Motion Capture Technology
As the performers were developing the layers of their characters, the visual effects team was crafting the layers of effects that would be seamlessly blended with the actorsperformances to give “The Incredible Hulk” plausibility.
Perfecting the Hulks and the Abominations movements and creating a tool set of how each character moved proved to be an ongoing process. The direction of all scenes involving the Hulk and the Abomination was driven by the groundbreaking process that combines use of computer generation and motion capture (mo-cap), developed to astonishing results for Peter
Jacksons “The Lord of the Rings precious” character (and Liv Tylers former co-star),
Explains VFX supervisor Williams: Motion capture is a way to capture body movement digitally, so it can be transferred to a digital character. What it gives you is human nuances you wouldnt necessarily get from a drawn animated character. It is a key part of designing any action sequence.
Movement coach Terry Notary was brought in to provide the Hulks and the Abominations character and movement references for the digital masters at Rhythm & Hues. A veteran movement instructor with credits such as “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” “Planet of the Apes” and James Camerons upcoming epic “Avatar,” Notary got his start as a gymnast and member of Cirque du Soleils Mystre before branching out into film work.
Early in preproduction, Williams, Notary and Rhythm & Hues VFX animation supervisor Keith Roberts began the long and arduous process of creating and defining the characters movements and iconic positions, amassing a collection of more than 2,500 takes before they were finished. Their approach was not only to use the process to create motion for each shot with the Abomination and the Hulk, but to use mo-cap to define the differences in their movements and fighting techniques.
Offers Roberts: Motion capture today has evolved to the point where rendered times are very short; youre actually able to see the results in real time, so you can target a performance and see immediately if its the right dynamic. You have to be able to direct your motion-capture actors like you do your regular actorsright then and there. That interactivity is crucial to us, because even though the end result is a character that is
computer generated, there are human movements unique to each of them.
Working closely with Leterrier and drawing on the characters comic origins, Notary and Roberts came up with a basic template for movements for the Hulk and the Abomination. From the Hulks infamous thunderclap to the rapid lope of the Abomination, once the template was established, the team began the process of realizing the characters on-screen lives.
Wearing a specialized suit that enabled cameras to read and instantly transfer every angle and subtlety of his movement to two 40 monitors, Notary spent more than two months choreographing and refining the beats, hits and kicks that define the enemies.
Every movement and the driving force behind it was thoroughly explored. For his performances, Notary credits the comic books as his starting point for each character. “Its important to pay homage to the history of the characters, he explains. The Hulk has a very human quality to him; hes a heart-driven character. His movements are grounded and his physicality is very real. The Abomination, on the other hand, is a very mind-driven character. His mind is in charge, and the body just follows. He doesnt feel everything like The Hulk. The head leads all of his movements, and his body follows.
From the way they walk to the manner in which they turn their heads to react to stimuli, the Hulk and the Abomination share nothing, save their gamma-irradiated blood.
Everything from the differences in their skeletal structures to the manner with which they regard humans was explored. The Abomination whips his head about to react, while the Hulk has a much slower, contemplative, childlike sensibility.
One of the things we got out of the motion-capture stage with Terry and Keith is to come up with distinguishing movements, offers Williams. For instance, the Hulk has very rounded movements, and hes also a very defensive character. If you were to push Hulk, he might step back for a second, then hell come back at you. Whereas, if you push Abomination, hes not going to move much; hes right in your face again. So, we created these moves where Abomination can land on his back, do a quick tip up, and hes right back into the action, whereas Hulk rolls over, jumps up, then walks back toward the fight again.
Both Norton and Roth were integrated into their characters with cyber scanning through a process known as Movapainting them with infrared paint, then shooting the actors with 37 infrared cameras to capture their facial performances. Leterrier elaborates on the rationale: This way, you get a performance reference. We also shot HD reference of their faces, all the film we could get.
Integrating Two Worlds
No one knows better than Leterrier the obstacles that may come when making a film seamless for audience members. He relates: A well accomplished visual effects movie is a mixed bag of tricks. You need to fool the audience, because our eyes get used to CG; you can really recognize the CG elements. If you can mix it with prosthetics, real people, body doubles, and cut around all these elements to make it seamless, the audience wont know what came their way.
One of the biggest challenges when working with visual effects and CG characters is that of physical production. Of course, the Hulk doesnt just share screen time alongside the main actors in the film; he interacts with and acts opposite them. As one of the biggest stars of “The Incredible Hulk” would never actually appear on set, however, it was up to the visual effects team to construct proxies to represent him.
Explains Williams: Once the movement of the characters has been defined by motion capture, the next challenge was cuing in our actors so they are able to understand how big the characters are, how they move and how quickly they move. Its hard for people to fully understand whats happening when you shoot scenes with CG characters, because they dont see the creatures in front of them. Its tough to imagine the scale and the nuances of their movement.
The visual effects department relied on a number of visual aids to better provide Leterrier, the actors and crew an understanding of the Hulks and the Abominations on-screen motions. As every major scene was storyboarded, then computer animated through the process of pre-visualization (pre-vis), Williams was able to show the cast and crew animated images of The Hulk acting in scenes.
But the pre-vis didnt solve the issue of the actors and cinematographer Peter Menzies camera team needing exact eyeline references. There was no one solution we could use, admits Williams. We came up with a lot of different stand-ins for The Hulk over the course of production; it depended on the scene and the shooting environment. We did everything from putting Terry on stilts and using tennis balls on a telescoping pole to using cutouts of the Hulks face with LED lights in itwhatever made the actors comfortable, whatever made people
look in the right direction.
Challenges of Integration
Two of the performers with the toughest challenges in the integration were Liv Tyler and Edward Norton. As Betty Ross, Tyler was often reacting to Norton as the Hulk, sometimes as he stood on a box for her. We would talk out the scenes in advance, and I would try to give her a sense of what was happening, says Norton. Its all very collaborative, me and Louis and Terrythe guy holding the dummy head. You had to
work together to make sure Liv knew exactly what we were imagining was happening on the other side of the scene. We tried to be as specific as possible about what she was interacting with. I think it went off really well, and she did beautifully.
For her part, Tyler was up for the challenge, even if she didnt know what to expect for the next a.m. call time. Over the course of the shoot, weve come up with all these different ways of my interacting with The Hulk, she laughs. Originally, I was going to be being carried by an actual mechanical arm. Then, at one point, it was going to be a huge man, and then the team came up with this brilliant idea of having two guysbecause The Hulks width is rather large. To add extra realism, Leterrier would ask the weapons adviser to shoot blanks in the air, just to get Tyler, along with Hurt, to
react to their co-star.
Tim Blake Nelson sums up the way much of the cast felt: Its difficult to act against a big green sheet with an enormous, bulbous, expressionless plastic green approximation of a human form with eyes on top of it (what Leterrier affectionately called The Hulkinator.) But, you know, a lot of what we do as movie actors is extremely silly. We have intense conversations or love scenesor were mourning someones death in close-upand then there are lights all over the place, and this camera on a sled is moving at usits all so unreal. So, acting opposite someone like the Hulk, who isnt really there, is par for the course.
Prosthetics and Makeup
Prosthetics and makeup also played their part in blending the comic world of the movie with the practical and CG. Having stepped into the Marvel
universe, Hurt wanted his character to look as if he had walked off the page of one of the
original comic books, menacing to Bruce Banner and anyone who crossed his path. To that end, he endured hours at a time in the makeup chair. In every one of the iterations of the comic book, theres a theme to Ross look, says Hurt of his character. Hes got the silver hair, the silver stache, the big eyebrows and all the rest of it. Hes a bold statement, and we made the decision to play him that way.
Hurt embraced the character, and on his first day on the set, he was unrecognizable. When William stepped out of the makeup trailer that first day, we all did a double take, recalls Hurd. It was as if William had disappeared and Thunderbolt Ross had taken his place. It really mattered to William that he portray General Ross in a way that fulfilled the vision of the character that the fans have. He had a whole dossier on the character he had created with the help of his son, who is probably one of the
biggest Marvel fans on the planet. He was determined to get it right.