Founded in May 1975 by George Lucas, in response to the in-house effects department at Fox being shut down, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) has gone on to become one of – if not the – premiere special effects companies in the industry. With a résumé that includes such memorable pictures as the Indiana Jones series, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park, and of course, the Star Wars saga, its work has enthralled moviegoers from multiple generations; helping them realize that nothing is impossible.
ILM remains prolific to this day, with recent projects such as Star Trek Into Darkness and Transformers: Age of Extinction under their belts. However, now that their parent company Lucasfilm is property of Disney, they’ll also be the go-to effects house for Mickey Mouse’s upcoming projects – which include hotly anticipated sequels such as The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: Episode VII.
The company launched a new studio in London and held a grand opening for the facility this past week. During the event, ILM President Lynwen Brennan spoke with IGN, where she offered some insight on next year’s massive Disney tentpoles.
Read her quote on the biggest challenge they faced while working on Age of Ultron:
“As usual ILM does some of the harder work that isn’t out there in the trailers, so I can’t talk about much. But obviously the Hulk is in there, and he’s a really big creative challenge for us.”
Given that Age of Ultron teaser posters have hinted at quite an epic showdown between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Ultron’s killer robot army, it’s a somewhat surprising statement that the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is being described as the largest “creative challenge“ for the effects team. However, when you consider the amount of time and energy that goes into crafting the enormous green rage monster, it begins to make sense.
Brennan elaborated on the difficulties, saying that the character’s personality is the thing they strive to capture the most.
“Getting that personality is very important to Joss [Whedon], and it’s very important that it’s driven by Mark [Ruffalo]’s performance. We’ve developed a new capture system, which we call Muse, which really captures the actor’s performance – it allows us to combine different takes as well.”
The Hulk was one of the many highlights in 2012’s The Avengers, with much credit due to Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner, which endeared both the monster and the mild-mannered scientist to audiences around the globe. Since the Academy Award nominee is what grounds the green beast and makes him believable for us, it’s extremely important for the ILM team to replicate Ruffalo’s actions as closely as possible.
The crew enlisted motion-capture guru Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) to help Ruffalo develop the Hulk even further, and according to the man who played Gollum, Ruffalo is well on his way to accomplishing that goal – becoming a “Hulk on set.” Sounds as if that performance is what we’re going to see when the film finally hits theaters (with all the digital rendering on top, that is).
As many know, Age of Ultron isn’t the only big budget spectacle on ILM’s list for 2015. With J.J. Abrams concluding production on Episode VII in just a few weeks, the effects company will be diving into post-production on the space opera as well.
One thing that’s stood out at this stage of the new Star Wars film is that Abrams is embracing the old school filmmaking techniques employed by the directors of the original trilogy. In officially released set videos, Abrams has shown off both a redesigned X-wing (pictured above) and a new alien in the (Tatooine?) marketplace – both creations brought to life through practical means.
Brennan spoke about how that practicality helps the effects team:
“What it does for us in visual effects is it also gives us something to build upon. It gives us something to ground our visual effects with. Not only in the shots that have practical sets that we’re expanding on, or putting a creature into, it also gives us a really strong aesthetic that we know to follow in shots that are all-CG.”
Obviously, CGI will be employed to bring the world of Episode VII to life, but one of Abrams’ calling cards as a director is to get as much as he can in-camera. Not only does that make it easier for his visual effects guys to put together the final shots, it also helps ground the universe in a sense of reality – allowing viewers to buy in more comfortably. The original trilogy was praised for its lived-in imagery, and it looks like its sequels will keep that tradition alive.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be in theaters May 1, 2015.
Star Wars: Episode VII will be in theaters December 18, 2015.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.