Naturally, the majority of Super Hero movies rely on CGI to assist the beleaguered, costumed human heroes as they morph from their aliases. While CG effects help them achieve their powers to fly, web sling, retract adamantium claws or walk through walls, The Hulk is the rare hero who must be completely constructed through CG. Still, he needs to be an organic part of his environment, and the audience has to believe that a 9’ tall green menace is battling a psychopath called The Abomination—and that the two are raining destruction upon Manhattan as a terrified populace scatters.
Of the challenge of bringing The Hulk into this world, producer Feige explains: “Louis’ vision for the film was that it had to be a visceral, fun-on-the-run action movie. The way you do that is not necessarily by lingering on visual effects sequences. You do that by adding the effects sequences into the mayhem and into the excitement of the scene you’re putting together—whether it’s a car chase, a foot chase, or whether there are helicopters and armies coming in. This movie is about adding all that action and chaos to the real world, with practical environments. Louis designed this film so that when you put The Hulk into it, you totally buy that he’s part of that environment.”
The process would logically begin with the green guy himself. The filmmakers went through hundreds of iterations and countless sketches to get the final design for The Hulk perfect. “The preproduction process was endless,” admits producer Arad. “We had files upon files upon files. Everyone has an image of The Hulk in their minds, but we needed to move forward and make it this Incredible Hulk.”
Director Leterrier knew what he expected of the final design for his protagonist. “I wanted something überhuman,” he states. “I wanted to feel texture, skin, veins. It was really important for me to hone in on a great looking Hulk.” He adds that the team wasn’t interested in doing simply “a bulked up Edward.” “We wanted to do something different, where Hulk has this iconic shape,” he says.
To accomplish this task (among many others), Leterrier and the producers would turn to visual effects supervisor Kurt Williams, veteran of such Marvel blockbusters as Fantastic Four and X-Men: The Last Stand. Williams, a fan of The Hulk since his brother introduced him to the comic as a boy, partnered with the Academy Award®- winning visual effects house Rhythm & Hues for the action-adventure. His team would ultimately be responsible for seamlessly blending more than 900 visual effects shots— 450 of which are full key CG character shots—into the film.
For the behind-the-scenes crew, it was just as important to protect the legacy of The Hulk as it was to update his look with the tools at the VFX team’s disposal. To achieve the first objective, Williams and company returned to the launching pad: the comic books. “From a conceptual perspective,” Williams says, “it made sense to go back to the source material—the classic Hulk origin and all the things people love about the character, all the things that make The Hulk, well, The Hulk. We found artwork that fit into the way that we saw him—with longer hair and the classic Hulk sculptural positions he struck in those comic books. We started with that as a basis and worked outward. Then we began to translate it to the real world, which is always a challenge with comics.” Williams knew that achieving the exact blend for a creature he believed was more “linebacker than bodybuilder,” who could be powerful, scary and, simultaneously, empathetic, was a monstrous task. The Hulk fans have huge expectations, and allowing today’s savvy audiences to connect with any CG character requires enormous effort on the part of a film’s visual effects team.
As the VFX supervisor explains, successfully translating our hero from the development stages to the movie screen is predicated on our ability to find emotional characteristics in that creature. He reflects: “As humans, we spend so much time scanning people’s faces. And the difference between being able to read a computer generated character and a real human is a very narrow margin. But we naturally have the instinct to tell when something isn’t right. We can tell when muscles aren’t firing correctly in the face, or when the eyes aren’t moving properly; we constantly scan other human faces to read emotion.”
When they began the animation process, they knew The Hulk not only had to convey his feelings of rage and displeasure, but do so opposite a very real cast of actors. The visual effects team devised a tool set to create audience empathy for The Hulk; this allowed for the character to have a number of corporeal affectations, giving the audience visual cues to interpret what they think The Hulk is thinking and how he is feeling.
Williams provides: “In the tool set, we have physical attributes like a muscle structure and vascular structure that can grow or deflate in volume. To show that he’s active or angry, for example, we can add or take a bit of saturation out of his color—things that allow us to create something humans can relate to. Everybody can relate to the fact that if you’re embarrassed, you become flushed in the face. It’s little details like those that we needed to put into this Hulk.”