It’s amazing to think how much effort has gone into bringing Marvel Comics’ The Avengers to screens, with its back story built on the combined efforts of the two Iron Man films, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and 2011’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s a commitment of time, money, and talent that is impressive on a number of levels, and this long journey has featured the combined work of a number of Full Sail graduates.
Alumni previously worked on Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America, with many of these grads and more returning for The Avengers. In total, 56 Full Sail graduates worked in different roles throughout its production – a record number for a single project – and we caught up with a handful of them before the film’s premiere to learn about what went into the ambitious production.
These grads spanned the development and include Sean Matthews (office production assistant: New York unit) on the production end, and Fred Stuhrberg (contract 3D scanner: Gentle Giant Studios), H Haden Hammond (sequence supervisor: Luma Pictures), and Eric Timm (stereoscopic artist: Stereo D) contributing to the visual effects departments.
New to this comic book universe was Sean Matthews, a 2010 Film graduate who made his feature film debut on The Avengers. As an office production assistant for the duration of the shoot he worked at the Marvel headquarters in New York City, which was responsible for coordinating many of the project's moving parts. Some of his responsibilities included running material down to set during the few days they filmed in the city, as well as helping their plate unit support the needs of the visual effects studios where the majority of our other grads were stationed.
“The office crew are a movie’s problem solvers, and one of my main things was making sure the effects guys always had everything they needed,” Sean says. “The best was helping conduct the scenes shot in New York. It was kind of mind-blowing to be fresh out of school and know my work was helping the rest of the project.”
One of the visual effects artists Sean supported was Computer Animation graduate Fred Stuhrberg, a freelance 3D scanner who previously worked on Iron Man 2. Fred created some of the digital location surveys, as well as scanned physical models that were later used to build digital characters and objects for the film. This included props for main villain Loki, and even a full body scan of actor Mark Ruffalo that was used by the animators for his transformation into the Hulk.
“I started working on it back in 2010 when they made the announcement of who was going to play the Hulk – the next week we were already making digital models of Ruffalo,” Fred says. “It was almost two years of work, and it’s pretty amazing how it turned out. The Hulk has never looked better because of all the subtleties – we were able to give him so much personality. Once it comes out all of the other comic book movies are going to have a hard time matching the level of quality because this has set the bar so high.”
A number of prominent effects houses were also instrumental in creating the film’s gorgeous CGI work. One of these was Luma Pictures, where a team that included nine Full Sail grads helped craft and polish the digital visuals for the final release. This included sequence supervisor H Haden Hammond, a Computer Animation grad who previously worked on both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, and contributed to key shots with the entire Avengers team aboard their heli-carrier.
“It’s so amazing working with these characters, I was even geeking out back when we were on Thor,” H says. “A large sequence we worked on for Avengers involved see-through video screens that the characters were interacting with. Our team composited the graphics onto the screens and the sky in the background, and it was cool because a lot of the heroes were in the shots. It got us really psyched, and we made sure everything was as close to perfect as possible for the amount of time we had.”
As these sequences were finalized they were passed over to Stereo D, a digital studio specializing in 2D to 3D film conversions. Film grad Eric Timm is a stereoscopic artist there, and worked on many key sequences for The Avengers, including the climactic final battle. He previously handled the conversion for Captain America: The First Avenger, and explained that they’ve been able to significantly deepen the 3D image quality in just the year between the two projects.
“The 3D process looks really good in The Avengers, especially because there’s a ton of visual effects that are so detailed,” Eric says. “It’s funny because the director Joss Whedon wasn’t convinced, but we really converted him. He paid us a visit and told us personally how much he liked what we did, that was such a great moment.”
The scale of The Avengers starts to come into focus when you realize each of these artists were single members of a collection of talented teams all working to bring film's biggest comic book adaptation to life. It’s a lot for one movie to live up to, but early buzz has been overwhelmingly positive, and it speaks volumes that after months – even years – of working on the film, many of these grads will be among the eager fans standing in line on opening day.
“I’ve collected comic books since I was ten, and was looking at my stack while cleaning recently and saw old Iron Man comic books I had,” H Haden Hammond says. “It’s crazy to think back to when I was a 12 year old reading them, now all these years later I’m working on this movie. I don’t think about it very often, but sometimes I realize how cool my job is. You kind of have to pinch yourself every once in awhile.”