Marvel at the marvellous Chris Townsend!

Ever sat through a film and wondered how ‘they’ create such amazing visual effects? Well our very own Graphic Design graduate Chris Townsend told us all bit about it in the latest GLP talk!

If you’re an Avengers, Star Wars, or Pirates of the Caribbean fan – then stay put – this is the post you’re looking for. Chris Townsend may not be a name you’ve heard of, or even a face you recognise, but you’re sure to have seen his work in some capacity over the past ten years.

Speaking during his latest GLP talk, honorary Coventry University graduate Chris Townsend enlightened a packed out lecture hall full of academics, students and film enthusiasts, to the wonders of visual effects. He discussed how the initial shots are selected, which software packages his team use to manipulate or create footage and, of course, how many shots he’d had to discard throughout his career…. ‘enough’ apparently!

From his humble beginnings, studying graphic design at Coventry polytechnic back in the 1980’s, Chris has gone on to work alongside Robert Downey Jr (Ironman to you and me), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Johnny Depp (Cap’n Jack). The list goes on – actually, if we spent the whole blog post talking about them, we’d run out of space! So, how has he managed all of this?

A-AoU #1

After graduating from CU, Chris began his career working as a graphic designer for the American broadcasting company – ABC – where he learnt what he believes to be one of the most valuable lessons of his career:

Try not to be too precious over your work. You soon realise you could spend six months working tirelessly on a 30 second clip form a scene, to have it completely cut from the final edit without the slightest hesitation – It’s just the way the industry works

Following his time at ABC Chris moved on to work for several companies, such as; MediaCorp, Industrial Light & Magic/Lucas Films (yes…the people who made the original Star Wars films), 20th Century Fox, and of course the mighty Marvel Studios. Here he produced amazingly intricate work for films such as Ironman 3, Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

So what do we mean by intricate? Well if you take take the evolution of a character such as The Hulk, you’d think it’d be fairly simple turning a normal person green and enlarging them, right? Wrong. Chris explained that to ‘update’ the Hulk from his previous appearances…

Original Hulk

….to how he would appear in the Avengers…

New 2015 Hulk

…his team were tasked with bridging the gap between human and monster – by giving him a soul. To do so they had to re-imagine how the Hulk appeared on screen; through the careful manipulation of his skin, hair and physical features, using rather high-tech computer software. However it also involves the use of some other novel techniques, like…

  • Painting a bodybuilder green – used to measure and replicate muscle definition, shape and structure for the Hulk.
  • Using the world’s tallest man to gauge the height and stature of the Hulk whilst shooting scenes…( the Hulk’s BIG)
  • The Hulk ‘head & shoulders’ – No he doesn’t have his own shampoo brand – this was a model used to establish Hulk’s size compared to surrounding objects in the shot.

We see the outcome of Chris’s hard work in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Through Hulk’s blossoming relationship with Scarlett Johansson’s character, the Black Widow, we see the hulk soften, taking on a more naturally human likeliness. This isn’t an easy task, scenes like the following take around 8 months to make…EIGHT.

Hulk X BW

That is a blimin’ long time for one short scene, but when you realise the scale of the task that goes into developing each aspect of a character like the Hulk, it kind of makes sense.

Multiple cameras were placed in front of Mark Ruffalo to help create a ‘monster mirror’”

This enabled him to both see and learn from his own facial movements, and then see how his reactions, movements, and mostly – ‘smashing’ faces – would appear as the Hulk on screen. It wasn’t just his face and general appearance that had to be changed either, the Hulk’s movement was also key to his personality change:

Andy Circus worked with Mark Ruffalo to improve the Hulk’s movement…weights and padding were added to his frame during filming to make the actions he was performing more realistic.”

That doesn’t sound like to much fun does it? You’ve already got to be angry and aggressive, and on top of that you have to do so being weighed down the whole time – not my cup of tea that’s for sure!

Once these very important, but very varying, methods had been completed, Mark would have a much better understanding of how he needed to position and carry himself during filming.
All of these new techniques led to Townsend (and Mark!) giving us fantastic scenes like this:

Join us next time to find out how Chris helped bring the magic to the Maximoff Twins!