As the performers were developing the layers of their characters, the visual effects team was crafting the layers of effects that would be seamlessly blended with the actors’ performances to give THE INCREDIBLE HULK plausibility. Perfecting The Hulk’s and The Abomination’s movements and creating a tool set of how each character moved proved to be an ongoing process. The direction of all scenes involving The Hulk and The Abomination was driven by the groundbreaking process that combines use of computer generation and motion capture (mo-cap), developed to astonishing results for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings precious character (and Liv Tyler’s former co-star), Gollum.
Explains VFX supervisor Williams: “Motion capture is a way to capture body movement digitally, so it can be transferred to a digital character. What it gives you is human nuances you wouldn’t necessarily get from a drawn animated character. It is a key part of designing any action sequence.”
Movement coach TERRY NOTARY was brought in to provide The Hulk’s and The Abomination’s character and movement references for the digital masters at Rhythm & Hues. A veteran movement instructor with credits such as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Planet of the Apes and James Cameron’s upcoming epic Avatar, Notary got his start as a gymnast and member of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère before branching out into film work.
Early in preproduction, Williams, Notary and Rhythm & Hues VFX animation supervisor KEITH ROBERTS began the long and arduous process of creating and defining the characters’ movements and iconic positions, amassing a collection of more than 2,500 takes before they were finished. Their approach was not only to use the process to create motion for each shot with The Abomination and The Hulk, but to use mo-cap to define the differences in their movements and fighting techniques.
Offers Roberts: “Motion capture today has evolved to the point where rendered times are very short; you’re actually able to see the results in real time, so you can target a performance and see immediately if it’s the right dynamic. You have to be able to direct your motion-capture actors like you do your regular actors—right then and there. That interactivity is crucial to us, because even though the end result is a character that is computer generated, there are human movements unique to each of them.”
Working closely with Leterrier and drawing on the characters’ comic origins, Notary and Roberts came up with a basic template for movements for The Hulk and The Abomination. From The Hulk’s infamous thunderclap to the rapid lope of The Abomination, once the template was established, the team began the process of realizing the characters’ on-screen lives.
Wearing a specialized suit that enabled cameras to read and instantly transfer every angle and subtlety of his movement to two 40’ monitors, Notary spent more than two months choreographing and refining the beats, hits and kicks that define the enemies. Every movement and the driving force behind it was thoroughly explored. For his performances, Notary credits the comic books as his starting point for each character. “It’s important to pay homage to the history of the characters,” he explains. “The Hulk has a very human quality to him; he’s a heart-driven character. His movements are grounded and his physicality is very real. The Abomination, on the other hand, is a very mind-driven character. His mind is in charge, and the body just follows. He doesn’t feel everything like The Hulk. The head leads all of his movements, and his body follows.”
From the way they walk to the manner in which they turn their heads to react to stimuli, The Hulk and The Abomination share nothing, save their gamma-irradiated blood. Everything from the differences in their skeletal structures to the manner with which they regard humans was explored. The Abomination whips his head about to react, while The Hulk has a much slower, contemplative, childlike sensibility.
“One of the things we got out of the motion-capture stage with Terry and Keith is to come up with distinguishing movements,” offers Williams. “For instance, Hulk has very rounded movements, and he’s also a very defensive character. If you were to push Hulk, he might step back for a second, then he’ll come back at you. Whereas, if you push Abomination, he’s not going to move much; he’s right in your face again. So, we created these moves where Abomination can land on his back, do a quick tip up, and he’s right back into the action…whereas Hulk rolls over, jumps up, then walks back toward the fight again.”