How is the transformation of an old character into a young one in Marvel’s ‘Superhero’ movie done?

One of the most important elements displayed in the latest promo for the movie ‘Captain Marvel’ is a visual showing the character of Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, when he was still in his 30s-40s.

For those who don’t know, the movie ‘Captain Marvel’ which will be shown in 2019 will tell the story of the rise of a female superhero called Captain Marvel or her real name, Carol Danvers. This first film takes place in the era before the millennium, in the 90s. That’s why there is an important need to ‘lighten up’ the characters in this film, compared to the actual age of the current actors.

Marvel movies have previously used similar techniques but only applied them in short duration scenes, not on the scale that the ‘Captain Marvel’ movie needs in its storytelling.

The role of Lola VFX in lowering the age of the character

The process of designing the technology used to produce younger actors even if only for a few minutes of airing, is actually very complex.

This technique was developed and pioneered by a special effects company called Lola VFX, first used in the film X-Men The Last Stand when a flashback scene involved veteran actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

The use of a similar technique in the film ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ left the audience mesmerized by the results, so that the special visual effects won the best film effects category of the Oscar. Lola VFX was subsequently involved using the same technique in films such as Tron Legacy and The Hobbit trilogy, developing scenes that required the main actors to be brought back to look young.

The accumulated experience of Lola VFX qualifies them to be one of the most important studios in the filmmaking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, given the great responsibility of developing special effects because they are known as experts in this subject and several films in the Marvel superhero film series have had their touch. The question is, how do they do it?

Ant-Man (2015)

The opening act of Ant-Man takes place in 1989, 26 years from the main storyline. In that scene, actor Michael Douglas, who is now over 73 years old, has to appear younger by almost 3 decades of his actual age.


In order to realize Marvel’s request, Lola VFX referred to most of the Michael Douglas films published in the 80s as their guide. His appearance and style at that time was taken as an important element in redeveloping the young face of Michael Douglas digitally.


In addition, Lola VFX also used the duplicate body of a man similar to Michael Douglas named Dax Griffin, who is in his 40s. The technique used required both actors to act out the same scene in a similar location – so Dax was asked to learn how Michael walks, moves and facial expressions, through old Michael films.

The faces of Michael Douglas and Dax Griffin were then scanned using a 3-dimensional scanner, to obtain digital models that could be moved. In obtaining acting data, Michael’s face while acting is fitted with a sensor for the scanner to record the movement of facial expressions. Michael’s acting will be followed by Dax to get an idea of ​​how Michael will move when he is 40 years old and also give the artist an opportunity to study how the lighting affects the young ‘Michael’.

After that, the recorded facial movement information will be used to move the 3-dimensional face of Michael Douglas that has been rejuvenated, before being pasted over Dax Griffin’s acting to get the full visual. (reference)

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Robert Downey Jr

The episode featuring Robert Downey Jr. while young in the movie Captain America: Civil War was done with traditional methods, compared to the method used in the Ant-Man movie.

Robert will play the character as usual and the visuals will be changed later, just like working on a still image modified in Photoshop software, for example. The difference is that changes must be made to each shot of the film to represent all the images in each moment.

You can count yourself in each shot there are 24 pictures, just multiply how many times the younger version of Robert is shown. That’s how many pictures need to be modified.

Because the face when young gives a different character, the artists at Lola VFX need to be more careful in modifying Robert’s face because the young skin will look more shiny when exposed to light. Veins on the face should also be less visible. The change in the shape of the face is also very emphasized to ensure that the audience can naturally accept the young version of Robert Downey Jr. without any sense of strangeness.

Robert Downey Jr

The film ‘Less Than Zero’ played by Robert which was released in 1987, became a reference for artists in making sure that the changes they made to each picture were accurate to his real face when he was young.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017)

Lola VFX’s biggest challenge in ‘easing’ the actors happened in the film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (GOTG2).

This is because in this film, the young version of actor Kurt Russell is in a moving vehicle and requires a ‘rejuvenation’ process of 36 years, the most for the artists at Lola VFX to date. In addition, the scene in this film also requires the younger version of Kurt to kiss the actress Laura Haddock who also needs to lighten up a bit, bringing new challenges to the creators.

For reference, Kurt’s performance in the movie ‘Used Cars’ released in 1980 was used. Actor Aaron Schwartz was chosen to be the body double of Kurt Russell. The method used is almost similar to the technique used in the Ant-Man movie to record the acting, where both actors have to act the same scene, with Aaron having to imitate 100% what Kurt is acting.

The difference is, in creating a composite that combines the performance of both actors, the artist will use Aaron’s neck and eyelids to be ‘pasted’ over the original recording of Kurt’s performance, apart from some other parts depending on the needs of the scene.

The footage is then reworked until it looks perfect by the artist, with lighting being a very important factor to consider.

Now you know, when you watch this GOTG2 movie, you might be watching the actor Kurt Russell, but his eyes might be the eyes of another actor. Technology is amazing in producing amazing visuals, isn’t it?

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