Sydney’s Fuel VFX delivered 120 shots in six sequences for the Marvel superhero blockbuster CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.
Fuel’s VFX Supervisor Dave Morley led a team of more than 50 artists and technicians through production, ensuring that the team’s work was in line with the vision of director Joe Johnston and VFX Supervisor Christopher Townsend. “This is an effects-heavy film that’s set in the 1940s and stars a mythical superhero, but Joe and Chris never wanted the effects to be over-the-top or gratuitous. All the effects do in this movie is help to tell the story, so that’s the brief we worked to,” said Morley.
Much of the work that Fuel delivered for the film involved building full CG environments such as the Hydra Base in the German Alps and reconstruction of the famous Radio City Music Hall, as well as delivery of various CG elements such as the Stark Industries bathysphere, motorbikes, the Hydra tank, digital doubles and the signature ‘cube’. A lot of CG effects work such as energy lasers, explosions, fire, smoke, snow, and water – including a sequence involving Captain America chasing a mini submarine in the murky water of New York harbour – were part of a varied, complex package of work completed by Fuel, starting with the opening sequence.
A fully CG opening shot of headlights resolving out of a blizzard introduces the audience to an Arctic excavation site, where scientists have discovered a huge aircraft buried in the ice. Shot on stage at Shepperton in the UK, Fuel took a locked off shot of the aircraft wingtip and created a moving camera shot that depicts a digitally-created frozen wasteland, complete with digital doubles and CG snowcats; the extent of the buried craft mapped out with marker lights. A few laser effects and face replacements later and the scientific team has entered the aircraft and found a certain shield frozen in the ice.
The largest of the sequences undertaken by Fuel was a James Bond-style motorcycle chase, where Captain America is being pursued by the enemy as he heads towards the Hydra base. The sequence required a seamless intercutting of location and green screen plates, enhanced with various elements such as digital doubles, CG flame-throwers, explosions, ‘blue bolt’ laser effects and tree extensions, as Cap dispatches his pursuers before attacking the entrance to the Hydra base – in reality, the outskirts of Shepperton Studios redressed as the foothills of the Alps by the Fuel crew.
After Cap leaps his motorcycle over the base walls, the digital environment extensions were required for almost every camera angle, while further CG fire, smoke, debris and blue bolt effects work fleshed out the ensuing action. A detailed CG build of iron doors embedded into mountain rock was required for the shot when Cap uses his motorbike as an explosive to blast a hole in the doors, and glimpse the cavern beyond. This build was later re-used when the Allied commandoes storm the Hydra base – much of that action created from many layers of separate elements of extras, vehicles and explosions.
Another challenge was the underwater chase, where Cap swims at a super-human pace to catch the character of Heinz Kruger in his one-man submarine. Filmed wet-for-wet in a tank, Fuel VFX Supervisor Dave Morley explains, “the trick was to get the timing of these shots right, as Cap should be swimming at about 40km an hour to catch the sub. To do this, we moved either the digital camera or the submarine in comp. Particulates added to the water help sell the speed they are travelling at.” The underwater particulate sims also made the water appear suitably murky, with the look of the sequence completed by a hint of the wharf pylons in the background, the giant rudder of a container ship, cavitation bubbles from the sub, and even a few fish.
“The body of work we delivered played to our strengths in digital environmental builds, seamless effects and complex plate integration,” says Executive Producer Jason Bath.
“Working on this film was a great experience for our team and we’d like to thank Chris Townsend, Mark Soper, Joe Johnston, Victoria Alonso and all at Marvel – we very much enjoy working on the Marvel projects and appreciate being regular contributors for their VFX.”
Captain America: The First Avenger reached #1 at the box office on its opening weekends in both the US and Australia.