Captain Marvel VFX Breakdown

ILM, Animal Logic, Digital Domain, Framestore, ILM, Lola VFX, Luma Pictures, Scanline, Rise VFX, Rising Sun Pictures & Trixter Studio worked on Visual Effects for the movie. There are total 2124 VFX shots in the movie. Christopher Townsend lead as overall VFX Supervisor. 

Rise VFX worked on 60 shots for the movie. VFX Supervisor Oliver Schulz, supported by VFX Producer Monique Pollaehne, Compositing Supervisors Oliver Hohn and Benjamin Burr, CG Supervisor Alexander Schumann and another 60 artists put together scenes so gigantic that, instead of faking complexity, they animated an entire train ride through the designed city scape. To be more flexible in designing the shape language of the architecture, the team built a procedural detailing kit in Houdini that would automatically instance window blinds, antennas and balconies on façades to give the sense of scale.

TRIXTER contributed 280 shots to the recent release of CAPTAIN MARVEL, marking its tenth collaboration with Marvel Studios, at its Munich facility. Chris Townsend, the film’s overall VFX supervisor, engaged TRIXTER to deliver the CG cat Goose, one of Captain Marvel’s most compelling characters, along with some of the film’s early key space environments. VFX supervisor Dominik Zimmerle oversaw the team’s scope of work which included: The search for Mar-Vell’s spaceship in the Quad Jet, The battle aboard the Skrull ship and escape pod crash, Vers’ combat training sequence against Yon-Rogg, Captain Marvel’s weapons; energy building and intensifying through her hands and the subsequent Photon Blast, The CG cat Goose.

The primary challenge for TRIXTER was to blend the 70 CG digital Goose shots with real live action cat footage.“Although there were four cats on set all playing the same Goose role, and we received reference videos from the cat trainer, it was still hard to achieve seamless back to back CG takeovers of Goose,” explains VFX Supervisor Dominik Zimmerle. “We created Goose’s CG fur using Yeti It was important to match the fur texture and clumping patterns of Reggie (the main cat on set); his fur was more scruffed up on his back and his belly fur was longer and fluffier. Matching our CG fur to the real cat fur was a huge challenge, as was achieving the natural interaction between Samuel L. Jackson and the CG Goose. The team used the ZIVA muscle system to achieve the skin deformation, sliding and jiggling so Goose appears to move in a lithe, fluid and realistic way.

The largest sequence within TRIXTER’s body of work was the Mindfrack ship escape, which sees Vers battling to escape the  Skrulls and their ship. TRIXTER was responsible for the extensive damage to the ship throughout the battle, the energy effects from the Mindfrack machine and the ship’s core breaking. Carol’s photon powers and many other effects like the Skrulls’ shock stick weapons and the ships consoles (christened “dough balls” by the VFX crew) were also completed by TRIXTER.

Throughout the escape sequence, Carol’s efforts to break free of her cuff restraints increase, so TRIXTER had to ensure the gradual intensification of the energy building and glowing through her hands was consistently applied.  From the initial battle in the interrogation room, the fighting moves to the ship’s core, where the most dramatic battle damage takes place. The destruction of the ship was primarily created in Houdini and the FX team were meticulous in ensuring that the incremental damage was consistent with the action.

Another set of hero shots see Carol hanging onto the core of the ship, before blasting herself through a door into relative safety. Larson was filmed on set against blue screen hanging from a rig within a partial practical ship set. TRIXTER created the CG space environment for the sequence. In one of TRIXTER’s most challenging CG shots, the team replaced the practical set piece background wall with an animated continuously breaking one by adding debris and airflow to the foreground as well as several impact explosions from the debris hitting the energy core. 

Digidoubles of the Skrulls were created for some fight scenes along with additional Skrulls who are sucked out of the ship.  Compositing was integral to the success of the final sequence, from rig removal to paint work and the further removal of stunt rigs for the practical fighting.

Dominik was on set for the filming of the Mindfrack sequence, with Animation Director Simone Kraus present for several other sequences. “Although Marvel’s VFX production team coordinated on set photography, capturing HDRI, Lidars and texture photography, being on set ourselves was very helpful,” added Simone.  “Our primary role was to understand the scene set up, getting a full picture of the set and scope of the work to be expected.  This meant that our team back in Germany were prepared for exactly what had been shot and what they would be receiving, so that they could begin work as early as possible.”

Another notable aspect of TRIXTER’s work included Captain Marvel’s primary energy weapon, the Photon Blast. This was the first asset TRIXTER began working on even before principal photography began. Dominik and the team were responsible for developing a weapon style that had not been seen before in the MCU, the blast had to appear connected to Carol and its power wielded from within her. Marvel supplied TRIXTER with extensive still and moving image references. This combined with internal concept art, resulted in a finalised asset being developed and set up in Houdini, which was locked and shared with other vendors for use throughout the film.

Rising Sun Pictures produced nearly 300 visual effects shots for the movie. The studio executed a host of challenging visuals for the blockbuster production including a fully 3D subterranean aircraft hangar stuffed with military gear and fabricating a series of shimmering holograms.

Working under the supervision of Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, VFX Supervisors Chris Townsend and Additional VFX Supervisor Janelle Croshaw, and VFX Producer Damien Carr, RSP assembled a team of 100 artists and devoted nearly a year to the production. As one of several VFX vendors involved in the effort, the studio faced the twin challenges of meeting a very high bar for creativity and technical excellence, and coordinating its efforts with other vendors located around the globe. “Our task was to deliver shots that met Marvel Studios’ standards and were aligned with work ongoing at other studios,” says RSP VFX Supervisor Malte Sarnes. “On many shots, we were sharing assets with three or four other studios. It required good communication and careful planning, but it was fun to see how seamlessly it all came together.”

RSP’s most extensive contribution to the film centered on a massive military hangar built beneath a mountain. Appearing in more than 60 shots, the environment is mostly 3D and includes a long runway, giant hangar doors, support beams, scaffolds, aircraft, fuel tanks, armaments, assorted gear and technology. Rock walls that surround the hangar are also visible in many shots.

Working with Marvel Studios’ production team, RSP designed the facility to reflect state-of-the-art aircraft technology of the 1990s, applied on a larger scale. Sarnes and his team drew reference from real-world air facilities, underground bunkers and similar structures to make the 3D asset believable in terms of architecture, function and materials. “We studied how underground buildings are constructed, and what was necessary to support one,” Sarnes explains. “We looked at tunneling equipment used to shave away rock and what kind of marks they make. It was also important to show that the structure had a history and was built in phases over time. It was originally smaller and gradually extended. So, some parts of the hangar appear older and a bit dirtier than others.”

The interior of the hangar is filled with thousands of 3D props, each modeled and textured to look real and function naturally. “We built everything from ammo crates to complex maintenance machines,” notes CG Supervisor Noah Vice. “Adjoining the runway were individual hangar bays, each with work areas, fuel tanks and material caches. To make this incredibly complex environment feel real, we developed a light-instancing system that controlled 1,000 light sources. The key to making an environment this complex appear real is including the level of visual detail that we, as humans, are used to seeing. Anything less and the audience will reject it as artificial.”

The hangar appears in several sequences in the film, including a chase scene, and is viewed from varying perspectives, both close-up and wide-angle. The 3D model, therefore, had to be complete and fully detailed in all dimensions. “The biggest challenge was getting the scale right,” says 2D Lead Guido Wolter. “We determined that the set needed lots of high-frequency detail in the ceiling…straps, beams and lights. They were critical to achieving a proper sense of depth. They make the hangar appear huge.”

RSP was also responsible for several hologram effects that required a subtle treatment. In the film, holographic devices are used by Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) for two-way communication. According to Sarnes, although holographic technology of that sort obviously didn’t exist in the 1990s, the visual effect needed to be based on rational principles. “Chris Townsend wanted to have the holograms grounded in reality. He came up with the idea of building them from ferrofluid, a liquid that can be controlled and formed by magnetic fields. Even though it’s a hologram, it was important to have a believable tech behind all the projections,” Sarnes says. “Ferrofluid became our base. When it’s manipulated, it produces tiny spikes of light that shoot upwards to project any type of image.”

The studio’s 3D team created the specific holographic effects by using Houdini to simulate ferrofluid behavior. “It was quite challenging to maintain its physical basis while art directing it to do what we needed,” notes Vice. “For each hologram, we used match-move live action characters to generate the FX volumes and 3D particle passes and volumetric atmospherics to fill the room. Our look development and lighting departments rendered scores of 3D treatments on each character to drive a complex holographic comps. The beams and pixel treatments were handled in comp to keep things creatively agile.”

The creative partnership between the production team and RSP was paramount to ensure the Directors’ vision was reflected in the final product. This collaboration was of the utmost importance and it required considerable coordination behind the scenes. “The creative process was the priority when working with Chris and Janelle. The entire RSP team supported this seamlessly to ensure the highest quality work delivered in a timely fashion,” says RSP Producer Alexandra Daunt Watney, adding, “We have a great production team who pay attention to all the details.”

Framestore delivered 130 shots. Chris Townsend, the film’s overall VFX Supervisor, tasked Framestore with building the Kree’s sleekly-designed Helion spaceship as well as setting the scene for the alien planet Torfa, where the Kree warriors would battle their foes the Skrulls. Framestore’s talented team ensured the visual effects continuously supported the film’s character-driven narrative.

Key to the Kree’s initial encounter with the Skrulls in the film was the dark, daunting mood of Torfa. The planet is bathed in a curious half-light (which saw the team shoot during nighttime to have full control of lighting) and swaddled in a dense, murky CG fog. “This was our chance to really show the audience something alien and otherworldly,” explains Christian. “We wanted cinemagoers to live this moment with Brie and her team, to really feel like they were somewhere they’d never been or seen before.” The area was surrounded by mountains and the VFX team needed to identify the precise level of detail that would fit within the space, as well as the appropriate camera angles. “For the look of the sequence it definitely helped to capture the special effects on location within the plates,” says Christian. 

As the Kree make their grand underwater arrival, time suddenly slows down. From both an animation and simulation standpoint, it was challenging to apply the same physics to two different timescales within the same shot. Jumping from real-time to 500 times slower, all simulations from bubbles, costumes and Mohawks had to be accounted for in the slow-down before things reverted back to real-time. “That ‘bullet-time’ sequence was really fun to do,” says Christian. “It puts you to the test, because you have to balance creativity with pure science: how can we make this look awesome and photoreal, but also obey the rules of maths and physics?” The team came up with a way of implementing the slowed down animation into effects simulation in Houdini, guided by Brie’s subtly animated performance. 

For the Torfa environment surrounding the Temple, the team utilized an extensive amount of on-site photography from a quarry in California, as well as a drone photoscan of the set, which provided a geometry base to build from. These reference points were used as a basis for modelling, and procedural tools were utilized for set extensions. As with many things when it comes to a superhero movie, it quickly became apparent that bigger was definitely better. The Torfa landscape evolved, eventually spreading to four times its initial size. The team was also involved in animating characters and Skrulls with digital double takeovers, which were part of the main fight sequence.

Long after leaving Torfa, we see Danvers recognize her power and transition through a series of suits to find a fitting attire. From a fan-pleasing nod to the original white-and-green 70s costume design, Danvers’ suit is seamlessly replaced in CGI – with only her head, hair and hands kept from original  photography. To do so, Framestore’s team created an organic-grown simulation, multilayered with various hexagon sizes that crawl over her suit, which was matched onto a tight body track, faithfully replicating its original wrinkles and movement. She then reveals her classic red, blue and gold Captain Marvel suit. “It’s a subtle moment but a grand one”, says Christian. “In a way we feel like that sums the character up: effortlessly cool and yet extremely powerful.”