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How Josh Brolin was turned into a huge titan of Thanos for the “War of Infinity”

To create such a believable hero, it took a complex system of motion capture and machine learning.

Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.

Despite the fact that in the “Infinity War” there are many heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America and other Avengers, the central character of the painting is the titan of Thanos. It was to him that the authors spent most of the screen time: the villain was given over half an hour on the screen.

The role of Thanos was performed by Josh Brolin, with whom in May 2018 will be released another film – “Deadpool 2”. Despite the talent of the actor, the character would not become believable without computer effects from the Digital Domain studio. In addition to the extremely complex system of motion capture, the company used artificial intelligence. The Verge magazine talked to the visual effects supervisor Kelly Port about working on an ambitious project.

The port said that at least seven major visual effects studios, including Digital Domain, were working on the “War of Infinity”. To prevent this from becoming a logistical nightmare, Marvel was supervised by the supervisors who worked directly with the script and knew how to distribute the resources of the companies. According to Port, the studio clearly did not want to “put all the eggs in one basket.”

We remembered the times of work on the Titanic (the studio Digital Domain was founded by director James Cameron – prim.red. ), It was a film with a lot of effects, which was about 300 scenes [with graphics].

In “Avengers”, for comparison, about 3 thousand scenes with visual effects. Almost every scene of the film is to some extent affected by computer graphics: whether it’s just a blue screen, cosmetic corrections or the removal of cables.

Kelly Port
VFX Supervisor Digital Domain

Digital Domain was mainly engaged in the creation of Thanos, the studio “revived” it in almost all scenes, except for those that occurred on its home planet Titan. Over these moments, Weta Digital company Peter Jackson ( director of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” – editor’s note ) worked .

Supervisor said that the companies fell out the most emotionally heavy scenes that are in the film. While working in the office, even joking joke: “Hey, can give us baby Gruta or something else, because everyone here is already depressed.”

Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
The Digital Domain spent almost four months on the first tests of Thanos before the filming. They consisted in the fact that Josh Brolin met with the directors of the “War of Infinity” by the Rousseau brothers and discussed the character, and then tried to get used to the role.

He played very simply and usually, just throwing ideas. But this was a real way to test the system and make sure that the design of the effects worked. Thanos has about 40 minutes of screen time and he is the protagonist of the film. Therefore, if the character did not work, then the film would not have been successful.

Kelly Port
 The port considers it critical that Thanos not only looked photorealistic as much as possible technically. The team was able to maximally transfer to the screen the image created by Josh Brolin, practically not changing it.

According to the supervisor, the actor liked working with the system. After the first filming day, he stated that he did not have to replay.

When he saw the results of the test shooting, it turned out that even during the simple actor’s game, the finest details of the face were visible. So he could just play as usual, the system fixed everything.

Kelly Port

For several decades of the existence of Thanos in comics, the characters were portrayed in completely different ways. Before the “War of Infinity”, even in the carved Marvel it was played by different people and it looked different.

Therefore, the team of Digital Domain began with a historical design based on a sculpture provided by the art division of Marvel. From there they took the proportions of the eyes and mouth and combined them with the features of Josh Brolin.

There had to be a balance between Brolin and the historical features of Thanos, of course, we found him. But, I think, we added more of Brolin’s features than in the previous versions of the character in the movies.

Kelly Port

The port told about the technology of creating computer characters on the basis of the appearance of live actors, which are used in Disney. First, Josh Brolin had to wear a suit with seizure of movements, and on his head he wore a helmet with two cameras. On the actor’s face, dozens of small points were used to capture facial expressions.

Then the team received the material and began work on capturing facial movements. This process was divided into two phases: the first involved the use of the Masquerade program, which collected the low-resolution facial images from the cameras on the actor’s helmet, and the second stage used the internal tool Disney Research called Medusa. This program received images of Browlin’s face of high quality and contributed to a special library of examples.

Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
A massive database was loaded into a machine-learning algorithm, which was also developed inside the studio. Roughly speaking, thepointed to the computer: “This person is in low resolution, but we want to get him in high.” After that, the system created an equivalent high-resolution image using the examples collected by Medusa.

Then specialists of Digital Domain viewed the material for artifacts and inaccuracies. If they were found, they corrected and loaded back into the system, and she remembered it and did not make such mistakes anymore. According to the Port, in the course of production, specialists had to make fewer and fewer adjustments.

Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
In the end, the source code in high resolution is turned into a virtual character. For this, the same machine learning algorithm is used.

The material also looks around for inaccuracies: is the computer correctly reproducing the emotion and whether it looks human. Errors are corrected manually and loaded into the system so that it learns. The port noted that Digital Domain recently mastered the technology of machine learning and used them in only a few projects.

Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
Thanos. Frame Marvel Studios.
Usually the weakness of computer characters is their eyes, but in Thanos in the “War of Infinity” they really created a few emotional moments. According to Port, the secret is that the eyes are well grasped by the algorithm, taught to understand the topology of the eyes.

The main difficulty for employees of Digital Domain was photorealism of Thanos. To ensure its maintenance, the coordinated work of several departments was necessary, because if the lighting or the environment were not suitable, it would be unrealistic, and if the animation department were mistaken, it would frighten people.

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