Wimp Building: The Making of "Skinny Steve" in Captain America
When we look back at the special effects of Summer 2011, perhaps all the attention will be focused on RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; a surprise success that somehow made critics realize a mo-cap performance could be nominated for an Oscar.
But one would be remiss to not mention the other most effective use of VFX this summer: skinny Steve Rogers.
Many times, summer blockbusters use FX just for the sheer spectacle. "Can we have Green Lantern save a helicopter by inexplicably creating a race track and racecar? SURE!" But the Skinny Steve digital effects are part of the story and integral to connecting to Steve Rogers before he becomes Captain America.
To achieve the effect, director Joe Johnston turned to Lola FX, not surprisingly the same firm that David Fincher used to create the Winklevoss effect in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. So how did they do it?
The "Skinny Steve" effect was made up of three different approaches. The first would be a body double (British actor Leander Deeny), the second would be digital head replacement (a la THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and the last would be shrinking the actual Chris Evans down to skinny size.
To help prep the FX artists for their work, Johnston employed some traditional techniques on set. Chris Evans would walk hunched down in some scenes and walked with a shorter stride. In the scene in the back of the taxi with Peggy Carter, Evans' seat was a few inches lower than the rest of the car. Evans as Skinny Steve would wear the largest sizes possible for his wardrobe. Co-stars would look at Evans' chin, so that when he was shrunk, it would look as if they were looking at him in the eye.
Chris Evans filming the scene
Body double Leander Deeny filming the scene
The combined shots plus the FX shrinkage for the final shot
Whenever possible, Chris Evans was used in the film with the body double used only as a lighting reference, which means about 85% of the time you see skinny Steve, it's actually Chris Evans. That presents some additional challenges because Evans had bulked up for the role of Cap. His muscular physique created many different shadows that a skinny body would not (for example, skinny Steve has no biceps so there would be no bicep shadow). Also central to the challenge was making the skinny Steve appear to be frail while still looking like a man and not like a 14-year-old boy.
In my estimation, the Skinny Steve portion of the film is some of the best stuff CAPTAIN AMERICA has to offer and the success of the movie is due in no large part to the success of making the audience believe that frail dude is the same guy we see as the beefcaked Captain America.
If you want to learn more about the FX behind CAPTAIN AMERICA, I highly recommend this article at FX Guide that goes into great detail on how the effects were achieved and the many speedbumps they encountered along the way.
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