VES 2003 ILM Hulk Presentation

Tuesday, July 1 2003

The Visual Effects Society held their 5th annual Festival of Visual Effects this weekend in Los Angeles. Saturday's session featured a presentation at 5 pm by f/x and animation supervisors from The Hulk. A screening of The Hulk followed at 9 pm. Both events were sold out. This review contains spoilers.

On hand from ILM were Christopher Townsend, Sequence Supervisor for The Hulk, and Jamy Wheless, an animator on The Hulk. The presentation began with a 3 minute video montage of the CGI Hulk. This was the same montage that was shown at the press junket earlier this month. The montage shows the various stages of the Hulk animation and is a joy to watch. Hopefully, this montage will be included on the DVD release of the film.

The presentation was loosely divided into 9 sections and then a question and answer period. The first slide read inspiration. The two talked about how they drew their inspiration from the 40 years of comic book reference. They created a “Hulk Book” which had various comic book Hulk poses on a page corresponding to word. For example, Transform, Attack Hands, Leap and Land, Rage and Anger were all represented. These last two were taken directly from Dale Keown’s Hulk: The End. The pages had Hulks by artists Kirby, Buscema, Bryne and Keown.

3 maquettes were created to represent the Hulk at his various heights throughout the film (9, 12, and 15 ft). These maquettes were 12 to 18 inches in height and were scanned into the computer and the muscle groups refined. A bust of the Hulk was also created. This bust was cast in green silicone and was used on set for lighting references.

At fist, the Hulk was designed to look like an Eric Bana Hulk. They ended up scraping that idea, going for a more comic book Hull look instead. They kept Eric’s eyes in the Hulk however, which is why the CGI Hulk resembles Eric Bana quite a bit.

The biggest barrier to the Hulk’s believability was his color. At first, the Hulk was more of a day glow neon green than he actually ended up being. The animators tried to get as much of his environment on him as possible in order to subdue this green, which was quite distracting.

A lot of work was put into sculpting all of the muscles after the Hulk was scanned into the computer. They continually worked on tweaking the muscles to make the Hulk more believable. Although he was not human per say, he was a humanoid shape, and as such the audience would be able to tell if the anatomy was off. They created a jiggle program to animate the pecs and other muscles independently as the Hulk moved.

They wanted nothing automatic or choreographed with the Hulk. The inspiration for the Hulk’s gait came from an athlete hired to do some tests for ILM. The guy was not told that it was for the Hulk, his only direction was to walk on the treadmill pissed off, as if his girlfriend had just cheated on him. His guy did a great job and gave the Hulk the attitude that they were looking for. This guy was also the model for the Hulk’s jumps. Ang kept stressing the Hulk was the size of an elephant, but had the speed of a cheetah. So they kept looking at athletes for inspiration for the Hulk’s movements.

They also talked about the Hulk’s hair, and joked that that the Hulk had his own hairstylist on set. The Hulk had three different hair types; wet, slick and dry. In order to achieve believability with the hair, advanced programs were used to animate clumps of the Hulk’s hair differently from other clumps. This gave it a real wind blown effect. They also spoke how originally, the Hulk was much more hairy, but both Ang and Marvel decided that it was too much. As a result hair only appears in the face, arms and chest. Similarly, early tests had the Hulk too greasy or sweaty. So they ended up having taking it down a bit as well.

Most of the attention went into the Hulk’s eyes. If the eyes looked faked, the rest wouldn’t matter. All humans have six basic expressions, sadness, joy, disgust, anger, fear, and surprise. They decided that early on that the Hulk would not show joy, so the Hulk only had five expressions. All of his facial movements could be derived from these basic five.

The litmus test came when they tried to get the Hulk to perform as convincingly as Jennifer Connelly. The scene in question takes place in SF right after Bruce and Betty embrace. Bruce responds “yes I was“ (hard to find) and then Betty looses it. Her face wells up with a great amount of sadness. It’s a very emotional scene. Anyway, they broke down that scene to 7 basic movements and mapped them on to the Hulk, lip quiver and all. It looked great. Everyone at ILM was ecstatic, and Denis Murem was especially pleased. When they showed to it Ang in the dailies however, his response was, “That’s it?” One of his comments was that the Hulk was way to green.

This really took the animators out of their comfort zone, which is what Ang is known for doing in order to get the best out of his actors. Looking back, the animators thought that it was good for Ang to have done this, because it made them work even harder to get a more realistic Hulk. To prove a point however, they then showed a green Jennifer Connelly acting the same scene. The bright green pigment kept Jennifer from looking “real” or convincing. They also then jokingly made the comment that Ang is the one that was adamant about the day glow green. The animators wanted to use a more subdued green, and even had tests done with an iridescent blue/green., like from a beetle. But Ang kept sticking to guns and said simply, I like green.

They next talked about the Hulk’s performance and how it was not so much acting as reacting. Everyone helped out with his performance, from Ang to the animators. They were very appreciative of Ang getting into the motion capture suit and acting out the Hulk parts. The animators felt that it was a very collaborative experience, and that Ang was always looking for feedback. They went into detail about one scene in particular. They showed Ang take a baseball bat and smash the crap out of a cardboard tank. After he he’s done with the tank, he then rolls up one sleeve and then double pumps the bat into his fist. The animators kept telling him, the Hulk has no sleeves to roll up, but Ang just said that’s what you do when you’re mad. They then showed the finished scene with the Hulk, complete with the sleeve roll (yes, that’s what he’s doing!) and it looked great. It was one of my favorite scenes from the film.

Something that movie goers may take for granted is the physical effects in the film. A lot of thought and timing went into the Hulk destroying the lab at Berkeley. The physical effects had to be timed just right for it to look like the digital Hulk was causing all of the havoc. In one scene, when the Hulk breaks out of Banner’s lab and into the room with the Gamma Sphere, they had to a little creative re-arranging. The scene was originally shot without the glass panes; they were supposed to be added in digitally later. But a problem presented itself. When the Hulk is causing havoc in the lab, a cloud of smoke is formed which travels to the room with the Gamma Sphere. The Hulk does not jump through the window pane until a few seconds after, but by this time the smoke had already traveled into the Gamma Sphere room. So a cloud of smoke was shown traveling through the glass! To correct the problem, they had the Hulk nock something down which causes the glass to break early, which accounts for the smoke in the Gamma Sphere room early. Look for it in the film. The glass first breaks on the lower left hand corner of the screen.

They next talked about the transformation scenes and how they really wanted to show the audience everything. The transformations were all done in “broad daylight” with no cut aways. The transformation in SF was particularly tricky, because they had to go from the 15 foot Hulk back to Banner. They used excessive perspiration to account for the Hulk’s loss in mass.

The last thing they talked about was putting The Hulk in the desert environment, and how hard it was to reinforce that the Hulk was 15 ft tall. Something’s they did to accomplish this was lower the camera line and making the swirls of sand closer to the lower part of his body. A lot of thought went into the tank throw. By their estimates, the hulk was 15 feet tall and weighed two tons. They preformed many tests of the Hulk running into an Abrams tank. At the speed in which he was originally running (because it was a digital environment they could track these things) he wouldn’t have done a thing to the tank. Other tests had him knowing the tank over like a cardboard box. What Ang wanted, which was for the tank to tip up and then fall down, was not physically possible. So they used comic book physics for that scene.

They ended the presentation by reiterating what a great experience it was to work with Ang. It was obvious that everyone that was involved with the film gave it their all, and it showed in the final product.

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