Scott Edelstein has more than 20 years of experience in visual effects. He joined Digital Domain in 2001 and works on many movies such as THE AVENGERS, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, DEADPOOL, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.
How was this new collaboration with directors Russo Brothers and VFX Supervisor Dan DeLeeuw?
AVENGERS: ENDGAME was a continuation of the work from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. So much so that the two films had been shot simultaneously. This was a rare–and awesome–instance in which we had a close existing relationship with Dan and The Russos that didn’t change from one film to the next.
How did you split the work amongst the Digital Domain offices?
For AVENGERS: ENDGAME there was an 80/20 split between Vancouver and LA with the bulk of our work in Vancouver. We also did some roto/paint work at our studio in Hyderabad, India.
What are the sequences made by Digital Domain?
Digital Domain was responsible for 7 total sequences in AVENGERS: ENDGAME These were as follows:
- Alien Battlefield – Takes place on a drilling platform 1 mile off the planet’s surface. It starts with Nebula fighting alien soldiers, then being rescued by Gamora.
- Epic Battle – In the holding cell with Nebula when Gamora comes to get her to fight back.
- Nebula Vs. Nebula – Also in the holding cell, where (bad) Nebula beats up and takes the Time Watch from (good) future Nebula.
- Sanctuary Nebula Torture – In the torture chamber from Infinity War aboard Thanos’ ship. This is where Thanos reviews ‘memories’ from Nebula and witnesses his own death in a hologram.
- Thanos Suspects Nebula – On the desk of a Q-ship after Thanos is beamed off the surface of our Alien Battlefield. This is where Nebula first has visions from the future that cause Thanos to think that she’s a traitor.
- Vormir – Now in the year 2013, we’re back on Vormir with Hawkeye and Black Widow looking for the soul stone. The two have a skirmish and one ends up sacrificing themselves for the stone.
- Titan 2 Yurt – Thanos is now retired and had become a farmer when the Avengers take one last shot at taking back the stones.
How did you use your experience on Infinity War for Endgame?
We learned a lot about what did and didn’t work during INFINITY WAR. Even though the films’ production schedules were very close together, we did have a little time in-between to make some updates. We added more fidelity to our Thanos asset including more resolution in the model and textures. We updated his rig and added additional controls, especially in the face to allow more refined facial performances. Overall, we were able to make our assets and workflow more efficient between Infinity War and End Game which allowed us to focus on creativity and less on technical problem-solving.
How did you improve your facial animations system for Thanos?
Additional animation controls around Thanos’ mouth enhanced the realism of the character. We introduced a partial paralysis in his face, and so we wanted very nuanced controls to show that the muscles were not quite firing the way they should.
Can you tell us more about your work on the other CG characters?
We reused most of our characters from INFINITY WAR without a lot of changes and updates. The only character really new to us in ENDGAME would have been War Machine during the opening sequence with Thanos. We did need to make alternative versions of existing characters, like a now clean Hulkbuster and future Nebula + damage.
Besides Thanos, which one was the most complicated to create?
Characters with complicated mechanics like Hulkbuster and War Machine can take a long time to rig and animate plus there is additional cleanup time to fix interpenetrating geometry. These are things that the rigs can’t always account for. The models themselves, for the most part, were shared assets provided by another vendor to start.
How did you handle the lighting challenge on the opening sequence?
The opening sequence was quite challenging due to the time of day and content within the environment. With such a low sun coming through rows and rows of animated plantlife this took a lot of resources to render. We spent a lot of time getting the shaders for the plants looking just right, with a lot of pretty sub-surface so they’d look good backlit by the sunset. In comp, we added atmosphere and dust along with volumetric light. We had a little freedom to light the environment and Thanos slightly differently so it allowed us to beauty light them separately.
How did you create and animate the holograms of Nebula POV?
Since we’d already animated the scenes Nebula is recalling, such as the time when Thanos has his head removed, we didn’t need to do much additional animation work for those characters. What we did that was interesting was to refilm those scenes from what would have been future Nebula’s POV, and then create 3-D holograms to view from the audience’s perspective in a new shot. Once that was done the compositing team explored various ways to present this as a hologram, and after the final look was established it was applied in 2D.
How did you approach the Nebula vs Nebula fight?
This scene ended up being quite straightforward in regards to multiple Nebulas on screen at once. The way it was shot, we never get a look at both Nebula’s faces at the same time. This made it much easier as we didn’t have much digital double work to do. We did still have to replace (good) future Nebula’s arm and add an orange stripe to her head/face along with digital eye replacement and standard makeup/costume fixes. What made this scene particularly difficult was that it’s shot completely over a green screen, even the floor. So we had to create a digital set that would hold up to extreme close-ups and work with the lighting baked into the plates. Due to timing, we had to reuse elements from other locations and sets that we’d previously created, then add additional resolution and textures so they’d hold up in the scene. We had a lot of freedom when creating the set, so we were able to place lights around that helped make sense of the photography. This really helped sit the actors into our digital world and ended up looking great!
Which sequence or shot was the most complicated to create and why?
The most complicated shots ended up being the exterior YRT shots on Titan 2. We had to create an alien planet that looked photoreal without being too close to Earth. We created new plant life, like the ‘space fruit’ Thanos picks, which is a combination of Artichoke, Guava, Kiwi and Kiwano (horned) Mellon. Most of the deep backgrounds we’re painted but still based on geometry that was modeled, textured and lit to match our scenes.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
The renders for our exterior YRT shots on Titan 2 were very resource heavy and sometimes used the vast majority of our render farm to complete over the weekend. It’s very stressful when you only get a handful of shots at something but it takes this long for results. Sometimes we’d put all the passes on the farm Friday night with our fingers crossed for Monday morning.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
I enjoyed working on the Nebula Vs. Nebula and the Epic Battle sequences. They had been shot very late in the schedule and the environments weren’t as established. We had a lot of fun and creative freedom to make something really great for these shots. The original plates were just Nebula and her double on Green Screen. We had to replace future Nebula’s arm since it had been burned earlier in the film and add the orange stripe to her head and face. These shots came together quickly and the end result ended up being very beautiful.
What is your best memory on this show?
I can’t say I have one specific best memory. A lot of the team from ENDGAME had rolled over from INFINITY WAR. When you spend two + years in the trenches with people it creates a lot of bonds and memories, friends you’ll keep for a lifetime. We celebrated countless birthdays, engagements, babies, etc. and were there for each other in tough times. No single best memories, but definitely friendships that I will cherish for a long time.
How long have you worked on this show?
I started on INFINITY WAR around February of 2017 and wrapped ENDGAME April of 2019. There wasn’t much time between shows for a break since they had been filmed at the same time. So, I’ve been involved for a little over 2 years on both projects.
What’s the VFX shots count?
Digital Domain was ultimately responsible for 337 shots that made it into the final cut for AVENGERS: ENDGAME
What was the size of your team?
Between the three studio locations we had working on this project, our peak artist pool reached 310 people.
A big thanks for your time.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Digital Domain: Dedicated page about AVENGERS: ENDGAME on Digital Domain website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2019