CG supervisor Oded Raz and assistant VFX supervisor Jared Simeth discuss the making of Iron Man’s new glove, the Stark Protective Gauntlet, and other visual effects work the Santa Monica-based studio handled on Marvel’s latest super hero blockbuster.
One of the companies lending their talents to Marvel’s latest blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, was Luma Pictures, the Santa Monica, California-based VFX studio with additional facilities in Melbourne, Australia, who contributed to scenes including the Taskforce Headquarters Fight, Hydra Facility Flashback, Stasis Chamber Flashback and Abandoned Factory Hideout. “Our team did concept art for both Tony Starks’ iron glove and the metal restraints used on the Winter Soldier,” notes Luma Pictures assistant VFX supervisor Jared Simeth. “For the metal restraints, our goal was to redesign them in a way that felt strong and constraining, as if they are really holding him down. We went through a few 2D concepts and then moved to 3D. For integration we went with a full CG shirt for the shots where a tighter connection [between arm and restraint] was needed than was actually in the shot. There are many flashing lights from all different angles in one part of the sequence. Matching this required frame-by-frame attention to every light as it flashed on and off.”
Additionally, the studio created a new protective device, the Iron Man gauntlet, that Tony Stark wields in a fight with the Winter Soldier. Simeth continues, “The Iron Man gauntlet [a protective glove device that launched from Tony Stark’s watch] went through a few rounds of 2D as well as some 3D concept work. For the trailer, we had to expedite the concept and incorporate it into the shots in a tight deadline.” Luma Pictures CG supervisor Oded Raz adds, “In the design process we wanted to make sure it looked like it belonged to Tony Stark but with a more minimalistic design and nanotechnology capabilities. We kept the same approach in animation as well. We wanted to introduce a slightly different way for the glove to form while staying true to the Iron Man design language. Integrating a CG glove on top of a live action hand is a technical challenge. The Luma team had to make sure the glove fit Robert Downey Jr.’s hand perfectly as well as reflected, cast and received shadows properly.”
The team had a tight deadline to get the Iron Man glove out for the film’s first trailer, and the reviews were quite favourable. According to Simeth, “After the trailer’s release, the voice of the Internet was wildly in favour of what we ended up with. So that [tight schedule] worked for our advantage! If we had more time to tweak the glove, we may have ended up with something completely different.”
The Taskforce Headquarters environment proved particularly challenging for the studio. “For the Taskforce Headquarters, many red brick walls on-set were covered up with off-white cloth,” explains Simeth. “Luma was then tasked with changing that into cement. Instead of doing a full replacement we did a hybrid approach in which we added in the texture and surface detail from the cement, while retaining the lighting of the plate. This saved us a lot of time, both in the level of rotos required and the time lighting all the walls to the level that would have been required.” The set’s elevator shaft required a full digital replacement that captured the lighting of the original plate. “The elevator shaft set was two stories high with a lot of padding on the walls for the stuntman,” reveals Raz. “We ended up creating a full CG shaft that was identical to the set but with the proper number of floors and without pads. The lighting was matched to look exactly the same as the lighting that was used on the practical set.”
When it came to the Stasis Chamber Flashback, the chair used to hold the Winter Soldier while being brainwashed needed a complete update. As Raz describes, “The brainwash chair appears in the previous film, but in Civil War, we see a lot more of it in motion. We designed a rig that was able to comply with the range of motion of the Winter Soldier’s performance and connect to the practical set chair. The rig had to also accurately attach and follow the Winter Soldier’s facial motion.”
The metallic arm of the Winter Soldier was also given an upgrade. “We had the arm asset in Luma’s asset library, but we received a new mesh of his hand for the areas previously covered with his glove,” says Simeth.
Luma also created a CG helicopter that made at an appearance at the Abandoned Factory Hideout. “The helicopter had to match a specific model. We had to match the different materials to the practical helicopter and make sure the quality of the materials looked photo-real. We also had to match the CG lighting to lighting conditions on-set,” Raz remarks.
Regarding the overall project, Simeth concludes, “HDRI, LiDAR and chrome/grey ball references were key in getting the CG to integrate into the environments. Our biggest challenge was not particularly technical or creative - it just came down to trying to get all the match-moves done in the time required. It all came down to triaging and seeing which shots needed 100% tight 3D match-moves when things were close enough that we could get that last little bit in compositing.”