Despite the title of Avengers: Infinity War, the lead character isn’t Iron Man, Captain America, or any of the other Avengers who protect the world from evil. From beginning to end, Joe and Anthony Russo’s blockbuster is about the eight-foot intergalactic big bad Thanos, played by Josh Brolin. Thanos is every bit as dominating and destructive as fans of the series could hope, but he isn’t the one-dimensional villain he so easily could have been.
His maniacal plan to restore balance to the universe by arbitrarily killing half its inhabitants aside, Thanos is sometimes a strangely sympathetic character. He’s capable of feeling compassion for a young Gamora, even after he murders her mother and half her planet. He’s legitimately hurt when she turns her back on him, and he feels true regret when he sacrifices her to achieve his goals.
While Brolin’s performance drives the character, none of those moments would have been possible without the special effects wizardry of Digital Domain. The visual effects company, founded by James Cameron and the late Stan Winston 25 years ago, was tasked with bringing Thanos to life, and on the biggest stage possible. I jumped on the phone with visual effects supervisor Kelly Port to talk about the scope of Infinity War, the company’s complex motion-capture system, and how machine learning served a crucial role in turning Josh Brolin into a mad Titan.
What was the motion-capture process like on this film?
What’s really nice about this [project] is that when we do motion-capture, historically, you typically have a “capture volume,” an empty space with a bunch of cameras surrounding you. There aren’t really many set pieces or anything. In this case, they built the cameras that capture the motion of the body in and around the set pieces built by [production designer] Charlie Wood and his team. And that enabled the actors to actually be on set interacting with each other, and all the while, you have as many characters as you want. I think we had 10-plus characters on a scene sometimes.
And here is our video on how Avengers cast looked before and after their makeup.