Marvel movies stretch the limits of CGI. We’ve seen the Hulk duke it out with Tony Stark’s Hulkbuster in the middle of the street in Avengers: Age of
In Marvel’s latest offering, Captain Marvel, we see Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury battling invading aliens with Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel. What makes this movie different from most Marvel movies is the setting. The movie was set in 1995, which means Nick Fury – along with Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson – has to look 20 years younger before Avengers: Infinity War.
To put things in perspective, the actor playing the jaded, eye-patch-wearing former S.H.I.E.L.D director we know and love is 70 years old and would be 46 in 1995. If you’re a Marvel fan then you know that Nick Fury is a fixture in most Marvel movies and his transition has to look convincing.
It takes a certain level of skill to make Jackson’s de-aged appearance look organic while remaining faithful to the actor’s performance but Marvel pulled it off. This was not the first time that an actor has to be de-aged in a Marvel movie. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kurt Russell’s character has to look at least 30 years younger in flashbacks, about the same as Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym for some parts of the Ant-Man films.
What makes Nick Fury’s transformation so different from other Marvel movies is that the actor was de-aged throughout the film, a first for Marvel.
The de-aging of Samuel L. Jackson’s character was the work of Lola VFX supervisor Trent Claus and his team as well as senior VFX supervisor, Janelle Croshaw who was the compositing supervisor on the 2008 blockbuster, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
In an interview with FX Guide, Claus said several Samuel L. Jackson films that were released in the mid-90s were used as references. These films include Pulp Fiction (1994) and Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995). “What we ended up settling on, was a little bit from Die Hard, a bit from Loaded Weapon 1 (1993), but our hero movie was a smaller film called One Eight Seven (1997).”
Initially, the special effects team tried shooting on a green screen and using a body double to de-age the actor but the time spent shooting isn’t worth the results they were getting.
“With Sam, in particular, we discovered that it didn’t earn us a significant advantage using a double. If we simply just wipe off the wrinkles from someone, that can immediately take 10, 15 years off them,” Claus said. “But if you’re working with someone like Sam, who really doesn’t have a whole lot of wrinkles, you really have to rely on physiological changes, changes in structure of musculature, textures of skin, the way the weight hangs on your neck and your jaw, things over time like that we’ve studied for so many years now.”
“We always ask for dots just to help with tracking, especially whenever we use a double,” says Claus. “With both of these characters, since we didn’t use doubles, not as many dots were necessary.”
According to Christopher Townsend, Marvel’s visual effects supervisor, eliminating the need to use a body double helped speed up the production. Although the production still used a stunt double for the fight scenes, the special effects team handled most of the de-aging process.
Townsend said the goal was to make Jackson’s “youthening,” as Marvel calls it, natural and unnoticeable. To do that, the Lola team worked on over 500 shots to de-age Jackson, about 385 of which ended up in the theatrical edit. It took about 40 primary compositors and another 20 junior compositors to complete the de-aging process. The CGI team repeatedly and meticulously manipulated the individual frame of the movie to de-age the actor’s facial features
“The real challenge is making it so that there’s continuity from one frame to the next so that it feels smooth, and it never feels like the face is jiggling around or moving,” Townsend said. “It really comes down to the artistry of the person sitting there and trying to maintain as much of the original performance as possible.
You want every shot throughout the whole movie to look like Sam, and specifically to look like Sam at that age. So when you’re working with hundreds of shots and dozens of artists, it would be really easy for each of these shots to go off in their own direction and every shot looking like a different person,” Trent Claus, visual effects supervisor with Lola, added. “So you have to be very strict with consistency and internal reviews and things like that to maintain that continuity.”
The de-aging process didn’t include Jackson’s facial features alone, the actor’s body has to look the part too. To give Jackson a 45-year-old body, the team adjusted his posture, weight, and his clothes using plate photography.
“The fit of the fabric, making shirts and things less tight at times or more loose depending on the shot. All the wardrobe had to be taken into consideration,” Claus added. The posture adjustment was done in compositing and not with 3D cloths and cloth simulations to achieve precise, realistic results. The entire de-aging process for Captain Marvel was meticulous and time-intensive but the results were so convincing that even the actor himself was blown away with his transformation.
“Wow, this Marvel de-aging thing is doper than I thought! #twoeyedfury #captainmarvelmovie,” the actor wrote on Instagram.
The youthening of Samuel L. Jackson required the use of hi-tech applications but Claus said using artificial intelligence could be the future of CGI:
“As for A.I., I think we’re already seeing some amazing advancements today. But, as for when a procedurally-generated CG human will be up to the level of scrutiny necessary for
Captain Marvel, which stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, and Lashana Lynch, is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.