Ink & Pixel: Captain America: The First Avenger
Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, Im always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss it further.
I don't know about you, but after enjoying the hell out of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, I can't get Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) out of my superhero film loving brain. In fact, these courageous characters have recetly compelled me to examine my own sense of nationalism. Growing up, I had absolutely no sense of patriotism. The long and the short of it is that I was just too young to understand and appreciate the complicated ins and outs of the American government and way of life. I listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine, and more or less allowed the opinions of others to color my own in terms of politics and the forever questionable state of our union.
However, as time marched on, I grew tired of clutching to my directionless fury, and instead worked to educate myself so that I might develop an informed opinion the best kind to have. Today, I see heroes like Captain America leaving a positive mark of the youth of today and it makes me smile. Through the entertainment medium, we are offered an idealized patriot and his perspective on America. It's more than I ever had growing up, and I salute the Captain and his team for inspiring so many to be proud of their country, and fight for truth, justice, and a better tomorrow.
It's with a red, white, and blue-minded heart that I thought this week we'd take a break from exploring straight up animation, and instead revel in the brilliant effects and digital craftsmanship of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. After all, what's a quality column without a little variety, right? So grab your vibranuim shield, your stars and stripes, and that stylistic yet useless utility belt and fall in line, soldier!
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, marched triumphantly into theaters in the year 2011 as the fifth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Under the direction of Joe Johnston, produced by Kevin Feige, and with a screenplay by both Christopher Marcus and Stephen Freely, the film performed like gangbusters at the box office while simultaneously introducing the world to the future leader of The Avengers. Taking up the iconic shield and never back down attitude of a most formidable soldier, the film stars Chris Evans as the indomitable Captain America. Joining him in his fight against the Nazis, and ultimately, The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), is Strategic Scientific Reserve officer Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell), and Sergeant James Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). It's a classic battle of good versus evil as inspired by the timeless pages of Marvel Comics.
For those of you who have yet to experience this film, allow me to provide you with a short synopsis. Steve Rogers, a scrawny spitfire of a man, is ready and willing to do anything to serve his country, even if that something means allowing Dr. Abraham Erskine to inject him with an experimental Super Soldier Serum. Once introduced into your bloodstream, this serum has the ability to provide its subject with the abilities of increased stamina, speed, and unparalleled strength. The thing of it is, the serum was only used once on Steve Rogers, who then became later known as Captain America before the American government placed the project on indefinite hold after it was sabotaged by one of Hydra's splinter cells.
Enter Johann Schmidt. Once Adolf Hitler's right-hand-man and enthusiast of all things nefarious and evil, Schmidt became obsessed with the possibilities of the good Doctor Erskine's serum, and in an act of desperation and hubris decided to use the serum unchecked on himself. Needless to say, things did not go well for Johann. As a result, the man lost what was ever there of his sanity - not to mention all of the flesh above his shoulders. Thus, the Red Skull was born! Now, with corrupted blood coursing within his veins, and a cosmic sized grudge against the United States government, The Red Skull aims to use a mystical artifact known as The Tesseract (or The Cosmic Cube if you're savvy)- an instrument that allows whomever wields it to literally reshape reality - to bring the U.S. Of A to its knees. Boy oh boy, what a jerk! Who are we going to get to stand up to this guy? Captain America, that's who!
Now everyone knows that comic book films are typically shot using a fair amount of green screen technology, but I'd like to bring your attention specifically to the remarkable work that was done to transform a bulked up 195 lb Chris Evans into a pre-serum 98 lb weakling with a heart of gold and a spirit made of adamantium. You see, the crux of creating an effect such as scaling down the physique of an actor, is that it absolutely has to look right if it's to be believed by audiences. To achieve this illusion, the scenes featuring a skinny Steve Rogers needed to be filmed upward of about 4 times if the effect was to be a success.
First, the scene would be filmed as if you were making any other motion picture, with Chris Evans acting alongside his co-stars in a traditional sense. Next, Evans would act out the scene again, only this time he would do it alone and in front of a green screen to allow the effects team to re-size him later as part of the post-production process. After this, the scene would be filmed again but with Evans absent from the cameras view, allowing the re-sized Steve Rogers to take his place. Finally, Johnston used a body double actor by the name of Leander Deeny as a sort of template for the desired effect.
Of course, in addition to this multi-shot approach, each and every scene was doctored with a healthy amount of digital reconstruction in order to achieve the desired effect. All told, the number of frames involving the skinnier version of Steve Rogers came up to the tune of 250 individual shots. Good grief! That said, the result of all that hard word is rather astounding when you consider how believable it all looked. I can recall, back when the film first hit theaters, how several of my friends and coworkers were blown away by the effect and how it never once looked as if they simply pasted Evan's actual-sized head onto a tiny body. Considering how cynical people can be about special effects in film, I'd consider the work done for the character of Steve Rogers to be quite the success.
I don't know about you, but I'm of the mind that with every great hero must come an equally frightening villain. In the case of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, Cap is forced to match both his brains and his brawn against the nefarious Red Skull. Brilliantly portrayed by Hugo Weaving, the Red Skull is a Nazi of the worst kind - hell bent on bringing the entire world to its knees. With the Tesseract as his weapon of choice, the Red Skull aims to establish an army of his Hydra soldiers in every corner of the globe to enforce his rule. Yeah, he's one bad dude, and quite the looker if I do say so myself. You see, sitting atop this megalomaniacs shoulders is an honest to goodness skull made entirely of scarlet red bone and sinew. Just how did the effects team achieve this dramatic and undeniably awesome look? Let's find out, shall we?
When deciding on how to bring this larger than life villain to the silver screen, Joe Johnston and the people at Marvel turned to Visual Development Supervisors Ryan Meinerding and Charlie Wen for their talent and expertise. At first, Meinerding and Wen toyed with the idea of presenting the Red Skull as a man who'd suffered severe burns, leaving his skin scorched and scarred red from the violent flames. This idea was quickly scrapped, however, as both designers felt that the look was too harsh for general audiences and instead settled upon a much more streamlined approach that left one of the most notorious nazis in all of comics looking sleek yet vicious beyond belief.
After finalizing the design for the Red Skull, Prosthetic Designer David White was brought onto the set to apply the several pieces it would take to complete the look. Part of the process of turning Weaving into the Red Skull involved the application of silicon makeup to the actor's face and neck. Within the film industry, silicone is known for being a sometimes heat-resistant, rubber-like material that - when used for mask making - can often yield the best results if your aim is to bring the mask as close to the actor's face as possible. Additionally, silicone is known for displaying a fair amount of luminosity. This means that when the material is placed beneath light that it will achieve a faint glow, adding a sort of atmosphere and personality to the material itself.
The process of applying the makeup to Hugo Weaving took the effects team upward of 3 ½ to 4 hours to complete. Divided into 7 separate pieces, each would need to be adhered to Weaving's skin using a special glue that would allow the silicone to stick, but not suffocate the actor's skin in the process. Each piece was cut specifically, having grooves so individual layers of mask would be able to interlock with one another, ultimately forming one whole piece after being glued down. The next step for the makeup department was to mark the actor's face with tiny green dots. Each dot would represent a plotted point (almost like a grid) used to guide the digital effects team in the process of removing Weaving's nose in post-production. With the nose digitally removed, the Red Skull's look would be complete not to mention incredibly bad ass. Fun fact: The Red Skull is one of my personal favorite effects-driven makeup jobs in recent history. It just looks so damn good!
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER managed to proudly plant its flag in the ground to the tune of $370,569,774 worldwide by the end of its theatrical run. Personally, I believe the Captain America films to be the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universes solo films. Not only is the story of Steve Rogers and his journey to becoming Captain America endearing as well as inspiring, but the films also carry with them an emotional weight often missing from say THOR or IRON MAN. Don't get me wrong, I love those films and heroes as well, but the thing I find exceptional about Captain America is this: It might have been a super soldier serum that gave Captain America his muscles and super human abilities, but it's his heart, determination, and sense of justice that make Steve Rogers, the man, a true hero. Semper fidelis.
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|Extra Tidbit:||You didn't hear it from me, but if you'd like to get a jump on the material that could be used for Captain America 3 (2016) you should read Captain America #153-156 by Steve Englehart.|