12 Avengers: Age of Ultron – Hulk and Ultron

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Back in London, as the production worked its way through the shooting schedule, filmmakers began to work on bringing Hulk and Ultron to life in the film.

“Andy Serkis has a company called The Imaginarium Studios, which is based in London,” says Jeremy Latcham. “They are a big, motion-capture studio and their whole goal is to advance the art of motion capture as a cinematic art, which is pretty incredible, and they’re doing such cutting-edge work. So we started collaborating with them to work with Mark Ruffalo and James Spader in order to create something new that goes a step beyond.”

“Andy Serkis has been performing and developing the technology of performance capture, which is a much more formative stage of technology,” says Joss Whedon. “It truly is performance driven now and Andy has been performing in that capacity seemingly from the beginning. He has been invaluable not only from the technical side of it, but also for the actors working on the film, he was tremendously helpful in terms of how to put what we do as an actor and sort of plug it into this character, which was incomprehensible to me at first.”

Mark Ruffalo explains how the new technology has changed the game for performing as The Hulk. “The difficulty with the technology on the first Avengers was that it was at a place where you could capture movement, but then you had to do all the facial recognition stuff separately and you couldn’t move your body when you’re acting, which for me is really prohibitive in trying to create a performance that is as physical as the Hulk,” explains Mark Ruffalo. “It really helps to have the body you’re informing and so I found that really frustrating the first time around. Although we were using the state-of- the-art technology last time, it was still kind of always on the fly and I found myself doing the Hulk-smashing-Loki scene in a corner of a paint shop literally in-between running from one set to another to do another scene.”

The actor continues, “So in that time this technology’s taken another major leap forward in the fact that you can actually do facial capture while they’re doing motion capture. So you have this integration of the body, the face and all the physical attributes. And it can get really nuanced and it is something that is as sacred and as worthy as anything we do on any set. I really find this to be an exciting new frontier for actors and performers. We’re no longer bound any way to our physical being.”

For Andy Serkis it is all in a day’s work. “Imaginarium is a digital character creation workshop using performance capture and one of things that we do is we consult and advise actors, directors and filmmakers in the creation of digital characters,” says Serkis. “Mark Ruffalo was very keen to come and work with us and find a way of bringing more of the performance capture into the film. The Hulk is a pretty high-octane character and it was a real challenge. He doesn’t muck around and it is a pretty feisty character to play.”

For visual effects supervisor Christopher Townsend the technology was a great asset to his team. “What we tried to do with Hulk in this film is really try to take him to the next level in terms of photorealism and I was really striving to get a character that the audience could really believe in and empathize with,” says Townsend. “With Mark’s performance and Joss’ direction, there are a lot more moments where we can really get in touch with his feelings and I think that’s really nice. In order to make that work you have to believe the character you’re seeing on screen.”

For James Spader as Ultron, the motion-capture experience was completely new and somewhat intimidating, but the talented actor stepped up and took on the challenge. “The first time I showed up at the studio to shoot with mo-cap, they put me in a suit and had me go through a range of motion exercise with different, very specific motions and movements, which they captured with sensors all over me and markings and everything else and these reference cameras all around me. Then they plugged it into this process on a computer and within 10 minutes the rough image of Ultron, the character I was playing, was on the monitor in front of me, and every move that I made was live- streaming as the character right in front of me. The next day I went and shot using all the process, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and was thrown by all of it, but it was exhilarating. It was great fun.”

Spader adds, “But when I came back a month later to shoot, I knew exactly what I was getting into and how not to just fit into the process but to be able to really incorporate what I wanted to do and how I could then serve Joss Whedon best in trying to bring this character to life.”

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