On course to be one of the most- commercially successful films ever made, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second movie in the series from Director Joss Whedon, and features the assembled Avengers doing battle with a malevolent Artificial Intelligence named Ultron, hell-bent on the destruction of all man kind.
The artists and designers at Animal Logic were brought in early on in the project to handle the design and VFX for a key sequence in the film – The Birth of Ultron – which along with other key elements, made up over 80 shots.
“We have a good relationship with Chris Townsend, Marvel’s Visual Effects Supervisor,” said Animal Logic VFX Supervisor, Paul Butterworth. “He and Joss (Whedon) know the kind of work we could do, and gave us a certain amount of creative freedom to come up with various ideas.”
The task served was to design and create a visually stunning representation of both JARVIS – Tony Stark’s trusted A.I. helper – and ULTRON – the peacekeeping programme that awakens in cyberspace and decides that the world would be a safer place without the Avengers, and the humans they fight to protect.
“We start by doing visual research for cool images that might relate to the brief such as interesting sculptures, photography or a painting and we put together a mood board that was over 50 pages of ideas for the piece,” said Animal Logic’s Executive Producer, Jason Bath
With Animal Logic having a particular expertise in this kind of design and execution, Paul and his team of digital artists set about realising a vision of the two very different operating systems of JARVIS (voiced by Paul Bettany) and ULTRON (voiced by James Spader).
Using the research as a starting point, the team worked with Chris and Josh until they had something that satisfied everyone involved. The end result was the orange glowing ‘aura’ of Jarvis, full of angular shapes reminiscent of computer circuitry, and the blue ‘aura’ for Ultron, which represented a much more advanced version of Stark’s A.I., one that had a much more organic, biological feel to the design.
“Once the director was happy with the design, the challenge for us was how the actors (Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo) interacted with the representations of JARVIS and ULTRON in a 3 dimensional space,“ said Paul.
Lighting, shape and interactions with sound were additional challenges that were explored and resolved by the Animal Logic team, before getting to another big question – what does cyberspace look like?
As ULTRON comes online, the consciousness explores his environment, the environment of data that is the Internet. After much research in fractal forms, Animal Logic’s approach was to design something never seen before, a huge, quantum maze of colour and light, with cubes of data being stored and selected as the mind of the villainous Ultron researched its environment and creator.
From a technical point of view, the team used an ever-evolving combination of Houdini, Maya and After Effects to achieve the looks for the biggest superhero blockbuster of 2015.
As Marvel's VFX Supervisor Chris Townsend told FX Guide in their May 2015 article Casting The Vendors on Avengers: "Animal Logic is incredibly skilled at creating things you’ve never seen before, and they’re very aware of storytelling and the fluidity of the cut and the way things change constantly in Marvel’s world. Marvel relies a lot on the graphics and the storytelling ability of the visuals. And Animal Logic have a great sensibility with that stuff. I love their attitude.”