Director Joe Johnston – who cut his teeth as the visual effects art director on Raiders of the Lost Ark and the director of The Rocketeer – recently talked about directing Captain America. How did they achieve the the skinny Chris Evans effect? Is Rocketeer 2 in the works? Read on to find out.
On whether or not he was familiar with Captain America before signing on, courtesy of Film Journal:
“I was certainly aware of the character but had not been a regular reader. I didn't see this as a disadvantage of any kind. I was able to approach the character with a more objective viewpoint than someone who would call himself a fan. Once I signed on to the project, I did a lot of research, focusing on the various iterations of the character since the first issue in 1940.”
On the difficulties of translating a World War II-era character to the big screen, as he has done for both The Rocketeer and Captain America:
“Period comic-book adaptations can be more challenging for action sequences and pop-culture references, especially in trying to reach a younger audience. I always try to be true to the period while making a film that feels contemporary in its style. Both Captain America and The Rocketeer take place in roughly the same period—the late ’30s and early ’40s. I've always loved the visual elements of the period: the cars, architecture, clothing, and the overall sense of style that we seem to have lost. As a society we used to seem to care what things looked like. We took care to build beauty and passion into the world around us, and decisions didn't seem to be based on the bottom line."
Captain America: Reborn drawn by Bryan Hitch
On working with such a widely-recognized character and property:
“A bigger fanbase for a certain character actually makes it more difficult. There are not only preconceived notions, there are elements of the character that are practically held sacred by fans. The challenge is in reinterpreting the character from the comic book to the movie screen. You can get away with a lot on a comic book page, and the reader will fill in the blanks. Filmmakers don't have that luxury.”
This was certainly the problem X-Men: First Class ran into prior to its release.
“There are threads that run through all the films in the Marvel universe. I had more flexibility because Captain America takes place in a different period. There are references to other films that the fans will spot but they won't bump for someone unfamiliar with the Marvel universe. Basically I think all the films have to stand on their own merit.”
On how they achieved the “skinny Steve Rogers” effect seen in the trailers:
“We used two major techniques. Most of the shots were done by an L.A. company called LOLA that specializes in digital "plastic surgery." The technique involved shrinking Chris in all dimensions. We shot each skinny Steve scene at least four times; once like a normal scene with Chris and his fellow actors in the scene, once with Chris alone in front of a green screen so his element could be reduced digitally, again with everyone in the scene but with Chris absent so that the shrunken Steve could be re-inserted into the scene, and finally with a body double mimicking Chris's actions in case the second technique were required. When Chris had to interact with other characters in the scene, we had to either lower Chris or raise the other actors on apple boxes or elevated walkways to make skinny Steve shorter in comparison. For close-ups, Chris' fellow actors had to look at marks on his chin that represented where his eyes would be after the shrinking process, and Chris had to look at marks on the tops of the actor's head to represent their eyes. These marks then had to be digitally removed in post-production.
“The second technique involved grafting Chris's head onto the body double. This technique was used mostly when Chris was sitting or lying down, or when a minimum of physical acting was required, although the body double was an actor in his own right. Unfortunately, the body double also proved to be too large and we usually had to shrink his element before we could graft Chris's shrunken head onto the body. Both techniques were time-consuming and immensely complicated for the visual-effects team, but the end result is quite amazing.”
In the first couple trailers, the “skinny” effect was shaky at best, but the most recent trailer has all but assuaged fears on that front.
As for what future film projects Joe Johnston would like to be involved with, he said:
“I'd love to make a sequel to The Rocketeer. The film didn't do as well at the box office as we all hoped, but it has endured and generated a following. It was great fun and I'd love to re-explore Cliff Secord's world. If there are other comic-book heroes who have as human a story as Steve Rogers, I'd be interested. Too many comic-book movies rely on spectacle when the story is weak. With Captain America, we got the story firing on all cylinders first so the spectacle was fully justified. More than anything, I want everyone in the audience to sink into the alternate reality of the 1940s, enjoy the ride and come out of the theatre humming the Captain America theme. The movie is a hell of a lot of fun.”
Check out the trailer for Johnston's The Rocketeer (1991) below:
While Joe Johnston is by no means a bad director, his work (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, Jumanji, Jurassic Park 3, The Wolfman, etc...) has yet to reach the pinnacle of success, either creatively or financially. Hopefully, Captain America is more Raiders of the Lost Ark than The Wolfman and breaks that pattern.
Are you looking forward to Captain America? Do you want to see a sequel to The Rocketeer? Let us know in the comments.
Captain America: The First Avenger hits theaters July 22nd, 2011.
Source: Film Journal
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.
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