Munich-based Trixter Film was one of the many VFX vendors and shops, assembled – like the Avengers themselves – by overall VFX supervisor Chris Townsend for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Alessandro Cioffi was Trixter’s own supervisor, and says of Townsend, “he made fantastic work – conducting every vendor like parts of an orchestra.” And that “conducting” is likely get him to the finalists circle when this year’s VES and Oscar nominations are announced.
Of course, as the one who has to juggle so many sections of this particular orchestra, Townsend takes a different view: “We had 20 different visual effects companies (on this, compared to) 17 on Iron Man 3 – that was ridiculous. This was beyond ridiculous, really.”
Besides Trixter, other shops included Double Negative, Method, and many more. In particular, though, there was ILM, which Townsend described as “our main cornerstone renderer.” But just because they were a cornerstone, doesn’t mean they could rest on their laurels. Townsend challenged them to further conceptualize the Marvel characters they’d already worked on, while acknowledging their “terrific job in the first Avengers.”
“Even from that asset point of view – I wanted them to think outside the box. I talked to Ben Snow, who was their supervisor on this, and challenged Ben. I wanted you to go back and re-think Hulk. We knew what the character was – and now we had to perfect him. I wanted to get that sense that when you see his eyes, you look into his soul. They went back to bare bones, if you’ll excuse the pun; new muscle sim, new shaders, new textures, new hair pipeline.”
Since ILM had been living with iterations of The Hulk since Ang Lee’s still-debated screen version, the changes clearly benefitted everything that Mark Ruffalo, the latest to portray Hulk’s human alter ego, Bruce Banner, brought to the role.
But though ILM did upwards of a third of the shots, by Townsend’s reckoning, they were hardly the only piece to the band. Indeed, there were some new players altogether, like Andy Serkis’ mo-cap company, Imaginarium.
Serkis himself played Klaw, another Marvel nemesis – a physicist-turned-bad-guy. But his company helped with the physics of the mo-cap heavily used in the film, particularly by Ruffalo’s Hulk, and James Spader’s android-gone-wrong, Ultron. A mo-cap stage was set up at Shepperton Studios, where most of the filming was taking place, with guidance from Imaginarium
Being able to do greenscreen work next door to the physical sets helped smooth what was an arduous shoot. “Then Trixter took those mo-cap performances, which we shot on set,” Townsend said. “Even though there is no facial performance, you can see James Spader.”
And awards voters will also be able to see how well Townsend coordinated between so many post-houses. “One of my desires is always to share the information, and share the knowledge,” he emphasized, when talking of pipelines and assets.
Meanwhile, he’s in pre-production – perhaps with another veritable orchestra of vendors – as he busily preps the return of another Marvel super-team, in the second Guardians of the Galaxy.