The Hulk Press Junket: ILM Presentation

Tuesday, June 10 2003

At the Hulk press junket that took place last weekend, ILM was on hand to give a presentation of how the Hulk was created. The presentation lasted approximately 25 minutes and began with a 3 minute video montage of the CGI Hulk.

This video montage was really cool and showed various stages of the Hulk animation. The montage also featured a catchy flamenco guitar as the soundtrack. Hopefully, this video can be included on the DVD release of the film.

After the video was over, the three guys from ILM (Glen McIntosh, Wilson Tang and Michael D) continued with the presentation while the monitors continued to show images. Afterwards they answered questions from the audience. Below is transcript from the presentation, edited for clarity.

My name is Glenn McIntosh, the animation supervisor, and I’d like to thank you all very much for coming this morning and giving us the opportunity to show you what we’ve been up to for the past year of our lives. The challenge to bring this iconic pop culture figure that has existed in the public conscience for over 40 years was daunting to say the least. But from an animation point of view, there had been a lot of research and reference, and that began with the comic book, making sure that we were respectful of the original source material created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

If you notice, we made sure we referenced the comic book and all of the artists who worked on it over the 40 years (images were flashed of the Hulk in these poses: Punch, Attack, Transform, Strain, and my favorite, Keown). And one of the things that we were most concerned about was making sure that we nailed the subtlety of human expression. As human beings, we sort of take it for granted, we see each other every day, we know what we look like, but as artists all of that had to be broken down and deciphered. Those images earlier (6 images of the Hulk’s face showing different expressions) were taken from Gary Faigin’s book The Artists Complete Guide to Facial Expression. There are six basic expressions that he presents that we put the Hulk through and then from those six (sadness, joy, disgust, anger, fear, surprise) we build all the various other subtleties that will go into the performance of this synthetic actor that we created. But that’s just the face, there’s a body as well, and now Wilson Tang is going to discuss that.

I guess when we started a couple of years ago and Ang came by, he really wanted to push the boundaries of the American cartoon, and we weren’t quite sure what he was talking about, but over the last two years, we got a better and better sense about it. A big part of it is the idea of muscle performance. And what you see here, you won’t know that the Hulk really isn’t doing what he’s doing. So he really pushed us to create a new kind of body language. It was painstaking work. It’s really taking the character and putting him through the paces, sculpting every single joint, every single position, sometimes it’s even what does the muscle look like when it’s tense? What does it look like when it’s relaxed? What do the bones look like? This is really important because it lets you see, it’s really the only way that you can communicate what the generic set of feelings and emotions that you can hope are to the audience.

You know a lot of times when people think of us, we’re computer graphics, well you know, the truth is actually that a lot of it is painstaking sculpted work. For example on the Hulk it would take over a thousand, I mean we had a team of around 10 sculptors sculpting just the body. Often time we would take a team of animators and just draw over it, just like traditional cell animation, just really refine everything, you know, where do the veins pop up, when do the veins appear, when does the clavicle jut out? You know this (the transformation) is a really painful process. Michael?

You might have noticed in the montage there’s a section that showed you the layers of skin. There were many layers that went into creating the Hulk’s skin. We started at a very fine level, right down to the pores, and create all the pores on the skin and the follicles and the stubble, and then we worried about of course the eyes, the wetness of the eyes, and the teeth, and the translucency of the skin, and how we see the veins through his skin, and then we worry about things like sweat on his body, where he is sweatier in some places than in others, and then finally we get dirt on his skin. We tried to get him as dirty as we could, to get him, to marry him into his environment by getting his environment all over him basically. Nothing in computer graphics is free. If you want a scar you don’t just push the scar button. You have to make the scar, you have to animate the scar, you have to make the scar do what you want it to do.

So we’ll begin with this shot breakdown, this is the final shot as seen in the film minus the sound of course (they showed us the Hulk breaking out onto the streets of SF) but the process involved here, you can see the empty plate, this is the pretty much the same for every single shot in the movie, the idea of blurring the background in, and that’s Ang Lee, he’s great, he was willing to anything in order to give the animators as much reference that they needed and the interactivity with his world. The final animation changes slightly, but that’s the backbone where we started.

To marry him into his world again, a bunch of the live action elements were added, the smoke, water, and dust, and we also added 3D computer generated debris and rocks and cracking all in an effort to get him married into that world.

What you can see here is obviously the first pass of computer simulation of the pavement cracking open. As you see the next pass, you’ll see, you know, cables from the street kind of wrapping around his body and he brushes it off. I mean the interesting thing about Ang is that he really wanted to use every single element of this extremely realistic looking movie to emphasize the drama of the moment. So we had to really create a tool set, a play set for him so that he could control the timing of those cables, every single piece of asphalt, everything around him and orchestrate it to a make a moment that much more dramatic. Nothing is just computer graphics, everything is to add to the moment, and here we the final result again (completed animation of the Hulk breaking up through the ground).

Here’s another shot of the movie where Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk in his house. For some of the shots in the movie, it’s a common element to have a background, a background plate, where you are going to put your creature in, and it happens now and then that the director can’t really guess ahead of time where the synthetic actor is going to be, where we’re going to put Hulk and exactly what his performance is going to be, so for this shot we replicated the set on computer giving him a virtual set allowing Ang to reposition the camera as he felt necessary to get across the process of the shot. We did this on a few other shots as well.

Very early on in the production, when Ang came to ILM, he addressed all of the artists in the main theatre at ILM to impart his ideas on film and filmmaking and Ang sees film as art, not just the finished product of the movie as a whole, not just the shots that make up the movie, but the frames within the shot. In order to get the graphic and dynamic composition that he wanted he was willing to get in front of the camera like this (images of Ang “Hulking Out”) for us and act things out for us and make sure it was the performance that he wanted. He saw it as 24 opportunities every second to create something beautiful and you know, it’s a very high standard, but it’s the standard that he set for us. And you’ll also see other animators incorporate ideas (images of animators “Hulking Out”) and we would get these in front of Ang say what do you think? It was a painful process (the transformation), what’s that going to look like? There was a lot of back and forth to give him exactly what he wanted.

Right from the beginning we identified some shots as hero shots to showcase our synthetic actor and obviously this one that shows him transform is one of the hero shots because, Ang didn’t want to cheat the audience, he told us that from the beginning, And we knew that we had to go from Eric Bana to the Hulk and you never quite get to see that in the TV show. So a lot of R & D effort went into making this transformation a showcase on the screen. Again we start with first pass animation and we use traditional techniques, drawing on our anatomy training, draw over it, highlight the details, when the rib cage appears, when the tendons start rippling, it’s kind of like micro animation, and it’s really important. We all know what the human body should look like and without those details the audience might not miss them but they’ll know that it just looks fake. Clothing is another aspect of this whole idea of Ang's playground. We did a lot of clothing for other shows, but we never really pushed it to this extreme. Because we’re giving him and Dennis Muren, our visual effects supervisor, complete control over when the clothing rips, how it rips, the shape that it rips, because again it’s just another way for Ang to play up the drama of the moment. And without the clothing it would really be hard to see him scale up, you know without the clothing it would just seem like he was bloating up like the Michelin Man or something. Color change is another thing. We ultimately had to go from a Caucasian color to a green color and so we brought some ideas to Ang and Ang really liked the idea that rather than just being absorbed with color, we bring in some of these natural patterns,

So you’ll notice the shot (Bana transforming), you’ll see it pouring on like a river, which kind of reiterates the natural themes of the film.

In terms of attention to detail, which is what we’re pretty much known for, the cloth ripping, we made sure that when the cloth did tear wherever it was tearing we made sure that those edges were tattered and never straight and smooth and we got them fuzzy and tattered cloth looking. Other things that we do to try and really make him look like he’s in the scene, I mean this shot you’ll see coming up in a couple of takes there’s a candle stick that when he pounds on the floor, the candle stick falls off the mantle. We do things like that at the last minute entirely, like when he’s beating the heck out if the tank there’s debris and water containers flying all over the place and when he takes down a camache helicopter we make sure blades break off and they kick up tons of dirt and glass, all this in an effort to really make the Hulk get into his environment.

As artists at ILM we get the opportunity to work with really interesting directors on a lot of really interesting projects but I think that over the past year we have been really spoiled in that not only have we had a chance to work with Ang, a true auteur, but we also had a chance to work with Dennis Muren. If anyone can lay claim to the title of father of modern visual effects, it would be Dennis. He won 8 Academy Awards, so working with both of them has been a dream come true. But what’s most interesting about Ang is that and what is sort of unprecedented from other directors that I’ve worked with, is that he picked up his life from New York and moved to the Bay Area so that he could be with us every day. And every day he was in animation dailies working with the director of Animation Collin Brady and working Dennis Muren, the visual effects supervisor, and Wilson, and Myself and Michael all the artists to ensure that it was the performance that he wanted to hopefully not only meet people’s expectations, but hopefully exceed them as far as his ideas of what a comic book movie can be and what a summer blockbuster can be. Thank You

Below are some images from the presentation. Click on the thumbnail for the full size image.

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