There are many reasons why Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) and Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk (2008) misfired with audiences. But the main gripe was that neither of the film’s CGI Hulk ‘s had a naturalistic appearance or movement.
Sure we’re talking about a giant green humanoid, but even at the time of Lee’s Hulk, audiences had already marveled at The Lord of the Rings‘ full-CG character, Gollum. He sold audiences in a way Lee’s cartoonish CGI Hulk did not. Critics were generally unkind likening this incarnation of the Green Goliath to Shrek, a moment that the wizards at ILM would like to forget.
Fast Forward to 2008, and the MCU did a soft reboot of the jade giant with The Incredible Hulk. While this Hulk had more convincing animation, his movement was still problematic. In a nutshell, both Hulk films failed to balance Hulk’s strength and body mass with his dexterity. Nor did they balance his explosive anger with a likable performance.
Of course, we all know the outcome. ILM created a fantastic-looking CGI Hulk, which helped earn The Avengers an Oscar nomination for VFX. While ILM made considerable strides in CG skin, color, weight, facial and motion capture, they also had two secret weapons: director Joss Whedon, a walking encyclopedia of film and pop culture, and Mark Ruffalo, the first actor to play both Dr. Bruce Banner and his alter ego, the Hulk.
Finding the Right Look For Hulk
Once Ruffalo was cast, the VFX team looked for comic book art of Hulk that approximated the look of the actor. Like most superheroes, Hulk’s design has been altered from one comic book artist to the next. The VFX team settled on Alex Ross’ comic book illustrations of Hulk in the Ultimates, which was one of Marvel’s favorite versions of the character. From there, concept art was drawn up that captured the balance between Ross’ illustrations and Ruffalo’s facial features.
Here is our full CGI video. Enjoy this VFX Motion capture of Hulk.