ILM’s Biggest ‘Avengers’ Challenge: What Does Hulk Do When He’s Not ‘Pissed Off’?

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Happy Hulk Mark Ruffalo The Avengers ILMs Biggest Avengers Challenge: What Does Hulk Do When Hes Not Pissed Off?

After a scene-stealing performance from Mark Ruffalo and his CGI counterpart, The Incredible Hulk, in The Avengers, Marvel has finally secured some big screen traction for the mean green machine. Hulk was central to a number of fan-favorite moments in the superhero mash-up movie and, even if some naysayers still found the character underwhelming, many moviegoers were blown away by director Joss Whedon’s success in blending the CGI character with a live-action ensemble.

Unfortunately, fans will have to wait until after Avengers 2 hits in 2015 for a new standalone Hulk movie but, at the same time, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that further blockbuster Bruce Banner appearances will deliver equally believable and enjoyable on-screen smash action. Why? Because Marvel has learned that there’s more to the character than just a “pissed off rage machine.”

We already delivered our interview with Jeff White, an ILM Visual Effects Supervisor on The Avengers, who addressed the potential difficulties of Guillermo del Toro’s proposed Hulk TV series. However, our conversation with White, as well as Associate Visual Effects Supervisor, Jason Smith, wasn’t just about “phase two” – the Industrial Light & Magic gurus also discussed how they collaborated with Whedon, plus other effects studios, to deliver the most believable and complex Hulk character ever seen.

While the filmmakers knew they’d have to get a lot of minute details correct, one of their biggest challenges was giving the CGI character a range of emotional states – not just “angry monster.” The key, according to White, was to dig into the man behind the monster, Bruce Banner/Mark Ruffalo:

Previously Marvel had decided that the Hulk shouldn’t look like an actor, he should be timeless. He could be played by anybody and the Hulk is the Hulk. I think what they realized for this one and what Joss really pushed was you should be able to see Mark Ruffalo when you look in the Hulk’s eyes. And that connection to the actor was probably the biggest difference for us. Just being able to have filmed plates of Mark Ruffalo to look at – what do his eyes look like, what does his skin look like, and then be able to really replicate that into the Hulk made a huge difference in terms of getting those little idiosyncrasies in there. In the same vein, as time progresses, so does quality of skin shaders and the ability to do muscle simulation and hair rendering and all those things too. Technology, since the last time we did the Hulk, which was pretty much when I started, a lot has changed in the last ten years in terms of speed and what we are able to do for him.

Following a presentation of featurette material from the recently released Avengers Blu-ray release (read our review), ILM Avengers Animation Director, Marc Chu mentioned that the team spent a lot of time trying to keep the Hulk from looking “too tense.” It was an especially interesting comment – given that most people think of the character as little more than a unflinching force of nature when “Hulking out.” However, comic book fans know that Hulk still features emotional complexity, not just one-note angry face – especially the “Smart Hulk” version included in The Avengers.

As a result, we were sure to follow up on Chu’s comment when I sat down 1-on-1 with White.

He’s got these moments with Captain America and down on the viaduct where, sometimes when he’s standing there he is tense and ready, he’s going to fight all these aliens but there’s other times where he’s got a quieter moment at the end and you’ve got to figure out what does the Hulk do when he’s not pissed off and raging all the time. And that took awhile and even down to his physique, we did want to make sure, Joss wanted that kind of wrestler, big heavy, maybe couple extra pounds look to him – so that when he did get pissed off you felt that angular cutting. And actually we spent a lot of time rendering multiple passes of lighting just to get that chizzled jaw and that cut line along the cheek because our first render he almost looked fat and nobody wants to see a fat faced Hulk.

Looking back to the prior Hulk film’s especially Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, it’s easy to appreciate what Whedon and the effects teams have done with the character – as creating a more grounded and emotive Hulk will serve the character well down the line (in Avengers 2 and future solo films). This isn’t to say they need to soften him up – but giving the character a more natural baseline (instead of “on” or “off”) makes it even more impactful when he’s in full-on fighting mode.

Avengers Hulk TV Series Mark Ruffalo ILMs Biggest Avengers Challenge: What Does Hulk Do When Hes Not Pissed Off?

Though, even if you’re able to deliver an extremely believable character, one that can express complicated emotions, matching the oversized CGI model in with a roster of live action actors was still a considerable challenge. However, the team was assisted in their efforts by a number of design choices – and, according to White, an extremely detailed character model.

Well, he doesn’t fit that well and camera framing is a big issue – how do you keep all of the Avengers and this guy who is 8 feet tall. And I think part of that was a conscious decision by Joss that, like, he shouldn’t be walking around upright like John Hamm all the time. Get him hunched over and get him tense and that way you bend him down into the frame with the rest of these guys. It came down to some initial really good design decisions by Joss – in terms of what [the Hulk] body structure looks like, letting us put body hair all over him. That’s something, you know, that fans could have reacted very negatively to, sort of hairy-chested Hulk, but when you zoom in to his eyes, like everything’s there down to little nose hairs and I think that lends a lot of credibility. We built him top to bottom to hold up really close to camera.

ILM Associate Visual Effects Supervisor, Jason Smith, expanded on that point – revealing how the ILM team ensured that Hulk would look believable under close scrutiny – down to obsessing over individual hair follicles:

For the first time, he had beard stubble. And when we looked at his face, we realized it just looked CG. It looked like the stubble just goes to the face and stops and then there’s green skin. Then we looked at photos of people close-up and you can see, even though you think of skin as opaque, you watch that [hair] go into the skin and you see it underneath the skin. You see it continue. You can actually see the follicle, if you look close enough. And so with the Hulk, we had to incorporate that. We had to say all right the light bouncing around, the scattering inside his skin, darken it right at the root of the hair. So it’s a bunch of little incremental things like that where we notice some small piece of reality and say okay, let’s focus on that for a second. And then move on to the next one.

The Avengers 2 release date was announced the day of our interviews at ILM, so the visual effects leads didn’t have anything concrete to report about the sequel. That said, given their success with round one, it’s likely that Whedon will include Industrial Light & Magic among the roster of effects studios he’ll be recruiting for the 2015 film – and, despite the quality of the current on-screen character, the team already has a long list of improvements they’d like to address. Of course, in the mean time, they’ll likely (though unconfirmed) be testing their mettle with the other end of the spectrum, specifically Rocket Raccoon in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

For more on ILM’s work on the Hulk character, be sure to pick up The Avengers Blu-ray and check back soon for more Avengers coverage.


Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future interviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Avengers is now available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD.

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  1. Nice. This is by far the best incarnation of the Hulk ever filmed. I can’t wait to see what ILM does with Guardians of the Galaxy.

      • +10

        Sigh. Where is TIH sequel? TIH & IM are by far my favorite Marvel movies.

      • Nope. I totally disagree with everything you just said. Norton’s Hulk looked nothing like him. He was too green, too veiny. I didn’t mind Norton’s portrayal of Banner but his Hulk was way off. The Hulk MUST look like Banner or very little else matters. It must be believable and the most believable Hulk to date is Ruffalo’s.

        • @Alpine

          We were not discussing the importance of Hulk looking like the character playing Bruce Banner but the character traits. Ruffalo’s Hulk was comic relief while Norton’s Hulk was an intimidating beast, which easily makes Norton’s Hulk more believable

          • I would file Hulk catching Iron Man and yelling for him to wake up under “emotional concern”.

            • But then how would you classify him dropping Ironman’s limp,unconcious body to the ground like a rag doll in that same scene?

              Like I said before,they made Hulk like a wild dog,or maybe a trained ape. Any concerned shown would be similar to that of a dog to it’s owner.

              • The problem with Edward Norton’s Hulk is that it was Edward Norton.

                Also, what’s actually wrong with wild dog Hulk? He’s a creature born of rage. He finally acts like one. I mean, he’s enough to make Stark want to build a Hulkbuster suit.

      • YOUR CRAZY and need to have your head checked…. I was like you and loved Nortons hulk, but the way all of this worked out with norton, ya know being a baby and all I lost every bit of respect for him and that hulk!! PLUS this hulk was Mark Ruffalo, Not all just CG, you could not see norton in “his” hulk incarnation but with this one you can see Ruffalo in the character and you can also see the Hulk inside of Ruffalo!! NOPE THIS BY A MILE WAS the best incarnation of the hulk and it will only ever be surpassed by Whedon and Ruffalo in the Avengers 2 and another Hulk stand Alone movie/sequel, NOW there are sooo many things that they can do with these characters that could not be done with nortons hulk, ALL HE WAS, was a complete muscle and I LOVE the way this hulk had structure to his body and face, not just 100% muscle that looked like it was gonna rip thru the skin at any moment because it was WAYYY TOOOO TIGHT…
        RUFFALO is the Incredible Hulk! I was really pissed that norton and marvel could not get this worked out but NOW i’m so glad that he BABIED out, whether it was money or he did not want to work with all these other headliner actors OR they did not want to work with him OR marvel felt that he MEDDLED too much in the script and how to be bruce banner! I DONT CARE anymore, I’m glad he is gone! and I will bet he will never admit it but he has to be VERY BUMMED that he missed out on the 3rd HIGHEST GROSSING FILM OF ALL TIME

        • You were not there and do not know what happened, so you can not blame Norton for not being in the movie and say you lost respect for him, I realize that many Avengers fans have been attacking Norton and that’s not fair when he has been rather quiet and respectful about everything that has happened and even apologized to his fans and said that he was disappointed that they could not reach an agreement and he never said anything bad about Marvel

          • Anybody who thinks Ruffalo’s Hulk/Banner (nothing against the actor; everything against the writer) was a more complete character needs to learn about ‘character development’.

            • Care to expound on that more?

            • No, we just each have our opinions. For me its Ruffalo all the way. The look is very important to me. The look is more than just the physical. Like another post said, Ruffalo was in Hulk and Hulk was in Ruffalo. It makes the character more believable. When Ruffalo gets his own film I think we will see a much better movie than Norton’s. Ruffalo didnt need much character development in Avengers. He will get more of a chance to shine in TIH 2.

  2. I love the fact that they designed him partially off the original early comics

  3. I’m watching Avengers as I type and, post-end-battle-scene, it’s a wonder that Mark Ruffalo/HULK didn’t pick up any awards for ‘Best Comedy Performance’, he is HILARIOUS – in the best of ways.

    This is a great article, good work and fantastic insights.

    Love this stuff, keep it up.

      • I *do* see where you’re coming from B-U-U-U-T, I found it entertaining in a comedic way – not in a ‘OMG, he’s deliberately being hilarious!’ way.

        While the idea of HULK SMASH should actually be quite frightening, watching him cut loose on the Chitauri is actually really quite cool and yes, while they *could* have made it more emotional, I still think it was the best incarnation to date – even if just from a world-weary/acceptance level.

        • Best comedic performance? His actions were comedic not his acting

          • Valid.

            • Hulk is becoming Marvel’s Jackie Chan.

              • More Hulk Hogan lol

      • Thank the comic book gods you are the minority Longshanks. :)

        • I agree with Longshanks

  4. This was a great read. I do visual effects (not on Avengers level though, jaja) so I love read about these things.

    Has anyone gone back and watch The Incredible Hulk since they saw The Avengers? I don’t know it it’s just me, but I never realized Hulk doesn’t look that great in TIH. He looks okay, but there are some scenes where he almost looks kind of sloppy.

    It’s crazy how our eyes get trained with these type of things. Back when I first saw the TIH, I thought Hulk looked “incredible” ( ;) ), but during the passed few years, movies like Avatar, Transformers, Prometheus, Iron Man, and just big CGi blockbusters in general kind of change your perception and subconsciously raise the the bar of expectations in your mind when you see a CGI creation in film. So, I think it’s not that Hulk looked terrible in TIH, it’s just that the technology has improved so much, we subconsciously expect hyper realistic CGI when we see films these days.

    • Oh, and if this type of technology improves so much in the span of 3-5 years, I can’t imagine what they’ll be able to do in GOTG, The Avengers 2, or even The Avengers 3… It might be to much for my brain to handle!

      • By the time Avengers 3 comes out, they’ll probably have a real Hulk instead of a computer animated one…

    • @Jay
      I noticed that Hulk in TIH looked terible from the beginning. He looks so out of place dring the whole movie. He doesnt blend in with the foreground or background well enough to make oyu think he is ACTUALLY there. He always looked like a cartoon characture layered over the scene at hand.
      Just watch the college yard battle scene and every bit of it Hulk looks entirley fake.

      Avengers Hulk looks grounded and blends in with his environment. He looks as though he was ACtUALLY there when they filmed the movie.

  5. Why is everybody complaining about Hulk being used as comic relief? Sure the stuff he does is funny, but its what the Hulk WOULD do. If Loki is talking crap to him Hulk is’nt going to stand there and let him finish he’s gonna beat his face in. And Iron Man knocked unconcious on the ground, of course Hulk is gonna scream to wake him up. The Hulk is not a complete hate fueled character he’s got his own sense of humor.

    • Wonderfully stated Deadpool87. The Hulk is a comic character, always has been. The way he punched Thor and smashed Loki is ICONIC Hulk imagery.

      I’d also like to add that the people who thought the Hulk was purely used for comic relief should open their eyes and watch the movie again.
      The emotion that you see on Hulk’s face is even better and feels more real than a lot of ACTUAL actors out there. Of course, they used mo-cap with Ruffalo (so he deserves credit as well), but it’s still a tough job to render so much complexity and human emotion on a CGI character.

      It’s all there on the screen people. Open your eyes and look at the character’s face lol.

      • *The Hulk is a COMICAL character…

        • Only if before he screamed to wake Iron Man up, he’d say, “Tin Man, okay?” or ofc “Hulk, friend, okay?”

          • This version of the Hulk isn’t a baboon, he’s not an ape, or a cave man.

            In the scene where he beats loki to a pupil, he says “Puny God”.

            The emotional aspect(s) if you had taken notes:

            Black Widow feeling for the hulk when he uncontrollably transforms, the look in his eyes shows all the pain needed to be shown, how he was still there, but just not able to control himself. That split second you see him (banner)

            The scene where Tony is going up into the portal, Hulk looks up with concern for Tony (as it looks to me, I’d say that’s some sort of emotional pull)

            and the scene where he catches Tony falling, as already stated.

            Norton’s Hulk was a horrible, horrible rendition of the character. He was a bit too intense for me. Just crazy off the wall intense, and his shading, coloring, all that was just throw up to me.

            His character was less convincing than Ang’s Hulk, but that’s just my personal preference.

            Side-Note: In Ang Lee’s “Hulk” when Eric Bana, I mean… Bruce Banner… looks into the mirror, and see’s The Hulk.. He (Hulk) grabs him and says “Puny Human”, and strangles him.

  6. They did a great job on the Hulk in Avengers. And IMO the Avengers is the best superhero ever made, but I have one minor criticism (and you may have heard this before) regarding the Hulk in Avengers.

    The first time Banner Hulks out he’s an uncontrollable rage machine, smashing up the Helicarrier, chasing Black Widow, fighting Thor, and tearing up the fighter jet.

    The second time he Hulks out, he’s much calmer….. takes direction from Captain America, works with Thor. He beats the crap out of the Chitari, but doesn’t hurt any human innocent bystanders. And then the Hulk stands calmly behind the rest of the Avenger team when they round up Loki at the end.

    I’d like to hear an explanation about that. Is it because Banner intentionally transforms himself into the Hulk the second time that gave him more control? Whereas for the first morph, Banner fought the transformation?

    • I think it was because the first time Banner was in pain from hitting the ground hard and because subconsciously he felt a betrayed by Black Widow and her showing up with a small army in India. The second time, however, he was calm but determined, which probably influenced the Hulk’s mindset. And yes I think willingly turning into the Hulk instead of the Hulk breaking out of him against his will also had something to do with it.

      • Hahaha you beat me to it…
        but yeah, I agree with you

    • I think the first time Hulk loses control, was because everybody basically accused him to be Loki’s plan. I still think that Loki’s sceptre has an effect to manipulate people’s heart, and Banner actually held it with his hand. The huge fall from the lab was also very painful I think, that it angers him as well as the beast inside him

      The 2nd time though, he’s already gotten this ‘wisdom’ talk with the security guy (eventhough it’s on deleted scene)… so I think Banner can finally take good control of the Hulk afterwards

    • I think so. I believe the whole Helicarrier attack caught him off guard and it triggered the transformation and he tried to overcome it.

    • This has been explained to the max. The reason he was uncontrolable during the 1st transformation was due to the influence of Loki and his staff. It was Lokis plan to use the Hulk to destroy the Avengers before the really got together. IMO it was laid out quite well in the movie, my suggestion would be to rewach the sceen in the Helicarrier again. Watch as the Avengers slowly start to turn on each other as Loki minipulates them through the staff. After the explosion Banner has lost control of the Hulk and has become a raging monster.

    • If you look closely during the argument on the helicarrier, do you remember the moment when they were all arguing and the camera pans and shows all of them arguing through the point of view of Loki’s scepter? The scepter was the culprit; the scepter was “amping” everyone up including Banner which is why the camera was tilted when Thor said, “You humans are so petty…and tiny” and then Tony kind of got this weird look on his face and wiped his forehead. Loki’s scepter was causing everyone to become aggressive; Banner is just the WRONG one to get aggressive lol. That’s how Loki’s play was for the Hulk like Black Widow said after interrogating him; he used the scepter to make him lose control. Banner is in control of the Hulk (and was since the end of TIH) but the scepter caused him to lose that control which also explains why Bruce, mid-Hulk out, looked at Black Widow with a sad look almost as if to say, “This shouldn’t be happening but for some reason I can’t control it right now. You better RUN!”

      • The culprit revealed!!!

      • Nicely said…slap me five

        • Five slapped lol

      • VERY well put! A++.

        This is a very apt description. Very well thought out, and seems completely legit, and accurate.

        But your point of the scepter controlling everyone and making all of them agressive, I don’t believe it was the septers doing, but the animosity, and i guess jealously of everyone, including pretty much everything that happened with Nick Fury, and everyone involved just out right pulling each others defects, or I should say former-selves into the mix.

        Something like that…

    • It was a plot connivence. Much like Selvig’s secret unconscious back up plan, Black Widow’s super slap to reality she uses to counteract Loki’s spell, and the nuke.

      • I’m glad somebody called it what it is – bad writing! Plot convience after plot convience. Smh.

    • As others have said, much of it was due to Loki “amping” everyone up with his mind games, but it was also greatly due to the Hulk’s primal survival instincts.
      If you remember in the movie, Banner said he tried to kill himself but that the Hulk just spit the bullet out. Thus, when the floor collapsed in the hellicarier because of the explosion, the Hulk came out and went after Widow because in the Hulk’s mind, Widow was responsible for him being on the hellicarier.

  7. I must admit that I liked the Hulk from The Incredible Hulk better than the Avengers rendition. It looked much more powerful an vicious.

  8. In character’s development… yes The Incredible Hulk featured a much deeper and origin for Bruce Banner and The Hulk. The Hulk looked very cartoon and un-real though.. so I’m not quite please with it. I do feel disappointed with Norton decision not to continue the franchise though…

    The Avengers however, showed a more mature and controlled Hulk (after Banner’s training of course), and probably it’s just me… but Ruffalo’s presence shout a big ‘BILL BIXBY’ presence to my head, and the way they let him play the Hulk as well makes him feel more ‘alive’ and believable. He was feeling so so bad and depressed (that he refused to read anymore news or fan’s comment) because comic-book fan started cornering him (in a bad way) for taking Norton’s role as well. So for me, he’s a much likeable Banner by far. My favorite even… but I’m a bit biased though, cause I really love this awkward persona of his so much XD (especially after watching his performance on The Kids are All Right which totally left me sympathized to his character)

    Yeah, there are good and bad parts of both actors and versions of Hulk. There’s one for everyone I guess…

  9. Its not because he looks like Ruff. Its the fact he looks like the Original Kirby Hulk that everyone freaked out over in pre-release and loved. Its funny how they give credit where its not due. I still think they should have lowered the Hulks height to comic book level at around 7 ft. Then fitting in everywhere would have not been a problem. Even Ang Lee shrank the Hulk when he needed too make him fit the story. Its not his size its his strength. The smaller he is make his strength even more impressive. But in today’s CGI world bigger is always better to Hollywood.

  10. Only a few things sucked about this film;

    The Nuke
    The idiotic interactions between Nick Fury and the ‘Council of Evil?’
    Almost all the Nick Fury talking scenes – though the action scenes with him were amazing – though the rocket launcher was just silly.

  11. Hulk’s power is anger-driven but he’s dark and moody because of Banner’s upbringing, rather than furious. He’s really like a two year old boy who wants to run around in his shorts and destroy toy tanks, but if you mess with him while he’s trying to take a nap he’s really going to rampage. Ruffalo wasn’t much different from a lot of bitter scientists I’ve seen. He didn’t need to be. It’s a low-key (ha ha) sort of anger.

    • Do you accept farts as payment?
      ‘Cause that’s the only way I’ll ever pay a spammer.

      • Winning!!! :)

      • That made me smile.

  12. I dont understand why so many dislike the Comic antics. The big four all had funny moments. This is a comic book movie based off of A COMIC BOOK! The word “COMIC” means funny. The movie was a good time and blew away any expectations anyone had. I knew it would do well but I didnt know it would do THAT well. It was great. Hulk was great and I sure hope they give Thor some payback. Maybe dropping his hammer on the Huks foot or something

    • I think just cause graphic novels are equally as popular and they aren’t funny

  13. Wow. I never knew Marvel deliberatly made Hulk look different from the actors before Ruffalo. To me that says it all. That is the main reason Ruffalo’s Hulk is the best Hulk to date. If you get the look wrong its hard to make up for it.

  14. weta did made a great mo-cap for -cesar- and -gollum-,i.l.m was always the pioneers of s.f.x and c.g.i work and they created really an incredible hulk, till now the best mo-cap work i.m.o.. and -avatar- and also -tin tin-,i think the mo-cap of these two movies were i.l.m. too.

  15. I like the hole nice hulk thing it make hulk a good hero not a bad hero

  16. Who really cares? Hulk’s two biggest moments in The Avengers were two sucker punches against Thor. Granted, he did take down the first monster. So, make that three. At least he faced that creature head on, while he needed to sucker punch Thor. And Thor did take down two of the creatures on his own. That aside, Mark Ruffalo did a great job as Banner. But the Hulk smash when Hulk is angry routine is stale. Hence, there is no third Hulk movie followng The Avengers.

    The Banner character is interesting, but the Hulk character is not. So, what does Hulk do when he is not mad? As I said above, who really cares…

  17. Watching it now my 5th time still love when the hulk slams Thor ‘s brother around :-)