Last week, we started our overview of the “vendor trail” on Captain America – that lattice work of post houses, each of which works on a particular scene or two (each of those often totaling the number of visual effects shots that whole productions had in the pre-digital era).
Visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend approached the film more as a WWII-era period piece, which “happened to have a superhero in it,” rather than a standard superhero fantasy. So much of the work was about recreating the feel, look and geographies of a time and place.
The color pipeline, as he notes, was “always a challenge,” indeed, getting everything to synch up visually, as work came in on QuickTime and DPX files made Townsend feel like he needed to “reinvent the wheel every time.”
Though sometimes, that meant landing wheels.
Sean Faden was the visual FX supervisor for Method Studios, which worked on a couple of sequences in the film – though one didn’t make the final cut, and must remain “unmentioned” until it makes an extended DVD cut.
But what they can talk about was the night flight through the Alps that Captain America takes, along with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwill) and Howard Stark (the Howard Hughes-like father of eventual “Iron Man,” Tony Stark). While Method was charged with creating some exterior logos, and explosions from enemy fire, their main task was to create the bumpiness of the plane flight from inside – as well as making it all look like a night flight, regardless of when and how scenes were actually filmed.
“We needed to make it feel like the airplane was approaching this mountain range,” he says, mentioning that one of the things they did was add an “Alpine ridge in the background, to tie in with the interior shots.”
Method also filled in flak and shell explosions, as well as rendering moonlight reflected on the plane’s polished aluminum. Then there was the question of the interiors, which were shot on a gimbal stage against a green screen and had a “floaty feel” to it. Some of the timing of camera moves had to be match that of the gimbal to reduce some of the “jarring bumps” which didn’t seem justified by the explosions in the distance.
They also needed to make a digital version of “Captain” actor Chris Evans – a pixel-made double of his jumps – with the aid of a digital parachute – when Red Skull’s hideout is reached.
One thing that helped, besides, of course, compositing with Nuke and Flame, and rendering with Maya and Houdini animation software was some “color World War II references of Kamikaze raids in the South Pacific.”
The rare footage helped with the director and VFX supervisor’s edict to “stay true to the war-era look of things.”
In fact, that became perhaps the over-arching visual precept, even extending to the title sequence, which runs at the end of the film. Rok!t studios animated the sequence, and despite the four-color look of the titles, there wasn’t as much of a nod to the original work of Captain America‘s creators – Jack Kirby and Joe Simon – as one might suspect.
“Our original concept,” Rok!t’s creative director Steve Viola says, “revolved around original propaganda design referencing both WWII propaganda and some Captain America imagery. But for the most part, we were going for a more contemporary style, and stayed away from the traditional comic book artwork. The final version of the title sequence was actually more about the period and the propaganda.”
Indeed, director Joe Johnston “wanted to preserve the original poster designs rather than creating new ones surrounding Captain America. He even helped pick out which posters to use.”
The posters themselves have a kind of comic book resonance, seen from a perspective of several decades on, but as Faden observed, mighty shields and super-soldier serum aside, they were trying to make something which felt “like a war movie – not a visual effects movie.”