With a 'snap,' Weta Digital helps brings closure to both Josh Brolin’s seemingly unstoppable villain and the foundational storyline from the MCU’s first 10 years.
‘Avengers: Endgame.’ All images © 2019 Marvel Studios.
For Marvel’s smash superhero adventure, Avengers: Endgame, the harrowing story picks up where we left off with last year’s opening salvo in the Avenger’s two-part MCU climax, Avengers: Infinity War: Thanos, played to perfection by Josh Brolin, brings the entire universe to its knees, wiping out half of all life with the snap of his fingers. In Endgame, the Avengers manage to regroup and fight back, ultimately prevailing against their most insidious foe, but at a terrible, gut-wrenching cost.
The responsibility for translating Josh Brolin’s performance capture into the fully digital Thanos once again fell on Weta Digital, along with Digital Domain, as it had for Infinity War. “We were happy with the way he turned out for Infinity War and were thrilled to have a chance to work with him again on Endgame,” Weta Digital VFX supervisor Matt Aitken shares. “We always find ways to improve.
There were a couple of shortcomings with his facial rig, particularly around the corner of the mouth, where we couldn’t completely achieve the range of expression we wanted. We took the opportunity to get our facial modelers to work out how to increase the range of expression there. We also had this new tool called Deep Shape, which allows us to add more fine details to the facial performance. I like to think of it as another fine octave of detail in the face shapes. You think of facial animation taking Thanos’ face from one expression to the next, but we’re not changing the shape of the face in either of those two endpoints. There’s an intermediate phase where we are looking at the tissue as it moves from one place to the next. Not something you would necessarily recognize consciously, but it adds a more natural range of details to Thanos’ face shape and in doing so, adds to the believability of him as a character.”
The film features a younger version of Thanos, which had to be reflected in the fight choreography. “The work of our animation team on this show was incredible,” Aitken remarks. “Sometimes Josh Brolin and often times a stunt performer plays Thanos in specific fight sequences. Thanos is massive… eight feet tall, and we have to craft that scale and power out of the performance of a five foot six or six-foot performer. There’s a keyframe animation component to all of the fighting, be it with Thanos or the digital doubles of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. There are digital doubles involved with their fight from beat to beat throughout. Thanos is four years younger than in Infinity War because he has come forth from the past. We didn’t de-age his face but reflected that increased power and ability in his performance. He’s wearing armour, so in a way you would think that would constrain his performance. But, we were mindful of the fact that would be a terrible thing to do. The armour as designed so he couldn’t even lift his arms away from his sides. We were doing a lot of things behind the scenes to make his armor appear to be rigid but allow Thanos the full range of movement.”
We have a fine tradition at Weta Digital with Iron Man going all the way back to The Avengers where we got him, Cap and Thor meeting for the first time and fighting with each other before they get on speaking terms,” Aitken reflects. “Now we have the three of them walking up together to face Thanos, which bookends our involvement with Iron Man quite nicely. In Infinity War, Iron Man had the bleeding edge nanotech suit that could reform itself and form weapons. The Mark 85 suit in Endgame has retained that bleeding edge nanotech, but has more of a dull solid plated steel look that harkens back to some of the early suits.” Aitken goes on to describe how it was important to retain a sense of flexibility without making the armor suit appear to be rubbery. “We allocate a lot of the stretch to the grey areas and preserve the shape of the red and gold areas that will read more prominently. That fools the eye into thinking the suit is solid and rigid even while at the same time allowing Iron Man to be fully flexible in his performance. That was crucial when towards the end of the fight scene it comes down to Iron Man and Thanos.”