ILM visual effects supervisor Jeff White and his team are nominated for an Oscar for their work on The Avengers. He came down to L.A. from ILM’s office in San Francisco, along with producer Victoria Alonso, to talk about the Oscar nominated shots in the biggest movie of the year. We geeked out over Hulk smashing and Thanos, and tried to get some Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 news out of the duo as well.
CraveOnline: Have you been to the Oscars before?
Victoria Alonso: Yeah.
Jeff White: I’ve been in the nosebleeds, way up.
Victoria Alonso: Where do you sit now?
Jeff White: I think we’ll sit down below somewhere. I’ve never been in the down below section.
Victoria Alonso: You have to be close enough, right?
Jeff White: Yeah, but you sort of learn the strategy of how to walk the red carpet as slowly as you possibly can, see as many celebrities as you possibly can.
Victoria Alonso: Or, it depends how cold it is. If it’s cold you’re walking in, because you’ll see them there too.
The visual effects team is so big, how do you supervise each crew member?
Victoria Alonso: I don’t supervise them but I supervise the 11 companies that work on the movie. Jeff can tell you more of the in house. I can tell you, if you’re not present and you’re not there every day, I think it’s a problem but I think there are some movies that get done that way. We’re quite involved.
Jeff White: We talked very regularly through the process, at least three times a week, sometimes more.
Victoria Alonso: Yeah, at the end of the movie it’s like every day, sometimes a couple of times, three times a day. You’re turning it up, but you guys have a good process.
Jeff White: It is. That is one nice thing about being at ILM. They have so many years of knowing the process and how it needs to go. I don’t know exactly how big our crew was over the whole thing but it’s a really interesting thing now. There’s work done in San Francisco, some of it was done in Singapore, trying to manage on multiple time zones all the different artists. Our process is probably very much like what you guys have there at Marvel where every morning we look at the latest versions of the shots, give feedback, show them to these guys, get feedback, incorporate that in the end march towards the finish. The part that I always enjoy though is you give the artist a shot and they bring their own sensibility to that and sometimes they really surprise you with where they take the shot and just make it incredible in a couple of days in a way that you hadn’t even thought to tell them to do. To me, that’s definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of it.
Victoria Alonso: They plus the movie in places where you didn’t even know that you were going to get helped. That’s the beauty of it, when you have an open mind but also an open door policy for ideas and creativity.
Do artists fight over which shot they get to do?
Jeff White: Oh, well, I don’t know about outright fight, but definitely people want to get those signature shots. I think many, many people wanted to be involved in the Hulk down on the viaduct when he punches the jumbo. As a visual effects artists, those are the most fun, iconic shots.
Victoria Alonso: What about the shot of all of them, the 360 when you reveal all of them?
Jeff White: That one we saw in the original previs, and I told Katie, “This is going to be in the trailer. We need to start working on this as soon as we get it because it’s such an iconic shot.” It was really interesting working on it because it brought up a number of challenges like how do you fit an eight foot tall Hulk in the frame with the rest of the Avengers and luckily, Joss had come up with this really aggressive sort of hunched over stance for Hulk that helped us sort of tuck him into the frame a big but there was a little bit of sliding Avengers around to make the composition work.
Who got to do Thanos in the Easter egg?
Victoria Alonso: Well, Thanos was mainly practical. There was a bit of prosthetic fixing that we had to do so it was not a CG character.
When you introduce Thanos even as a tease, are you laying the groundwork for the next movie?
Victoria Alonso: I’m not sure. I don’t know. You’re going to have to wait for the next movie.
Jeff White: And if she doesn’t know, I definitely don’t know.
How soon do you start work on that?
Victoria Alonso: On Avengers 2?
Thanos specifically for Avengers 2.
Victoria Alonso: I couldn’t tell you because we’re not working on Thanos, but for any character that is an all CG character like the Hulk, it took us, would you say 19 months? 20 months? So it’s almost a two year process from the modeling. The modeling and the rigging took forever.
Jeff White: And even the design work you guys did before, iteration after iteration.
Victoria Alonso: We had been working on it for, by the time you got involved, already eight and a half or nine months on all that had to do with the Chitauri and Hulk, the army and everybody else that had to be designed.
You mentioned the Hulk in the viaduct scene, but wasn’t Hulk smashing Loki the shot everyone wanted?
Jeff White: Oh yeah, that’s true.
Victoria Alonso: Well, that’s the one that, surprisingly, we always thought that it was either going to be super cheesy or unforgettable, but there was no in between. And I think that I can humbly say that we went to the unforgettable laugh. That is the biggest laugh, and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the movie, you laugh. I’ve seen the movie, I don’t know, 300 times and I laugh all the time and I laugh even if it’s just in a clip. I look at it, it just makes you giggle.
Jeff White: Even out of context. To work on visual effects, you sort of sit in a theater with an audience that hasn’t seen it before and the movie plays and okay, that was pretty fun but to sit through Avengers and have people laugh so hard at something that we were all contributing to is definitely the high watermark for effects work for sure, because you’re making a character that’s not just an effect.
Victoria Alonso: It’s awesome. You know they’ve connected and they’ve taken them to a place where very few characters can get you in the human form, and CG form is a dream, a faraway land dream.
We’re already in the second cycle of Avengers movies and we’re also going to get Guardians of the Galaxy too. How are you going to do characters like Rocket Raccoon and Groot?
Victoria Alonso: We’re going to do it the best way possible. We are going to hopefully wow [you]. The beautiful thing about it is technology is always on our side, so we’re I would say very deeply into developing the look and hopefully some motion tests are happening so that we can figure out how they move, but I think that we will put all hands on deck to make sure the fans are proud of those two characters.
With Thor: The Dark World, in the teaser it looks like the whole throne room is effects, and are there new effects for all the soldiers he’s fighting too?
Victoria Alonso: There are a couple of CG characters there that I couldn’t reveal at the moment but very soon I will. I’m sure we’re going to see you soon, but there’s a lot of work in Thor because don’t forget, Thor is not of earth. So every time we’re into his world we’re in a completely different environment.
How about Malekith?
Victoria Alonso: He is a real actor. He’s not a CG creation.
With Iron Man 3, is doing Iron Man in the snow extra difficult, more than where we’ve seen him before?
Victoria Alonso: No. Snow, sand, we’ve done him everywhere. We’ve done him up in the [air], we’ve done him in the ocean, we’ve done him in the sand dunes, we’ve done him in the snow, we’ve done him in the house. He’s a jet setter.
How are you doing the Mandarin’s rings?
Victoria Alonso: Well, May 3rd we will show you.
Do you get to contribute to the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” series also?
Victoria Alonso: Well, it’s a Marvel [show] but I only work in the feature division.
Jeff, do you get to work on Transformers 4?
Jeff White: Looks that way.
How different is that going to be from the first three?
Jeff White: Don’t know a lot about what’s in the movie yet.
Victoria Alonso: You know how it is. They don’t tell us.
Jeff White: We’re kept in the dark and then it’s go, go, go.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.