Marvel's Victoria Alonso On The Making Of A Blockbuster
Linda Romanello
June 27, 2018

Marvel's Victoria Alonso On The Making Of A Blockbuster

When CGW’s sister publication,  Post, last checked in with Victoria Alonso, producer and executive vice president of physical production at Marvel Studios, she was receiving the prestigious Visionary Award from the Visual Effects Society (VES) for her “enormous contributions to visual arts and filmed entertainment.” A year later, Alonso is sitting behind some of the biggest blockbuster films of 2017/2018, including  Thor: Ragnarok (grossing $853M worldwide),  Black Panther ($1.34B worldwide), this summer’s  Avengers: Infinity War ($1.96B worldwide) and looking toward the soon-to-be-released,  Ant-man and The Wasp. 
Here, Alonso speaks about some of the studio’s recent blockbusters, staying innovative and where the studio is going next.

Congratulations on the studio’s recent blockbusters — Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

“We’re trying to give the world the stories they want to see and hear, so we’re excited they’re being so well received.”

There certainly have been superhero movies over the years, but what do you think accounts for the huge level of success that Marvel films have been receiving?

“I think it’s a combination of things. People want to be entertained. They go to the theater and want to see our movies because they have humor as well as serious moments, and they have spectacle. But I also think they tap into the hero you wanted to be when you were little or the hero you strive to be sometimes on a daily basis. We tell superhero stories, but our superheroes are very human and also flawed. They struggle and I think when you have imperfections in your characters, people can relate to them. I think at some point in the journey, regardless of what movie you’re watching, you would relate to one of them and I think that seems to have hit a chord with the fans.”

Have any of the successes surprised you? Have any of the films performed better than you even expected?

“No, but I think ‘bigger’ is always a matter of who is measuring, right? We hope that these movies are made with an amazing amount of care, time, dedication and love. The numbers are always a welcoming place, it makes everyone happy when you have a success, but most importantly when it resonates. I think for us, we don’t concentrate always on, did it make one million or two million or how can we break that? I think that what we know or at least what we try every day is to tell a good story. And sometimes people like them better or less.”

In the new Avengers: Infinity War film, the entire movie was shot in IMAX — what went into that decision? 

“The Russo brothers wanted to do a movie in IMAX, and the movie is the biggest movie we’ve ever done, and I think that the format for IMAX is the biggest format there is, so it made total sense to do it that way. It was a wonderful experience — it was something they wanted to do and we invite our filmmakers to try new things and take new risks whether it’s in story or technology. This was something we talked about with IMAX a long time ago, and I think if you get a chance to see the movie in 3D IMAX, it’s a magnificent event. It’s a spectacle and an experience, and everything the theatrical experience embodies.”

What studio completed the 3D work on Avengers?

“Stereo D did the majority of the work, Legend 3D did some of the work and then if we’re doing the visual effects shots with a studio, we render some of the shots with them, too, so Weta Digital and Double Negative in London did some of the work themselves.” 

Any other innovative or cutting edge technologies used for the latest Avengers, Black Panther or Thor films?

“What we did with Avengers: Infinity War is pretty amazing. We used a facial capture technology that we developed called Medusa that can actually track so many points in your face and it can even just count the pores of your skin. I think that one of the greatest successes for us, is Thanos, the biggest, baddest, most anticipated villain, and he’s completely CG. So, we needed to take the amazing performance that Josh Brolin gave us and the dedication that he had for that character and translate it into a character — you had to be torn apart by what he was trying to do because if you just hate him, then it’s a one-sided event. You have to be, at times, completely on his side or completely against him. We have extreme close ups on him all the time. This is a character that we were supposed to have maybe 400 shots and we ended up doing 900. That’s a whole lot of villain that is not human. It’s truly a testament to the visual effects team, led by Dan DeLeeuw and Jen Underdahl, and the teams at Digital Domain and Weta that did Thanos. It was unbelievable what they created.”

Is there ever a point when a studio has reached its highest level of innovation or advancement?

“There should never be an end and we should never be complacent that the way we do it is the only way we do it. We should always try to do it differently and mix it up and use every technology that’s available. Whether it’s a forgotten technology that we want to revive or a new technology that is available and not tried or tested, I think it’s always important to break barriers and test the boundaries of technology. I always allow for that and I support it fully and I try to encourage it.”

There was a lot going on with the latest Avengers film — many characters, heavy visual effects — where do you even begin to plan a film of this scale?

“Well, [laughs] it’s a big puzzle. You know those 10,000-piece puzzles that your aunt used to have when you went for Christmas? That’s it. It just sits there and you look at it, and it’s overwhelming and you think, ‘How in God’s name am I going to do this?’ And you know, it’s one little piece at a time, you try to find whichever corner you can get an angle on and you go with it. It’s very difficult, the amount of schedules we have to work with for this film is unbelievable. It was a lot of back and forth. The story itself, we have a lot of things we had to try and do and say because everyone loves these characters and they all have to have their time on the screen. A lot of these actors, we shot for a whole year, because we did the two movies [Avengers 4] back to back, there were times where we thought, ‘Wow, how are we going to finish this?’ But you take it one bite at a time, and you keep on chewing, and eventually you finish it.”

Marvel has already experienced such huge success, what’s left to accomplish?

“I continue to see the studio taking risks in telling different stories. There will be some characters that get to have a sequel or a triquel or we will have characters that visit other franchises and we will have new ideas coming. We have consistently tried to stay fresh and do new things. If you look at our movies, although they have superheroes in them, they are quite different. As filmmakers, we make all these movies, and we want to have the variety. That’s why the variety in directors is so very different. If you look at the directors we hired, we never hired the same type of person. The one thing that has always been a constant, is that we have always hired great storytellers, in whatever medium they tell the story. And that’s the one thing that we treasure, is a good story.”

What do you think makes for a summer blockbuster? 

“If you could spend two hours of your summer, sitting in a theater and having a drink and popcorn and being entertained. If we can make you laugh, and at times, if you allow us, make you think and may I even say, shed a tear at times, if we can do one or all of those things, then I think we’re good. If we can do all of them, we hit the jackpot.”

Do you want to comment at all about the Time’s Up movement?

“I would comment on the fact that I think it’s important for men and women to speak up and to never let silence be what rings. We should all have a place at work that is a place of respect and a place where people can go to work and not have to worry about being harassed. I think it’s important to have people respect each other but also support each other. It’s very difficult to come out and say the things that need to be said. It takes a lot of courage for those women and some of the men who have come out. I applaud them for having raised their voices.” 

Anything you want to add about any of the Marvel films?

“We are forever grateful that people give us a chance to show our work. We have another movie coming out, Ant-man and the Wasp, and I think it’s going to be great holiday fun. It’s a very different movie, again, than what we’ve done in the past, and I encourage people to check it out.”