Avengers: Infinity War felt groundbreaking for a number of reasons.
Of course, there was its gross of over $2.048 billion, which made it the fourth most successful film of all time, while there was also the fact that it was the first half of what is expected to be the final story for at least one of The Avengers.
The mammoth financial haul and anticipation surrounding Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Endgame means that particular reasons why it triumphed can often get overlooked. That’s why it was so satisfying when Avengers: Infinity War recently received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects, which Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl and Dan Sudick will contest.
How Avengers: Infinity War was made
But why does Avengers: Infinity War deserve this Academy Awards recognition?
“These guys can break it down by the amount of time they didn’t see their families,” co-director Joe Russo jokes to Metro, before then pointing in the direction of Port, Earl, and DeLeuuw.
“There are 2703 cuts in the film. We worked on 2623 of those. So there are only 80 shots that we didn’t touch,” explains DeLeeuw. “We had 14 visual effects houses across the world working on it. There was Weta’s visual effects house down in New Zealand and then a smaller house in Hawaii in Maui. So there wasn’t a point during post production where Infinity War wasn’t being worked on.”
The visual effects work required was extensive, too, with Earl calling nearly all of the shots “full-scale crazy.”
“A lot of the time you look at that number of shots and you know most of them will just be wire removals. All of these shots were big shots. There is all the space stuff and then there is Wakanda. Which was shot on a horse farm. But all of it was replaced digitally. There is a great set built by our set designer. And then we had to destroy it. The rule of thumb was that if we built a massive location we then had to destroy it.”
Then there was Infinity War’s hugely ambitious finale.
“In terms of scale, Thor starts our finale in Nidavillar, we have a finale in Wakanda, and then a finale in Titan. We have 3 finales where most films have one. That explains the scope,” says DeLeuuw. “With each finale we needed something else that made it big. Then, once we had gone through all three of the finales, Thanos turns up at the end and we have that climactic moment where he takes on Vision and does the snap.”
But did they ever try to scale back to action and destruction so that Infinity War didn’t peak too early?
“We’d always go as crazy as possible. There’s a 40 minute version of the Titan battle out there,” insists Port, which provokes Joe Russo to admit, “There’s a 20 minute version of the duel between Doctor Strange and Thanos. We had an edit for the whole movie that was twice as long.”
“But you can tell where the storytelling gets wobbly and the story starts to dissipate. Really at the end of the day, the driving principle of whether something stays or goes is whether it is on story and if it is advancing the story. Everyone at this table is amazing at asking that question.”
It wasn’t just in post-production where the visual effects shaped Infinity War, though. Because DeLeuuw, Earl, Port and Sudick’s presentation of just how impressive, detailed and, most importantly, emotional they could make Josh Brolin as Thanos convinced the Russo Brothers to re-write Infinity War.
“Until we started doing the experiments with Dan and the team we didn’t hang the movie on Thanos to the degree we did,” says Anthony Russo. “We only did that when Dan came to us and said, ‘We’re at the moment now with technology where we can do something remarkable with motion capture with Josh Brolin.’ When we saw the tests that’s when Joe and I changed the story and started to lean on Thanos.”
“Thanos was always the main villain. But we changed the relationship with his daughter Gamora. The complexity of that father and daughter relationship was something we chased once we knew that we could actually see Thanos’ heart break. That’s the level where it had to be.”
“That’s the groundbreaking element of it,” surmizes Joe. “In a movie full of live-action characters we were able to hang the emotional arc of the story on a fully CG 8-foot character.”