Most Marvel movies revolve around a mixture of superpowers, mutants, aliens and gods, but all that stuff doesn’t just happen naturally: the men and women working tirelessly behind the scenes to create those illusions are the real heroes.
When we watch a superhero movie, we’re fully aware that some of what we’re watching was created digitally, though the sheer amount of visual effects needed to bring a Marvel movie to the big screen is staggering—some of the more recent releases have relied on the contribution of VFX artists for up to 98 percent of total shots.
That’s a lot, but it’s the Marvel way: the studio’s films have always relied heavily on CGI, and we’ve peered behind the scenes of their blockbusters to bring you definitive proof. From MCU classics to the latest hits from Fox’s resurgent X-Men franchise, these Marvel movies all look totally different before the special effects are added.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe nears its tenth anniversary, the man who helped start it all still remains a pivotal figure in the franchise. Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was seen as a strange move by Marvel at the time (director Jon Favreau had to stand his ground with the studio over his choice), but it turned out to be a wise move. Downey slipped into the role of Iron Man like he’d been playing it all his life, though the character would have been nothing but grey jumpsuits and green screen if it weren’t for a team of VFX artists from Industrial Light and Magic.
Favreau told Rotten Tomatoes that too many movies were overusing CGI and insisted that he opted for practical effects where ever possible on Iron Man. He and his effects supervisor John Nelson worked with Stan Winston’s studios to build actual Iron Man suits, but if a shot just couldn’t be achieved practically, the ILM guys would step in. “A lot of them had worked on Transformers,” Favreau said. “We got to benefit from a lot of the technology they broke through for that production which really makes Iron Man photo-real. As you might know, I’m not a fan of CGI per se, so I was very demanding that we make the effects as photo-real as possible.”
Here is FilmArtsy’s video on Marvel’s best VFX shots before and after: