The Incredible Hulk

Image Engine Bulks Up for The Incredible Hulk

Image Engine’ was selected by Visual Effects Supervisor Kurt Williams and Marvel Entertainment, Inc. to provide 75 final visual effects shots for the highly anticipated summer blockbuster, The Incredible Hulk.

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Image Engine’s work on The Incredible Hulk began with a visual effects test in early 2007. The studio completed one representative shot, tracking a hand-held anamorphic plate, digitally replacing and extending the environment and animating Hulk interacting with the buildings and various objects in the scene. The shot was animated in Autodesk’s Maya, rendered with DNA Research’s 3Delight and composited in The Foundry’s Nuke. This test established a working relationship with Kurt Williams and, upon approval from director Louis Leterrier, led to Image Engine being asked to provide visual effects services on the show. “Our strong performance in the test gave Kurt some real insight into the capabilities of Image Engine’s Film Division” remarks Shawn Walsh, Visual Effects Executive Producer on the production. “Kurt really liked the skills he saw in the test,” recalls Walsh, “but more importantly, it gave him a feel of what it is like to work with us.”

The bulk of Image Engine’s work, overseen by Computer Graphics Supervisor Peter Muyzers and Visual Effects Supervisor Robin Hackl, focused on augmenting and extending plate photography for “The Brawl in Harlem” sequence, which features prominently in the finale of the film. Image Engine completed 75 shots requiring extensive digital backgrounds to be married to a stylized foreground practical set that was filmed in Toronto. This work required an extensive CG city build and a broad range of compositing tasks helmed by Compositing Supervisor, Shervin Shoghian. “This was a very challenging sequence of shots from a compositing standpoint,” recalls Hackl. “Tweaks to the environment went right down to the wire. We added in all manner of subtle enhancements like lens aberrations, steam from roof vents and shifting clouds.” Many of Image Engine’s completed shots in this sequence were incorporated as new background plates for the animation of Hulk provided by lead visual effects vendor Rhythm and Hues.

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Image Engine’s crew also supported Williams with on-set visual effects supervision on two different occasions. “During the long and exhaustive shooting schedule, Kurt called upon us to step up our game, go on-set and ensure that visual effects plates were filmed according to the film’s high standards,” recalls Muyzers. “Robin spent three tough weeks shooting in the notorious favelas of Rio de Janeiro.” It was easily the highlight of Hackl’s on-set supervision experience. “Running around the favelas with a Spheron camera while under armed guard was a little crazy,” says Hackl, “but the experience was top-notch.”

Image Engine’s most technically challenging work, however, came in the shape of a two-shot sequence simply known as the “The Blood Drop.” The sequence, overseen by CG Sequence Supervisor Greg Massie and composited by Senior Compositor Corrina Wilson, featured two distinct story points, starting with Banner cutting himself. A drop of his gamma-infected blood falls through three stories of a bottling plant, separates into two drops on the way and ultimately lands in bottles on a conveyor belt. This shot required extensive post-vis to determine motion control photography that was used to travel from the “A-Plate” of Banner cutting himself to the “B-Plate” of the bottling plant far below. The camera ramps in and out of slow motion as we dramatically follow the blood drop on its path. The shot required ultra-close-up CG animation of the blood drop in macro detail, sophisticated re-timing of the plate elements.

The second shot in this sequence features a moment when Banner tests a home laboratory cure for gamma radiation on a sample of his own blood. Seen from the macro perspective of a microscopic lens, the all-CG shot relates the failure of Banner’s antidote to overcome his gamma radiation-soaked blood cells. Image Engine’s R&D department wrote several custom tools to generate bubble fields, surface erosion and decay of the infected cells. The shot made use of custom 3Delight shaders and was composited by Senior Compositor Janeen Elliott.

“Hulk provided us with a great opportunity to showcase Image Engine’s creative and technical capacities,” says Walsh. “We aimed high and we delivered.”