Across its nine-episode first season, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law proved to be a surprising entry for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The live-action series brought to life the journey of Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany), a high-profile lawyer whose life is changed when she gets gamma-related superpowers and can turn into a superhero. Bringing Jen's superpowered self into the MCU involved the work of countless visual effects artists, who helped enhance Maslany's mo-cap performance in some groundbreaking ways. Among those artists was the team at the Oscar-winning VFX studio Digital Domain, which has partnered with Marvel Studios on projects like Avengers: Endgame, Ms. Marvel, and WandaVision.
For She-Hulk, the team worked on a number of facets of Jen's personal aesthetic, from her hair and makeup to the business suits she wears at work — and they even invented new technology to help bring that to life. Additionally, they worked pretty closely on the creation of K.E.V.I.N., the Kevin Feige-esque android who appears in the season finale. In celebration of She-Hulk's season finale, ComicBook.com sat down with Digital Domain VFX Supervisor Jan Philip Cramer and Animation Supervisor Elizabeth Bernard to comprehensively break down their work on the series.
ComicBook.com: This obviously isn't your team's first project at Marvel, but it is so different tonally and technically from the rest of Phase Four. Did either of you do any research into She-Hulk's comic history, before you worked on translating her onto the screen?
Elizabeth Bernard: When I first found out I was going to be working on this project, I started going to the internet and doing all of the research, of course. I didn't know very much about her before. I'm not a big comic book reader myself, but I am very much marinating in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show I'm on right now, which I can't talk about yet, is my seventh Marvel show over the last five or six years, so we do a lot of this work. I was really curious to see how she was going to fit into everything else. Honestly, there wasn't really any research that I could have done to prepare me for the script, because the script is so out there. It's so different from anything else that we've seen in the MCU. So I did do my homework, but I don't know how far it got me.
Jan Philip Cramer: I always tend to go down the rabbit hole a little too much. When we got on the show, we ordered a bunch [of comics] and we had to dive into that and try to really understand all the different [eras] of her. That, I think, was really important. But as Liz is saying, it was interesting then to see the interpretation of the script. It was hard to prepare for that, I think.prevnext
I was really fascinated to learn that you guys used very similar mo-cap feature to what you did on Thanos. How did the tools and the experience of working on that help with bringing She-Hulk to life?
Cramer: I worked a lot with Thanos over the years, and the biggest difference is that Thanos is bold and angry and a man. [laughs] So, I think we realized quickly that what we need to do has to be quite different to Thanos. What we learned with Thanos, I think, was how to capture all the details of the face, and put that on a CG character really well. I think this, for us, was reaching new heights when we did that.
Applying the same to She-Hulk, the problem was that her range is so different to start with. When you see Tatiana, she's a bubbling actress, so exciting. And she has so many different heights she can hit — angry, sad, she's crying on the show, she's laughing, she's in love. Thanos did none of that. So that was really difficult, to see how far we can push the facial system and to capture all that additional detail and make that look realistic.prevnext
You mentioned all of the emotions on the show — there's the one monologue that she does that is the single take. How long did the process on that take? How long were you guys working on that before it ultimately was finished?
Cramer: That shot was special. Liz, in animation, you guys were finessing that for a long time.
Bernard: For a while, but not as long as I thought it would take, to be honest. Tatiana gives such a great nuanced performance, and you can see the whole journey of explaining her life as a Hulk, and just as a person, and what the difference between those two is. It was just so clear all the way through. Most of what we ended up having to tweak in that shot was taking some of her arm expressions, which — when you transfer them from a smaller, normal human-sized person onto a 6'7" Hulk — end up looking a little bit exaggerated. We took some of those and toned them down.
But I think the facial performance was there from the get go. We were really just going in and making sure that all of the nuance came through. In animation, we spent maybe three-and-a-half months on that one, but I was expecting it to go quite a lot longer because of the level of detail. That's a keystone shot for, really, the whole show. It explains her whole character arc.prevnext
I did want to ask about the fashion and the wardrobe. There's already tons of concept art out there showing all the different outfits that were in the works for Jen. Did your team collaborate with the visual design department at all, in terms of figuring out what outfits would and wouldn't work?
Cramer: Really, we were the first people on board with Marvel. Then we did a test shoot, and the Art Department was there, and obviously the Fashion Department. It was very important, I think, that they were in there early on, because we would provide them often our emotions, our designs, where we were going with the character, and they were then seeing how that would fit. A lot of these costumes, though, are story-driven, as you know. At the beginning, she wears very large costumes to hide her body, and then towards the end, she gets more and more in tighter-fitting outfits. I think that journey was very, very important for the filmmakers, so that was something that we could help a lot as well.
Bernard: This is one of those things that's just so unique about this show. We had, I think, twelve different costumes we worked on with one character, which is so unusual. Normally you've got Iron Man in your movie, and he's got his Iron Man suit. Maybe there's one other costume, and that's it. So you just build the character to look like he should when he's wearing the costume, but we had to do it the other way around with She-Hulk. We had to build what she would look like without anything on, and then start building the costumes on top, keeping in mind that the costumes are actually going to shape her body as well. They'll have an influence on her.
We ended up developing this new system that we'd never needed before at Digital Domain. It's a bra and shapewear system to change the shape of her body depending on what she's wearing. So if she's wearing the men's Big and Tall suits at the beginning of the show, she doesn't have as much compression in various parts of her body. Then later on, when she's wearing her super nice, tailored suits from Luke the superhero tailor, everything is more compressed and shaped, and you can tell that she's wearing a tight skirt. That was a unique challenge that we had to overcome on this one.
Cramer: What happened with the costumes always was that — they would make first a version for Tatiana to see how would that fold, how would that really feel on her, and how would the fit be. We also had Maliah be a stand-in for She-Hulk. Based on our She-Hulk model, they then made an outfit for her, and her muscle suit would get her in the same proportions. The art department would, again, make the same outfit for her in size. We were able to see how, in motion, it would actually look and in different lighting conditions. That became very, very important, because on a smaller person, how that wrinkles versus on a much larger person is quite different. The wrinkle sizes and the behavior of the material is very different. So I think that helped a lot.
To answer your question earlier, with the art department, we would work back and forth. We would take their costumes, put them on our actress and then see, "Ah, this doesn't work. It's way too short, for instance." Because often, during the transformations, you wouldn't want that the skirt rides up too high. They would design it for Tatiana, and then we would have to see, "What is the length on Tatiana that, on She-Hulk, will look appropriate?" as an example.prevnext
Did either of you have a favorite outfit to animate, either because of the technical work behind it, or just because you personally liked it?
Bernard: I really liked the suit that Luke makes her to wear to work, especially because we went on this journey with She-Hulk. We started on earlier sequences in the show, all the way through the first four episodes that she's wearing these men's big and tall suits, which were a real challenge to get right. Because we built one, and then it ended up looking frumpy on her in a way that wasn't really what Marvel wanted. It took some back and forth to dial in that look. By the time we got to the sequences where she's finally wearing this immaculately-tailored beautiful suit made by this genius tailor, it was like, "Ah, this feels right. This looks so good." It looks so much like the comics, especially some of the covers that I found from earlier comics, where she's just in these incredible, fashion-plate poses. It felt like her, all of a sudden.
Cramer: For me, oddly enough, I like the Big and Talls a lot. They were very difficult for us, to be honest, because it took a while. She is looking lost in there, for us to fully get that — this was the beginning for us with She-Hulk, and it wasn't a costume that intentionally doesn't flatter her. So this was, for us, a little bit of a struggling beginning, to make a costume that's intentionally not looking attractive. We worked on that for a really long time. Then once we got it, I think it was really great. I really, really enjoyed that a lot.prevnext
I would be remissed if I didn't ask about her hair and makeup. In the comics, her hair has a life of its own at a lot of different points, so what was the process of translating all of that on screen? Obviously, Thanos didn't have hair and makeup to deal with, so I assume it was a whole new challenge.
Cramer: For us, it was a ton of work, first figuring out what that hair style is. How big is that hair? When we saw the initial artworks, we were like, "Ooh, that's a very big hair. This seems very challenging to make this giant hairdo look realistic." This was, for us early on, a big struggle and I think we overcame that quite well. But it ended up being a ton of work on the shot level, simulating the hair and making sure that it acts realistically in nature, while having a shape that would be hard to achieve without a lot of hairspray. [laughs]
Bernard: I think, also, figuring out how exactly the hair was going to frame the face is such an important thing to somebody looking like themselves. We started out not 100% knowing what she was supposed to look like, because we were helping design her. So figuring out where the cut points are for the part, and how her hair lays across her forehead, and comes down the side of her face. That took a while to develop and get looking really good. Same thing with the buns.
Cramer: We try to always use as much from Tatiana as we humanly can. So we tried to use her hairline, but then we obviously had to adjust it for the character She-Hulk. But it was critical that it's very similar in nature. I think those were, again, a lot of the things where we helped with the design process. We then worked how the fancy hair would integrate and still look like Tatiana. Especially when you see the transformation shots, it's super important that you can't all of a sudden grow hair — or the opposite in certain areas — in just a few frames. You need to have of a common denominator between the two, always.prevnext
I was going to ask about the transition shots, because those were so well done in the show. How did you guys approach adapting that and making it this thing that we had to see on screen?
Cramer: We got a reference, early on, of a strawberry ripening. It was a very simple but very elegant transformation. Before, often the transformations were rather painful on the body. It seemed like bones are breaking and reseting and stuff, so you normally see the characters going through some emotions. With She-Hulk, that's not meant to be the idea at all, right? It's meant to be a pretty event, something beautiful that's happening. I think it's a very different approach to it. For us, we wanted to obviously respect that, but then get as much detail in there during the transformation to She-Hulk, like little veins and little goosebumps running. But everything had to be done in under the eye of making sure it looks pretty, and not scary or uncomfortable, or that her skin is not looking pretty during that transformation.
Bernard: One of my favorite transformation shots in the show is actually in the second episode, where she's talking to her boss, after she's just pounded Titania in the face in the courtroom. She's had quite a few glasses of whiskey at this point, and he asks her to transform back into Jen so that he can fire her, and she just falls down instantly, because she can't handle her liquor at that point anymore. That was such a funny scene to get to work on. I loved it.prevnext
I have to ask about K.E.V.I.N. — I was reading in another interview that your team literally studied Kevin Feige's mannerisms in the design. What was it like to have to work so closely on a parody of, essentially, your boss on the entire project?
Bernard: Oh yeah, that's scary, but it was pretty cool. We dug up some old Comic-Con footage of him giving a 30-minute interview. We had that on our system, so that the animators could really dive in and see if they could find things that he did that made him feel like himself. One thing that we noticed was — he talks with his hands a lot, so we found a couple of unique ways that he would hold his hands together when he was making a point. And we ended up using that a lot in the K.E.V.I.N. sequence on the robot. We would often have visible claws come together and grasp one another. And of course, there's the hat.
Cramer: The nice thing was we started this super early. I think most of us on the team were not thinking that this would be in the show, because it seems so bizarre. We then read the dialogue that was meant to happen and saw 'Oh, it's not just that they make fun of it visually. They make really fun of a lot of things in that sequence. Let's see if that stays." And it did. It was a really nice journey, because we helped from the very beginning. I think one of the first things we did, besides She-Hulk was we did K.E.V.I.N. We did some random animations of him, and they liked it a lot. Our idea was just this older robot that's about to fall apart. We designed the room, [and] it's meant to be like an old '70s sports bar that was amazing at the time, but now it's not so cool. There's dust everywhere and scratch marks. Somebody got to clean this thing up, but he is in there and happy and all wired in. Over the months, we saw it always change and evolve, and then a year-and-a-half later or two years later, it was in the [series]. Unbelievable. Super cool.
Bernard: It was crazy thing to have to keep secret for all of that time, that we were working on K.E.V.I.N. The Kevin, Kevin Feige.
Cramer: And his name is K.E.V.I.N., so you're like, "Ugh, nobody can talk about that. This is going to be trouble."
Bernard: Every time we would have a new animator join our team, I would give them a kickoff, and explain the plot and all the characters, and give them all the context for the show. My coordinator on the show always liked the moment when I would drop the K.E.V.I.N. bomb in that kickoff meeting. Because the animators, most of them know who Kevin Feige is. A lot of us have worked on a bunch of Marvel projects before, and you would just see the jaw drop, or the eyes get big like, 'What? What? What's happening?' It was so funny.prevnext
What would you say surprised you the most about the experience of working on She-Hulk?
Cramer: I have one — we skipped talking about the makeup earlier. The unknown of making a female CG lead character — which has barely been done, I think, especially not in a comedy fashion. To me it's a mix between Sex and the City and Ally McBeal. In a show like that, you never had a CG character, so we had to discover a lot. Especially when you go into a visual effects company, you find that there's a lot of nerdy men sitting around, that don't know anything about any of that. So I had to learn about makeup a ton, and about the hair. For guys, we have to learn all this. For me, that was the biggest surprise is how much I had to learn about this, and how many details there were and how much it changed the look of the character. I'm very proud that we really tried to do that right, and not just have some guys come up with makeup now. We were really trying hard. Liz was a great help, and to be accurate and try to get this right.
Bernard: The script surprised me the most, and just how Tatiana ended up playing this character. I found so much of the show just personally relatable, which made my job a little bit easier in some ways and harder in others. My job as the Animation Supervisor is to make sure that our whole team understands what the context of all of the different shots are, and how they fit together, and what the performance needs to be in each individual shot. We're creating these performances, or at least embellishing on top of Tatiana's performance to this tiny, tiny level of detail. Like little eye twitches — you can move the eyelid a pixel and it says something different. Explaining all of that was much easier for me, but I didn't have a team full of women that understood everything that I was saying. So there was a lot of interpretation, and trying to explain what it means to be a woman in a professional world, surrounded by a bunch of guys. That was a weird experience for me, and I think it brought the whole team a lot closer together, because a lot of the women were feeling like, "Yeah, I've been on dates like that. Yeah, I've been in professional situations like that. I totally get what she's doing." That was a really strange thing to get to focus on for a year and a half, but I found it really rewarding.prevnext
It's pretty safe to assume that Jen going to pop up somewhere again in MCU at some point. If Digital Domain gets a chance to work on her again, what would you be most excited to explore, now that you have figured out a lot of the technology of bringing her to life?
Bernard: I can answer this first. I have no idea where she's going to pop up, first of all. I should say that. But I think it would be really cool to see a little bit more about how she's going to fit into the rest of the MCU. Maybe more court cases, but also maybe she goes off and does some stuff with the Avengers. That would be awesome. We spent a lot of time working on shots in the law office and in court. Those are very restrained performances with a lot of layers of subtext that you have to unpack, and that stuff is really satisfying when you get it right. But I think some of the animators were wanting to break out of their shells a little bit and do some more action. The show definitely had some action to it, but I think that would be really fun on a future show too.
Cramer: I hope she gets a feature, but we will see. As Liz said, we have no idea and if we would, we couldn't say it, but we don't in this case. [laughs] But that's what I would hope, that she gets her own movie of some sort, with some other crossover. I think that would be really great with that in mind, because people are often thinking, "She was in an episodic [context] here, what would be the difference if she is in a feature?" From our point of view, there is very little difference in what we would do and how we would build her, because we build her for a close up, and people have giant TVs, so it is very similar, how we set her up. We would love to see her have a bit of a big movie with a bit of action in it, as Liz is saying. I think that would be lovely.
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This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.prev