings of The Winter Soldier’s bionics. The inspiration for the interior mechanics of the arm ranged from aircraft engines to surgical equipment, with Luma referring to clean and elegant mechanical designs, to ground the look the arm and make it believable.
“It’s always a lot of fun to collaborate with the team at Marvel on these projects. The design we landed on had to work within the Marvel Universe, the story timeline, be visually striking and be intricate enough to work with the initial concept designs,” said Founder and Executive Supervisor Payam Shohadai. “We pride ourselves in giving our clients the latitude to make adjustments throughout the show, as our pipeline is very modular, all things move in parallel.”