Movies have thrilled us with complex combinations of acting and stunts for generations. Today’s films are no different, except perhaps that the new breed of movie stars are the ones not seen on the big screen. Avengers: Endgame opens in U.S. theaters on April 26, 2019, and promises to be the most incredible movie experience to date.
Like its immediate predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame is filled with spectacular animation and visual effects. In fact, Infinity War was 97% VFX, with 2,623 visual effects shots and only 80 shots not including some form of VFX. This is in a film that ran two hours and forty minutes.
The New Hollywood Stars
With new movies incorporating more and more VFX scenes and characters, the newest stars of Hollywood are not who we see on the screen, but the talented artists who create and/or enhance their characters – VFX artists. There really is no exaggerating the incredible importance and influence of visual effects in modern movies like Avengers: Infinity War.
Marvel has definitely raised the bar on their films with seamless VFX, and Infinity War raised it higher than ever with the incredible motion capture and VFX combination that created the evil Thanos. No wonder the film took home the VES Awards top prize of “Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature” along with wins for “Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature” (Titan), “Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature” (Thanos), and “Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature” (Titan again).
Today, the animation and special effects team is no longer a post-production unit, but a group that works with the filmmakers all throughout pre-production and production. More and more, as in the case of Infinity War, several groups are used to create the enormous amount of high-quality VFX that make movies literally leap from the screen.
Visual Effects and Movies
From actual stuntmen and visionaries like George Lucas, who filmed explosions on the Death Star in Star Wars by driving past a board loaded with model pieces and blowing them up, to today’s digital animation and overlays, visual effects have become the staple of quality movies. And in the case of Infinity Wars, 14 different VFX firms worked on the film, including Industrial Light and Magic, Digital Domain, and Weta Digital.
Digital Domain was assigned the responsibility of bringing Thanos to life. Making actor Josh Brolin look less like a man in a skin-tight, ball-covered suit and more like an 8-foot-tall purple alien with the ability to wipe out half of all life in the universe was no small feat.
Industrial Light & Magic, the groundbreaking company founded by George Lucas in order to make Star Wars, handled the film’s most epic battle scene, including Thanos’ ships colliding with the barrier, Thor’s arrival, every stumble Bruce Banner makes as the Hulk. Digital Domain also partnered with Weta Digital to create the scenes on Titan, including the Avenger team’s now-infamous disappearing act, called “blipping.”
As you could imagine, creating such a complex film with so much VFX, and for which scenes are spread out across so many companies, can be confusing to practically everyone involved in making the movie. As a result, the digital effects artists are often the ones with the clearest understanding of the entire project and its direction; more so even than the actors whose faces we see on the screen. After all, the actors are only staring at green screens — the VFX artists actually know what it’s all supposed to look like.
Where it All Begins
All this incredible talent and creativity begins with someone who desires a creative career in the arts and pursues that dream. A famous case is that of Jan Philip Cramer, now the Animation Director at Digital Doman. Since earning a BFA from the School of Animation & VFX at Academy of Art University in 2004, he’s contributed to an impressive list of credits, which include some of the highest-profile—and highest-earning—feature films ever made. More importantly, beyond the money and fame, Cramer has created some of the greatest animation work in history, including Avengers: Infinity War.
Arts education at schools like Academy of Art University in San Francisco act as doorways to exciting creative careers in movies, television, gaming, and many other industries. At the Academy, students gain the skills needed for a vibrant and exciting career in the only Animation and VFX school that teaches in a studio production environment, called StudioX. Aspiring visual effects artists, 2D and 3D animators, and storyboard artists come to the Academy to learn from industry professionals in the heart of the animation industry, who themselves are actively working creatives.
The Academy Animation & VFX teaching faculty have contributed to such films as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Marvel’s Iron Man, Disney’s The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Little Mermaid, Shrek 2, Pocahontas, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Cocoon.
As one of the top arts and design schools in the country, Academy of Art University’s animation school graduates have a range of opportunities to choose from. Their facilities, faculty, and hands-on learning approach are designed to provide students with the tools they need to succeed as a professional in the animation and visual effects industry.
There are a variety of professional creative skills needed in the film industry, ranging from storyboarding, animation, to expansive knowledge of gaming and the internet. Scott Burroughs’ career experience is only one of the many possible afforded by a modern education in the arts. With the mentorship and support provided by an institution and its alumni like Scott, Academy of Art University hopes to inspire and empower students to carve out their own path in the industry.