Thanos visual effects

Update: This piece has been updated in an attempt to clarify the work done by Digital Domain and Weta Digital. You can find out more below, and our original article follows.

13 visual effects vendors collaborated to make 18 digital characters for Avengers: Infinity War, and Josh Brolin‘s villainous Thanos is the most important of them all. The entire movie hinges on that performance, and if you don’t buy him as a living, breathing character, Marvel would have had their own Steppenwolf problem to deal with. Thankfully, Thanos ended up being one of the best CGI villains in cinema history – thanks in large part to the hard-working team at VFX company Digital Domain.

To promote the superhero sequel’s home video release, /Film was invited to take a tour of the company’s L.A. facility and learn the steps they took to bring the Mad Titan to life. I brought a couple of cameras along and put together an in-depth video about how the Thanos visual effects were created and incorporated into the movie.

This goes far beyond those videos that simply show a scene with one VFX layer at a time added into the final version. This is detailed stuff, and I hope you check it out below.

Thanos Visual Effects Video

Update: The footage we used in this video was sent to us by Disney, and while the bulk of this piece focuses on the work that Digital Domain did on creating Thanos, we didn’t realize that some of the footage also included work done by Weta Digital.

Weta was responsible for everything that took place on Titan in the last third of the film. In the video above, there are three moments that are specifically Weta’s work and breakdowns, and you can find them at the 1:153:12 and 10:22 marks. Apologies to the hard-working team at Weta for the unintentional oversight.

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The “Wizard Battle” Was Inspired By A Boris Karloff Movie

Dan Deleeuw, the film’s visual effects supervisor, told us how the inspiration for the fight between Thanos and Doctor Strange came from an unexpected source:

“For something like Titan, Thanos’s home world, we made that entire sequence on the computer before we shot it. Our first version was about forty minutes long. We cut that down to about twenty minutes, and then we expanded it back out again. One of the pieces in that sequence is the wizard’s duel with Thanos, which was done by Weta in New Zealand. It’s something Joe Russo always wanted to do. He always wanted to have the wizard’s duel in the movie.

And he went back to this movie called The Raven, which is a Boris Karloff movie and Vincent Price movie, and it’s obscure, but being the nerds that we are, we all knew what that movie was. It’s something you remember being very great. But you go back and look at it, and nostalgically, it’s great, but it’s not where you want it to be. But it was basically shared inspiration that could carry us through pre-vis and understand what the director’s vision is.”

Infinity War behind the scenes

They Had To Get Creative With Matching Everyone’s Eye Lines

Thanos being so much larger than many of the other characters in the film proved to be a challenge on the set. Deleeuw explained:

“A lot of times, mo-cap can happen in a volume separately on set. But it was important to us to actually make the motion capture volume actually on the sets, so we could have Josh on set with Zoe Saldana, so when the actors are acting opposite each other, they can actually respond to each other’s performance. Beyond that, it was something where, a lot of times you’ll see, in the behind the scenes footage, he’ll have a backpack on and this giant pole of his head walking around, which is the silliest thing imaginable.

But what happens is, the actors aren’t looking into his eyes. It’s a natural thing to do. They would lower and start looking at Josh’s eyes, but Thanos is actually this tall, and they need to be looking at the stick. It doesn’t really help with the performance. So what we did is we built decks on the set to lift Josh up, and now suddenly he’s the right size. So now Zoe is looking into Josh’s eyes, and Josh was there with Zoe. It’s this strange thing that evolved out of that where you have that great interaction between the actors, but you also have Josh as this really imposing character on set towering over them.”

Infinity War BTS - Thor Thanos

Thanos Sometimes Looked Like A Linebacker On Set

“When characters would interact with Thanos, Josh would wear this over-sized Thanos bust. Imagine football pads applied with pillows and a big grey sheet over the top of it, and Josh’s little arm sticking out the side, with his head, sitting on the set acting with Robert Downey Jr. and everybody else kind of making fun of him a little bit and he’s just staring back at them like it doesn’t bother him at all. That way, it let people touch him. He’s this over-sized, big character, so when Mantis would sit on his shoulders, or people would have to grab him, then their hands, instead of grabbing Josh’s chest, they’d reach out and touch something that’s solid.”

Avengers Infinity War Blu-Ray - Thanos

The VFX Actually Changed The Film’s Story

In the video, I asked the team about how much of the movie was created in pre-visualization sequences beforehand. But I also learned that VFX don’t just impact the action scenes – in this case, they drastically altered the shape of the whole movie:

“Early on, we knew the importance of Thanos to the movie. It was something we had to crack. We’d seen him before, he’d done limited lines of dialogue, but he’d never really carried a performance. It was something we knew we had to solve early on, or the movie wouldn’t work. The entire movie was riding on this one character, and in terms of screen time, he ended up amassing a large amount of screen time. Depending on how well we did it, that [determined] how much we were going to use him.

What Digital Domain did with their first test is show the studio that yeah, this is going to work. And what happened is, people got so excited about it that Thanos’s part kept growing and growing and growing. So that the movie itself with a lot of superheroes in it suddenly became a movie about a father and his daughter. It changed the tone of the film.”

avengers 4

There Are Over 2,600 VFX Shots in The Movie

Digital Domain had over 350 people work on the film for over two years, and that company alone worked on about 500 shots in the film. But to give us an idea of the gigantic scope of the project, Deleeuw broke down just how many of the film’s shots required visual effects:

“There were 2,703 shots, or cuts, in the film, and we worked on 2,623 of those. So there’s only 80 shots in the film that we didn’t touch. When we looked at the breakdown of the film, we would actually cheer when we had a shot that didn’t have any effects in it (laughs).”

That means a staggering 97% of the movie required VFX, which is the highest percentage I’ve ever heard of for a live-action movie. Whoa.

Avengers: Infinity War is available now on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD.

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