Peyton Reed (“Yes Man,” “The Break-Up”) wanted to direct “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but finally got his Marvel shot with “Ant-Man” when Edgar Wright left because of too much micro-management and shared universe-tinkering. Yet Reed insists that the DNA remains intact: it’s still an absurd superhero/heist movie/domestic drama built around father/daughter redemption.
In fact, Reed believes it’s “the single most challenging character in Marvel history.”
“In the comic book realm, he was a founding Avenger but he never had his own comic magazine, and he always had, in the context of ‘The Avengers,’ an inferiority complex because he’s this tiny hero fighting alongside the Hulk and Thor,” Reed explained. “And he might even have a dose of schizophrenia. But in terms of the Marvel cinematic universe, he didn’t make it into ‘The Avengers’ movie, so for me it’s very gratifying to do an Ant-Man origin story and, in my own mind, restore order to the universe by bringing in both Hank Pym [Michael Douglas] and Scott Lang [Paul Rudd].”
What most appealed to Reed is the notion of ex-con Lang’s desire to earn his way back into his daughter’s life and takes the weirdest path imaginable. Thus, in a universe of oddballs, Ant-Man becomes the oddest.
Even the poster makes fun of him: “Ant-Man? What can he do? Oh, he shrinks and his speed and density [and strength] increase and also he can control ants. There’s an absurdity to his powers.”
The trick, of course, was believably pulling off the incredible shrinking man gag. Under the VFX supervision of Jake Morrison, they created a Macro Unit that worked on its own sound stage at Pinewood in Atlanta. There was a dedicated art department that made tiny props, a camera crew that shot and played with forced perspective and a VFX team that digitally inserted the macro footage.
“I really kept banging the drum that if we’re gonna do a shrinking movie in 2015, it has to be photorealistic,” Reed explained. “But it also has to have the flexibility to move our camera around. So what that meant was using motion picture macro-photography, still macro-photography, motion capture suits and digitally tiling all the surfaces and making sure it was tactile, and stitching them together and then we could move our virtual camera around. But it had to look real the way light plays when you’re that small and there are little dust motes floating around.”
And Lang’s first shrinking experience down a bathtub and running through two apartments, where there’s a party and woman using a vacuum cleaner, was conceived with “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” in mind. “It happens very quickly and it’s very assaultive,” Reed continued. “Maybe the single toughest shot in the movie is when Scott shrinks and down in the tub and it wraps around him. Getting the surfaces of that tub and the lighting to seem photorealistic.
“And also it’s a very long, continuous shot. But we wanted it to be immersive. And our use of shorter depth of field and extremely wide lenses, it really is visually fulfilling in 3-D. And they’ve solved a lot of the brightness issues that I have with 3-D [thanks to laser projection].”
Likewise, the hero ants (animated by Method in LA) had to look good, each with identifiable characteristics and behavior. “We couldn’t have a movie where you shrink and the ants look like a Pixar movie,” the director insisted. “We had to create photorealistic ants but then revise them in subtle ways that made them palatable.”
Reed loved working with his idol Michael Douglas. He asked him questions about some of his favorite movies (“The China Syndrome,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Fatal Attraction”), and they more crucially discussed Robert Oppenheimer and Alfred Nobel (condemned for inventing dynamite so he created the peace prize) in the shaping of Pym.
“I love that he’s motivated to a large part by guilt,” Reed said. “We talked a lot about Hank Pym being that guy. He’s created this amazing breakthrough that could be used in humanitarian ways but the downside in his mind was too great. He had to hide it away. Can you put the genie back in the bottle? He’s this
deeply conflicted guy.”