Avengers: Age of Ultron

May 2015

Old friends re-unite to face a new enemy in the follow-up to the Marvel’s record-breaking Avengers film. Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye team-up with some new faces to tackle the fearsome Ultron, in a battle that could have huge consequences for the future of the Avengers.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron

Framestore delivered over 120 shots for the film, working on key sequences for Iron Man, Hawkeye and the new character, Vision. Having worked on previous Iron Man movies Framestore were able to use a raft of existing assets to inform the project.

Framestore were given the huge responsibility of creating Vision for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Created by Ultron using Stark technology, the character is a key character in the story, with his powers proving a match for any one of our heroes. Played by Paul Bettany, the character had to be built from scratch, with a ‘cradle’ housing the character as he’s developed. The team designed a light cage with a 3D blue-print, building up skeletal structures, muscle fibres and liquid matter to portray the different stages of Vision’s development. As he grows stronger, the liquid matter transitions into a biomechanical look, before the character is finally revealed in an epic birthing scene.

A full CG digital double of Vision was made, allowing the character to burst out of his cradle. Using the in-house Flesh and Flex tool, Framestore built fully simulated muscle and skin systems to depict Vision’s naked body, as well as the supercritical gas that drips off him as he makes his entrance. “We’d been developing this system for some time but this was the first show in which it was deployed” explained VFX Supervisor Nigel Denton-Howes. “Using this system we were able to make the character’s muscles tense in a somewhat inhuman way, which would have been much more difficult to do using regular software.” Dramatic explosions, dry ice simulations and smoke particles were also added to bring gravitas to the scene, with a complex compositing process pulling it all together.

Vision doesn’t stay naked for long, as he grows aspects of a suit and a unique cape. Bettany’s performance had initially been captured in a mo-cap suit which the team body tracked, allowing accurate movement matches in the CG shots. The team layered on different materials to the suit which add to the impression of the character as being ‘other-worldly’.

“The cape was a big part of Vision’s fully formed character” Nigel went on to say. “We were given the brief of creating something that would appear alien; a special type of cloth that would show constant movement of its own accord, moving between opaque and transparent at will.” Several specific layers were created for the cape, with multiple lighting sources used to suggest power pulsing and surging.

Framestore also worked on key Iron Man sequences drawing on existing assets and experience of dealing with the iconic suit from previous films. One of these main scenes features Iron Man flying into a bunker where he shatters glass, breaks stone pillars, and faces gun-fire. The crew developed custom 3D tools in Nuke to create dust, missile trails and other creative touches.

In the most challenging shot we see Tony Stark stepping out of the Iron Man suit and leaving it on sentry mode as he explores the bunker. The suit was created entirely in CG, with a complex rigging system adapted to move specific parts in tandem, as well as individually. “We were able to give ourselves an amazing amount of control over how the suit moved and opened up. We were quite specific with certain sections of the suit, with individual movements taking hours to perfect” said Denton-Howes.

Having created the CG suit, the team then had to composite in Downey Jr’s on set performance into the finished shot. The actor’s movements were quite broad so the crew needed to adjust his arms and body position so that he would appear to be walking out of the suit. Lighting and shadows were also added to the suit to believably place it in the scene, with a complex compositing process bringing all the work together in the final shot.

Tony Stark instructs the empty suit to scan the bunker; to create this effect Framestore utilised the LADAR data captured on set to create a 2D comp treatment of the room plan. This was then reinforced and refined in Nuke, with laser effects added to complete the shot.

Having been effectively brainwashed for much of the previous Avengers film, this time round Hawkeye is heavily involved in the fighting, receiving a traumatic rib cage injury for good measure. Framestore were responsible for creating the wound and the healing process conducted by Dr. Cho.

“In the plate footage there was just a hole in Jeremy Renner’s suit, which we filled in with a pretty grotesque matte painting” Nigel said. “We then created the regenerative, healing process seen back at lab - Dr. Cho’s technology is actually stolen by Ultron and used to create Vision later on in the film, so we made sure there were some visible similarities between the two”. Blending a mix of metallic and skin tone particles, the 3D department were able to create an organic spray to cover the wound. This was then built up and solidified by lasers, created in 2D, whilst different layers of matte painting were brought in to show the gradual healing process. Framestore were also responsible for the strapping and gauze on the wound, with the source footage featuring none of this.

A further scene Framestore tackled takes place in the massive complex that is essentially the Hub of the internet. Using a reference of the warehouse in Indiana Jones, the modelling department built up the small set captured from the base plate to create an endless network of computer servers, cables and electrical hardware. “It was important that the set didn’t look too clean or clinical - we wanted to created something that was awe-inspiring and interesting to look at, so lighting definitely played a big role in the sequence” added Nigel.

“Working with Marvel is always great fun - having worked with them a few times now I think they know that Framestore can deliver the quality they want. Being able to take on such an important character like Vision was really exciting for the whole team, and I think I speak for all of us when I say it would be a pleasure to work Marvel again!” summed up Nigel.

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