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May 2012

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cover story Avengers: relying on teamwork L OS ANGELES — Marvel Comics' new Avengers movie, distributed under the Disney banner, capitalizes on the existing By DANIEL RESTUCCIO big-name franchises of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America. In addition to the main VFX houses, ILM and Weta, also onboard are writer/ director Joss Whedon, Captain America editor Jeffrey Ford and Serenity editor Lisa Lassek. "It was always going to be a two-editor Co-editors and multiple VFX studios work together for the common good. movie," says Ford. "That was always the plan because of the scale of the thing. It's enor- mous. There are multiple characters and it's an ensemble piece, so it has a lot of range, a lot of complexity to it. And there's a ton of incredible action stuff. It is just mind blowing there's so much of it." Ford interviewed with director Whedon in early 2011, got the job, and started editing Avengers at the end of July. "I never worked with him before, but I knew his work. We hit it off right away. We have a similar sense of humor. We're both comic book fans from way back, so we both understood the world and speak the same language and shorthand." Ford says Whedon was the perfect man for the job "because of his ability to weave super compelling and really exciting storylines together. He's really brilliant at balancing all those characters and giving them a unique, separate voice." Most of the movie was shot with the Arri Alexa with some additional high-speed pho- tography done on film and some Canon 5D footage. Ford and Lassek edited on Avid sys- tems cutting in DNx36. "It's sort of a fact of life that there's going Weta Digital's Guy Williams: "It's hard to remember with projects like Avengers that this is a job and not a hobby." 16 to be a lot of footage on a movie of this scale because you have to use multiple units to make the schedule and the only way you can do it was to have parallel units," says Ford. "So Joss was moving back and forth between two units all the time." According to Ford, "Movies like this pull the director in a lot of directions. It's difficult to have a director sitting with you all the time because they are needed in so many different areas — visual effects reviews going on every day, directing the composer — there's just so much to do. Early on, when he was available, we spent a lot of time discuss- ing the story and then Lisa (Lassek) and I would work and look at cuts, and he'd give us notes and feedback, and we'd turn the cuts around fairly quickly. Then we went into a process of screening the film frequently, and that helped a lot because when you see it in a run you really get a clear picture of Post • May 2012 ILM replaced all building windows so they could add moving reflections and room interiors. They employed a special "shader" to created these reflections and that allows them to add window blinds and room behind the window. ILM San Francisco's ILM ( and Wellington, NZ's Weta Digital (www.wetafx. were two of the main visual effects houses on Avengers. Others include Digital Domain, Cantina Creative, Evil Eye Pictures, Fuel VFX, Hydraulx, Lola Visual Effects, Luma Pictures, New Deal Studios and Trixter Film. ILM VFX supervisor Jeff White says his crew — which reached 250 people at one point — was responsible for character cre- ation and revision work on Hulk, Iron Man, the aliens, digital doubles for the characters as well as building out sections of New York City The goal is to be able to build a virtual envi- ronment of sufficient density so when they shoot a scene, especially when they have a moving camera, the digital version has enough information so it is indistinguishable from the actual location. Most of the cameras were Canon EOS-1D Mark IIIs shooting "raw" images. "We have the pipeline where we shoot them as raw, plus you have little jpeg previews so you can do a quick stitch just to make sure you got all the tiles you needed," notes White. A lot of the work is processing all the imagery and building the digital environment. what you're trying to achieve." Editorial used CineSync or Polycom to communicate globally with the visual effects vendors. The shots would be delivered to editorial in Los Angeles via a secure FTP ser- vice such as Signiant or Aspera. Vendors would send DPX files as well as QuickTime movies. DPXs were screened in the visual effects room, and QuickTimes put into the cut. Did the movie change much over the course of the production? "Whedon's a writ- er by trade," explains Ford. "Any writer who's making a film is rewriting the movie as they are shooting it. Every writer/director I've worked with approached it that way, and it's a huge benefit. As you learn about the charac- ters and [what the cast brings], you change the emphasis on things and change the dia- logue to fit their voice. He did that a lot, and we had very little re-shooting on this film." that led to producing over 700 shots in the finished movie. Early in 2011, White went to New York City to supervise the still photography used to build highly detailed digital environments employed as sets and location extensions. The process uses a combination of LIDAR and high-resolution digital photography. ILM had four photographers in the Big Apple for almost eight weeks. Each photogra- pher had a camera rig that shoots 360-degree panoramas "that look like the street views on Google maps, except it's much higher resolu- tion, says White. They hung cameras off of rooftops to get high perspectives and they'd shoot a "sphere" every hundred feet or so. "We shot 1,300 of these spheres and each sphere is composed of 72 bracketed images, so there's almost 275,000 photos in all and this is all super high resolution," recalls White.

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