Feature: Behind the Scenes of The Incredible Hulk
Mon, 27 Oct 2008 11:02:54
Edward Norton Videos
At Rhythm & Hues Studios, magic is real. It's not so much wand waving as it is deft digital artistry. The visual effects house is one of the premiere establishments of its kind in the business. Rhythm & Hues has garnered two Academy Awards for achievement in visual effects, one for Babe and another for The Golden Compass. From the "Sizzle Reel" playing in the screening room deep inside their Los Angeles facility, it's clear that their digital wizardry is as real is it gets. Rhythm & Hues has transformed classic figures such as Scooby Doo and Garfield into vibrant, living and breathing entities on screen. However, one of their best accomplishments was 2008's The Incredible Hulk, for which their staff truly created a "human" superhero. Giving ARTISTdirect an exclusive tour of their headquarters, they gave us some insight into "going green" for Hulk.
From technical animation to the final composite, all nine feet of the Hulk proved to be quite the puzzle for Rhythm & Hues. The team logged serious hours attempting to find the perfect hue of green for the muscled character. Modeling the goliath was another story altogether. Visual effects supervisors Kurt Williams and Betsy Paterson oversaw the creation and animation. In a presentation of the Hulk's creation, Betsy commented, "Some of the [computer sketches] were too skinny, some were too fat, and some were just a little too deformed."
Through trying out various mutations and working closely with the film's star, Edward Norton, Rhythm & Hues created a startlingly realistic cinematic representation of the comic book icon. Built from muscles and veins, their Hulk has structures and textures overlayed with blood pumping through them. Muscles contract and fire with precision. Utilizing facial motion capture, his hair sways and folds naturally. As a close-up of the character played on the screen, Mike Holzl from the animation department elaborated, "I've never seen skin actually slip over the bone the way it does on this character. However, I didn't do that much differently for Hulk. The details are just immense."
Edward Norton proved integral to the process of bringing the hero to life. Betsy continued, "It was important to Edward that he was very involved with the character. It's really his performance. We animated it and created it, but what he intended for it was preserved."
Rhythm & Hues are about emotional effects more than anything else. "Transformation was the most challenging thing we did. How do we get a human to become a nine foot character?" Scenes of the Hulk destroying cars and fighting his nemesis Abomination illustrate that Norton's change was more than just believable.
Rhythm & Hues is a massive facility with over 700 employees. At its heart, there's a huge chamber with all of the computer processors and hard drives. It's all fascinating and strangely 2001. We next stopped at nearby Giant Studios. Giant gave the Hulk the gift of movement, specializing in performance motion capture technology. For Hulk, director Louis Leterrier would shoot locations with tennis balls in place of the monsters. That's where the demonstration at Giant came in, with an employee named Gavin donning a black spandex suit to help explicate the process. As he ran across the empty sound stage, a screen behind him showed him as the Hulk. Running, he seamlessly mutated on the monitor into the monster. He turned over blocks on the floor that doubled as cars on screen. He even grabbed a railing that became a helicopter on the screen. Between Giant Studios and Rhythm & Hues, the Hulk's cinematic representation is as real as it gets.