The studio kicks into overdrive to deliver 100+ shots for super hero saga.
The first film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow stars Scarlett Johansson as former Russian spy turned super hero Natasha Romanoff. Set before the events portrayed in Avengers: Endgame, the film follows Natasha as she reunites with family members to take on a dark threat posed by a villain known as Taskmaster.
Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) was initially contracted to provide visual effects for the film’s teaser trailer. The studio was subsequently enlisted to apply its touch to several notable sequences from the film itself, ultimately delivering more than 100 shots over the course of just six weeks. RSP has contributed to several previous Marvel Studios productions, including Captain Marvel and Thor: Ragnarok, but Black Widow marked its first collaboration with Director Cate Shortland, Visual Effects Supervisor Geoffrey Baumann and VFX Producer Lisa Marra.
Joining the production at a relatively late stage, RSP had to ramp up and rapidly begin delivering finished work. “We’re agile,” says RSP VFX Supervisor Dennis Jones. “Our approach toward show set-up is hands-on and flexible. We adapt quickly to the needs of the project. This show required intricate compositing and 3D tracking work, something we’re very experienced at, so the short turnaround was not an obstacle.”
A significant portion of RSP’s work centered on a sequence set in a Budapest restaurant where Natasha talks with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh), while tending to a wound she’s suffered. Several shots were added to the scene in post-production with the actresses shot on a blue screen stage and composited into the background. To ensure the new material cut seamlessly with location shots, RSP compositors reconstructed the restaurant environment from elements drawn from the original photography and integrated the talent.
The complexity of the background, camera movement and action made for challenging work. “The restaurant and panoramic views of the city had to be precisely rebuilt from multiple angles,” explains VFX Producer Ian Cope. “We had to balance the lighting on the talent and the background, and replicate other technical details of the original photography to make the additions imperceptible to the audience.”
Similar finesse was required for a scene involving Taskmaster, who has an uncanny ability to mimic the movements of anyone he sees. In this case, RSP was asked to insert Taskmaster into a scene drawn from Iron Man II to show him observing Black Widow and studying her martial arts agility. “To make Taskmaster appear to be a natural part of the scene, we had to replace all the reflections in the room,” recalls Jones. “We also had to place a reverse reflection in Taskmaster’s visor and add a stream of hyper-graphics around the edge. The graphics needed to be timed, and the reflections tracked, to ensure consistency from all angles. It was challenging work and the final result is great.”
The team’s final task involved set extensions and background elements for a post-credits sequence set in a town in the American Midwest. The scene provides a clue to Black Widow’s fate. “It was exciting for our team to contribute to a scene that will mean so much to Marvel’s legions of fans,” says Cope. “It’s not the first time that we’ve been entrusted with a big spoiler scene, and we are very grateful to have earned that level of trust.”
With a tight-knit crew and experienced senior artists, RSP has a rare ability to execute complex visual effects on short notice. “Regardless of deadline, we need to deliver high-quality shots which fit seamlessly into the film and the work of other VFX suppliers,” says Jones. “It takes strong supervision and an ability to make quick decisions. Our crew had just come off several big projects but were eager to join Black Widow. They rose to the challenge and delivered impressive results.”