Captain America: 'Poor Man's Process'
Despite 1,600 VFX shots spread across 13 vendors worldwide doing lots World War II period CG environments, Captain America: The First Avenger isn't really considered a visual effects-intensive movie, at least not according to overall supervisor Christopher Townsend or director Joe Johnston. But that doesn't mean there weren't some difficult challenges, chief among them, turning a very buff Chris Evans into a scrawny Steve Rogers at the beginning of the movie before he becomes Captain America.
Thanks to Lola Visual Effects (under the supervision of Edson Williams), the experts of youthenizing, they came up with a new twist on digital manipulation.
"The audience has to believe that it looked real and not an effect," Townsend asserts. "At the same time, it had to work with Chris Evans. He was very keen in leading the performance so we looked at a lot of different head replacement techniques, including full-digital. We realized very quickly that we had to nail the articulation, particularly the lip movement and the lip smack, as we call it. We studied the technology a year-and-a-half ago. A full digital head wasn't going to serve us well. The other alternative was to do a head replacement and take the actor into the studio afterward. We rejected that as well. We thought it was achievable but everyone thought that it would take away the spontaneity of the performance you would get on set.
"We looked at projecting the photography and the photographed element onto 3D geometry and then rescaling the geometry and did tests with various companies. Although that could work, it seemed pretty clumsy and too much of a heavy footprint."
They finally decided on the most straightforward solution: 2D manipulation of the image. That meant literally taking the still image, mesh warping it around and making the actor look thinner in body and face. Lola, of course, seemed the perfect fit, but it required them to take their technique further with this precise frame-by-frame approach all in post.
Still, the low-impact solution on set came with a caveat: the greater the movement, the more difficult the manipulation. In any event, they were going to have to shoot a reference pass with the body double (Leander Deeny), or "Skinny Steve," as they called him. This was so they knew what it should look like of him performing under the proper conditions, and to also use bits and pieces in the body double's plate when necessary.