The Beginning of the End
Rooted in the formalist theory of film, this critical analysis aims to explore the technical aspects of the critic’s chosen film, Avengers: Infinity War. The film heavily incorporated the use of computer-generated visual effects to complement and emphasize the tragic story of the film. Furthermore, the special effects augmented the emotional weight of the story and its action sequences. For starter, Victoria Alonso, one of the film’s executive producers, said that the film has almost 3000 shots and that there are about 2900 visual effects shots. This means that the 96% of the shots of the film had visual effects (Singer, 2018); for every 25 shots, only 1 does not possess computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Formalist films are those that possess stories styled and poised to create its own reality with intricate and detailed sets that result into an elaborate mise-en-scène, and uses special visual effects with no intentions to imitate reality (Fusco, 2017).
Avengers: Infinity War is the sequel to The Avengers (2012) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and it is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film features a crossover of “The Avengers” also known as the “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, and the “Guardians of the Galaxy”. They work together for a united cause—to prevent their common foe, Thanos, from acquiring the “Infinity Stones”—the six powerful elemental crystals that each control an essential aspect of existence, namely: space stone, reality stone, power stone, soul stone, mind stone, and time stone.
The film begins with Thanos hijacking a spaceship which houses the last survivors of Asgard. The scene follows with the children of Thanos, Maw and Obsidian, attacking New York City in order to acquire the Time Stone from Doctor Stephen Strange. If you will juxtapose the two scenes, they have two discrete mise-en-scènes—the former is in “space” and the latter is just in New York City; however, they were both filmed inside the studio, both made possible by computer-generated imagery.
In reference to the New York City action scenes, visual effects supervisor Patric Roos said, “The work was a real mix of full CG shots, plate shots, FX, set extensions, magic spells and a lot of character work”. The scenes of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and Vision’s fight with the men of Thanos’ Black Order in Edinburgh, Scotland where Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Steve Rogers/Captain America, and Falcon appears, were actually shot in Scotland. Despite such scene being shot ground zero, production designer Charles Wood still had to build extra items, for example, a coffee shop, and had to incorporate additional visual effects in order to add a “Kafkaesque” or an unpleasant feeling, as per film director Joe Russo’s request. The biggest fight of the Marvel’s “biggest” and “most ambitious” crossover happened at the modern, technologically advanced, and vibranium-ran country Wakanda.
Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, the film’s directors had to reach out to Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, in order to build the mise-en-scène for Wakanda. The film’s art department had to carve an artificial river and install artificial trees and vegatation to achieve the look of Africa. The scenes of Wakanda were shot in a 3,238-hectare farm in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia. Moreover, director Anthony Russo said “Charlie Wood and his art department actually carved an artificial river through the center of this field and we had a gigantic pump that could do like 30,000 gallons a minute.” and that speaks volumes on how elaborate the Wakanda scene is. The battle in Wakanda heavily relied on chroma key composting in order to achieve how the country looks in the film. T’Challa/Black Panther’s army looks huge but in reality, it is only composed of 70 stunt performers that were digitally expanded to 500 and said army had to fight the beasts of the Black Order—all 10,000 of them that are again, made possible through computer-generated imagery. Perhaps the best part of the battle in Wakanda and the greatest entrance in the history Marvel Cinematic Universe is Thor’s arrival, together with Groot and Rocket Raccoon. Said entrance illuminated (literally) the mise-en-scène with Thor holding his new axe, Stormbreaker, from Nidavellir. Thor’s axe is big and powerful, in reality however, he was actually holding an axe but rather a small one. Groot and Rocket Raccoon are also not beside him, instead there are red laser-like pointers in his arms that were used to insert the two members of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
As for Nidavellir, its storyline did not even take 15 minutes but according to Greg Steele, the visual effects supervisor of Method Studios who worked on the Nidavellir storyline, it took 220 people from Method Studios and 10 months just to achieve the visual effects required for Thor’s quest to Nidavellir. The 220 people and 10 months delivered—Thor’s life-threatening yet bold attempt to bring back a dying star back to life was pivotal for the film. Aside from the battle in Wakanda, there was also a battle in Titan, Thanos’ home planet, and there he fought against Tony Stark/Iron Man, Peter Parker/Spiderman, Doctor Stephen Strange, and some members from the Guardians of the Galaxy. The battle in Titan also demanded a lot of work—it was shot in a sound stage in Pinewood Studios and required green chroma key composting. Furthermore, while the battle in Titan is being shot, all the actors involved are just wearing motion capture suits, especially Iron Man and Spiderman. And of course, this film became a big thing for pop culture because when some characters die, they disintegrate to dust. The most popular line of all, Peter Parker/Spiderman’s “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.” Since Thanos was able to acquire the six infinity stones, life on universe was cut into a half, those who died simply turned into dust. The disintegration of the characters into dust was a lot of work too, as far as the use of computer-generated imagery and the use of visual effects are concerned. Half of the universe ceased to exist because of Thanos’ infamous snap which the filmmakers called the “blip effect” was handled by Weta Digital. Matt Aiken, lead visual effects supervisor from Weta Digital said “The victims of the snap were first filmed alongside survivors. In a second take, the survivors were filmed alone. Then the victims of the first take were brought into the second take digitally, and the disintegrating effect was added.” and he even added that the people from Weta Digital already put a lot of effort to achieve the “blip effect” and it was made even more difficult because of the most emotionally powerful scene in the entire film—Peter Parker/Spiderman’s death.
Aside from the aforementioned scenes, the film’s main villain, Thanos, was made possible through computer-generated imagery. Throughout the entire film, Josh Brolin, the actor who played Thanos was wearing a motion capture suit. On top of the motion capture suit, Josh Brolin even has to wear a cardboad cut-out of Thanos’ head above his head. Together with Thanos’ army, they were the characters that demanded the most visual effects.
Making a film as ambitious and as big as Avengers: Infinity War would simply be impossible without computer-generated imagery and advanced visual effects. The film’s plot has a wide scope for it includes Earth (New York City and Wakanda), travels back and forth to space, other planets in the universe, and of course, the crossover of multiple Marvel heroes. Translating material from comics into a film that actually delivers is a field of art in itself. To reiterate, the film heavily incorporated the use of computer-generated visual effects to complement and emphasize the tragic story of the film. The film is both a spectacle and a tragedy and that is made possible by the computer-generated visual effects and an excellent storytelling, both on top of Marvel’s biggest crossover.
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