Both Norton and Roth were integrated into their characters with cyber scanning through a process known as Mova—painting them with infrared paint, then shooting the actors with 37 infrared cameras to capture their facial performances. Leterrier elaborates on the rationale: “This way, you get a performance reference. We also shot HD reference of their faces, all the film we could get.” Integrating Two Worlds
No one knows better than Leterrier the obstacles that may come when making a film seamless for audience members. He relates: “A well-accomplished visual effects movie is a mixed bag of tricks. You need to fool the audience, because our eyes get used to CG; you can really recognize the CG elements. If you can mix it with prosthetics, real people, body doubles, and cut around all these elements to make it seamless, the audience won’t know what came their way.”
One of the biggest challenges when working with visual effects and CG characters is that of physical production. Of course, The Hulk doesn’t just share screen time alongside the main actors in the film; he interacts with and acts opposite them. As one of the biggest stars of THE INCREDIBLE HULK would never actually appear on set, however, it was up to the visual effects team to construct proxies to represent him.
Explains Williams: “Once the movement of the characters has been defined by motion capture, the next challenge was cuing in our actors so they are able to understand how big the characters are, how they move and how quickly they move. It’s hard for people to fully understand what’s happening when you shoot scenes with CG characters, because they don’t see the creatures in front of them. It’s tough to imagine the scale and the nuances of their movement.”
The visual effects department relied on a number of visual aids to better provide Leterrier, the actors and crew an understanding of The Hulk’s and The Abomination’s on-screen motions. As every major scene was storyboarded, then computer animated through the process of pre-visualization (pre-vis), Williams was able to show the cast and crew animated images of The Hulk “acting” in scenes. But the pre-vis didn’t solve the issue of the actors and cinematographer Peter Menzies’ camera team needing exact eyeline references. “There was no one solution we could use,” admits Williams. “We came up with a lot of different stand-ins for The Hulk over the course of production; it depended on the scene and the shooting environment. We did everything from putting Terry on stilts and using tennis balls on a telescoping pole to using cutouts of The Hulk’s face with LED lights in it—whatever made the actors comfortable, whatever made people look in the right direction.”
Two of the performers with the toughest challenges in the integration were Liv Tyler and Edward Norton. As Betty Ross, Tyler was often reacting to Norton as The Hulk, sometimes as he stood on a box for her. “We would talk out the scenes in advance, and I would try to give her a sense of what was happening,” says Norton. “It’s all very collaborative, me and Louis and Terry…the guy holding the dummy head. You had to work together to make sure Liv knew exactly what we were imagining was happening on the other side of the scene. We tried to be as specific as possible about what she was interacting with. I think it went off really well, and she did beautifully.”
For her part, Tyler was up for the challenge, even if she didn’t know what to expect for the next a.m. call time. “Over the course of the shoot, we’ve come up with all these different ways of my interacting with The Hulk,” she laughs. “Originally, I was going to be being carried by an actual mechanical arm. Then, at one point, it was going to be a huge man, and then the team came up with this brilliant idea of having two guys—because The Hulk’s width is rather large.” To add extra realism, Leterrier would ask the weapons adviser to shoot blanks in the air, just to get Tyler, along with Hurt, to react to their co-star.
Tim Blake Nelson sums up the way much of the cast felt: “It’s difficult to act against a big green sheet with an enormous, bulbous, expressionless plastic green approximation of a human form with eyes on top of it [what Leterrier affectionately called “The Hulkinator.”] But, you know, a lot of what we do as movie actors is extremely silly. We have intense conversations or love scenes—or we’re mourning someone’s death in close-up—and then there are lights all over the place, and this camera on a sled is moving at us…it’s all so unreal. So, acting opposite someone like The Hulk, who isn’t really there, is par for the course.”
Prosthetics and makeup also played their part in blending the comic world of THE INCREDIBLE HULK with the practical and CG. Having stepped into the Marvel universe, Hurt wanted his character to look as if he had walked off the page of one of the original comic books, menacing to Bruce Banner and anyone who crossed his path. To that end, he endured hours at a time in the makeup chair. “In every one of the iterations of the comic book, there’s a theme to Ross’ look,” says Hurt of his character. “He’s got the silver hair, the silver ’stache, the big eyebrows and all the rest of it. He’s a bold statement, and we made the decision to play him that way.”
Hurt embraced the character, and on his first day on the set, he was unrecognizable. “When William stepped out of the makeup trailer that first day, we all did a double take,” recalls Hurd. “It was as if William had disappeared and Thunderbolt Ross had taken his place. It really mattered to William that he portray General Ross in a way that fulfilled the vision of the character that the fans have. He had a whole dossier on the character he had created with the help of his son, who is probably one of the biggest Marvel fans on the planet. He was determined to get it right.”