Dan DeLeeuw's been helping lead the visual effects charge on some of the biggest movies at Marvel Studios. Most recently, he's been working on Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War and before that, he was on Captain America: Civil War and the Oscar-nominated Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
In lead up to Endgame hitting home media next Tuesday, we spoke with DeLeeuw about all things Endgame, including Smart Hulk, that massive portals scene, and creating two version of Thanos. Keep scrolling to see what DeLeeuw says laboring over Smart Hulk, building effects for the biggest movie to hit theaters and more!
ComicBook.com: Let's kick it back a few years and talk about the very beginning of this production process with Infinity War and Endgame filming back-to-back. As the visual effects boss, tell us about your working process. Were you preparing everything for both movies at once or did you get through Infinity War and have some time to adjust things for Endgame?
Dan DeLeeuw: Well we started, we first got the schedule, we were trying to shoot what made the most sense for the two movies. So it would be, you're shooting scenes from Endgame, then you're shooting scenes from Infinity War. The initial planning when we started with pre-vis was kind of, let's see what's going to shoot first. The schedule originally started with Rhodey and Nebula going to Morag and that was going to be first up and so we ended up doing a lot of our planning and pre-vis and tech-vis, kind of what we need to learn to know how to shoot on set.
It kind of actually started that way and then as the schedule changed, then everybody decided to shoot Infinity War first and then shoot Endgame, so we had to readjust a little bit because we were now ahead for the next movie but we weren't going to shoot that for another six, seven months. So we would go back in and then start planning again for just the Infinity War portion of the project and then while you're then shooting Infinity War, then you're planning Endgame. Then while you're planning Endgame, you're now in post-production on Infinity War, so it was interesting scenario shooting both kind of consecutive like that.
Absolutely. So Endgame has two different versions of Thanos, right? We had time-traveling Thanos, then present timeline Thanos. When you're prepping the movie, did you treat that setup as two separate characters?
It all starts with the same character. The basis starts with the Thanos from Infinity War. He has multiple outfits, so you have got kind of what was a philosopher Thanos, the one that became the elevated human being after he started collecting the stones and wasn't the warlord. Then at the end of the film, by using the stones, he gets damaged. The stones take their toll on his body.
When we got to Endgame, we brought that damage forward into Endgame. On-camera we see he snapped and he had a little bit of damage on him when he left Thor. But then off-camera, he's used the Gauntlet again to destroy the stones. So we had to go back and damage it even further to show what happened off-camera when he used the Gauntlet twice. Then from there, you had the Thanos from the beginning of the movie that was, his arm was shriveled and that kind of set the stage for what was going to happen to the Hulk and Tony later on. Then you had the Thanos that hadn't gone through that trauma yet and so you kind of divided the two between the present-day Thanos and the 2014 Thanos.
Speaking of Hulk...Smart Hulk...it's essentially a big green Mark Ruffalo, right? Did the Russo Brothers have a pretty good idea of the look and feel they were hoping for Smart Hulk or did you and your teams have a good opinion on it?
We have a great look development department at Marvel with Ryan Meinerding overseeing it. We had some sketches to kind of play with with the Hulk and then we sent that up to ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] and they roughly started with the Hulk from Avengers: Age of Ultron and from the first Avengers and then started massaging it and seeing what level of Ruffalo we could bring into it.
We'd actually done a test before both movies had started. They were working on Thor: Ragnarok with Mark down in Australia and we wanted some motion capture footage of him. So on their motion capture day, the Russo's got on the phone with Mark and Taika [Waititi] and they said, well this is kind of what we're looking for. It's basically Banner in an over-size Hulk body and so they just kind of riffed on this crazy idea and Mark was just kind of ad-libbing, trying to type on a computer keyboard and he can't because his fingers are too big and so he gets angry and kicks over a table and knocks it over. It's this funny little gag because it was Banner living in a body that doesn't fit into the world and it was funny because you saw Mark's face and expression, so that kind of solidified the idea to push a little bit more Mark into the Hulk, into the design.
Then when we got to Endgame, we kind of refined the model and you get those really great Mark Ruffalo features within the bigger proportions of the Hulk. It was really kind of a test that we did that informed us in terms of where to take it as a character and get him to the point where he could emote and could really sell the character with Mark, especially when he puts the Gauntlet on and he's like he was made for this. That was the first shot we got done with the Hulk and you could really just see the sacrifice he was going to make based on much Ruffalo was in the Hulk design.
That's great. Then everything eventually culminates in this massive sequence with the portals and such. How did that sequence end up coming about? Was that initially scripted or did you have to put your heads together and say, "Well, we need to introduce 1000 soldiers in the span of 30 seconds?" What was the brainstorming session like behind that portal scene?
We knew we left people on Titan and we knew we left them with Dr. Strange and so we kind of knew we were going to use portals to bring people in because we knew Dr. Strange had to get to the Guardians and Spidey back from Titan. That kind of naturally led into the idea that after Hulk snapped and from the time that, you know, the three on one at the beginning and Cap against, Thanos versus Cap, Dr. Strange went around and came up with the idea of opening all the portals up and bringing everybody back.
It started in pre-vis, we had the basic outline and the script and it started in pre-vis. We had trouble figuring out the best way to bring them back and decided on giving everybody their entrance, something that you or the fans who were away from the character for a year and for all intents and purposes, the heroes were gone and dead and so you bring them back in that way gave them all a showcase for everybody to kind of... Where we truly left some people devastated at the end of Infinity War, we kind of brought everybody back and gave that emotional catharsis for the characters on-screen and for everybody watching it off-screen. It was kind of driven by the emotion of that.
Awesome! To date, you've been on a handful of properties at Marvel Studios, most of them with Joe and Anthony Russo. Now that they're taking a little hiatus after Endgame, are you doing the same with Marvel or are you working on your next MCU project?
I'm directing second unit on The Eternals now. I'm going to stay with the Marvel family because it's a lot of fun. It's fun playing with superheroes.
What was your favorite effects shot in either Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by tweeting me at @AdamBarnhardt to chat all things MCU!0comments
Avengers: Endgame is now available digitally ahead of a home media release August 13th.
Photo by Dan MacMedan / Getty Images
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