Was that the Hulk smashing a car in New York City? Bantering with Ant-Man and taking photos with kids at a diner as Professor Hulk? Angrily barrelling down a staircase because he couldn’t fit into an elevator?
If those were your favourite scenes from Avengers: Endgame, you’ll have to thank some Singaporeans who had a hand in making everyone’s favourite superhero with anger management issues come to life on the big screen.
Lead animator Edward Zhou, compositor Janice Tan and senior lighting technical director Neeraj Pattani had all worked on major Hulk scenes and sequences in the blockbuster Marvel movie.
And the contributions of all three – who all work at Lucasfilm Animation, and Industrial Light and Magic – were by no means small.
As a supervising animator for Endgame in Singapore, the 37-year-old Zhou led a team of 20 animators and worked on a number of sequences that featured mostly the Hulk.
During post-production, he dealt with his counterpart in San Francisco on a daily basis, talking about character performances, new ideas and whatever changes the “clients” (aka Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo) would like to make.
So what exactly did the animators do? Simply put, they’re responsible for making inanimate objects move and the “performance” of computer graphics characters.
“It’s like when you see Iron Man or whoever it is fighting on screen, they're obviously not going to put Robert Downey Jr through the fight,” said Zhou, whose first Marvel assignment was Ant-Man.
“So when all those digital characters are fighting, that’s when we come in. We get references from the actors themselves, like Mark Ruffalo (when working on the Hulk) or Robert Downey Jr (when working on Iron Man). We get to see them in a somewhat ‘naked’ form without the suits,” he explained, with a laugh.
“And then we have their facial performances delivered to us and then we have to put it onto their digital counterparts, their digital characters. We take references from everywhere and make it seem like it’s actually Iron Man taking on the villain or the Hulk fighting Thanos.”
Interestingly enough, one of his more memorable sequences didn’t involve fighting.
“We worked on the very introduction of the ‘Smart Hulk’ or ‘Professor Hulk’,” Zhou revealed. “The one where he is having lunch in the diner. It was a very fun sequence because there's a lot of interaction between him and Ant-Man, and there’s a lot of performance from Mark Ruffalo. So they did multiple takes and we had to pick the best take and try to make all the shots work, and make the scene feel cohesive.”
Meanwhile, senior lighting technical director Neeraj Pattani also got to work on the Hulk scenes – which was perfect for someone who’s a huge fan of the character.
“That's always the motivation behind doing what you do right? To do what you like,” he said, with a laugh.
Lighting artists are responsible for lighting various computer graphics elements in a scene and making sure everything integrates well with real-life footage.
A major chunk of what Pattani worked on was the New York City sequence where Avengers travelled back in time.
“When they first land from the future and they see Hulk coming in and smashing the car – the time-travelling Hulk looks embarrassed. That shot where he's actually smashing the car was the shot I lit. It took up quite a bit of my time,” said the 29-year-old.
He added that trying to make the car look realistic was “one of the hardest things we had to do”.
“Trying to make sure that Hulk looks realistic as well. Trying to get the textured details on the car looking correct,” he shared, adding that he also worked on the time travel suits the Avengers wore.
If you thought lighting was as simply as flicking on a switch, think again.
“Our job as lighting in the computer graphics line is to make sure that Hulk running down a street looks integrated enough so that you know there's enough sunlight on him, and that we get matching shadows from the building. It’s so he doesn't look like a cut-and-paste,” he explained.
As for Janice Tan, she might be the rose among the thorns, but as a compositor on Endgame, she more than stood out. She explained that a compositor combines layers of stuff that’s already there, from effects, computer animation that’s been “rendered” and live action footage.
And yes, she also worked on Hulk scenes, specifically when he was running down the stairs because he couldn’t join the rest on the elevator.
“It was very hard work but very rewarding,” the 30-year-old shared. “So much so, I told all my friends to stay back after Endgame for the end credits to look out for my name.”
As one of the few women in the industry, Tan hopes that being a Singaporean female on one of the biggest movies will spur others to follow their dreams.
“I was wondering why there are more male supervisors than female supervisors in our compositors department,” she shared. “I think more can definitely be done like reaching out to schools to let young girls know there is this career path and it’s possible to do big things.”