In transforming Chris Hemsworth’s Thor into a funnier and more relatable Avenger, Taika Waititi had fun pitting him against Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and pairing him up with the wisecracking, scene-stealing rock man Korg, which was mocapped and voiced by the New Zealand director himself.
“Thor goes through this crazy world with all these bizarre characters,” Watiti said. “I thought it would be cooler to make the matchup with Hulk a part of the gladiatorial battle, and keep it within that circle. And I wanted Hulk to be less wild and all over the place because in the other films it’s like he has no control over his body. So they were jumping and punching in the arena rather than flying around.”
Scaling Down for the Big Fight
The first objective in choreographing and executing the fight was addressing the large-scale difference between Thor and Hulk (for those keeping track, it’s 6’4″ versus 8’6″). When they fought in “The Avengers,” Industrial Light & Magic had to address the difference in post because they were punching at the same shoulder level. This time, they found a short stuntman to play Thor in the mocap fight.
“Instead of doing it all with animation, we reversed the analogy,” said production visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison. “If Hulk is 6’4″, then Thor is 4’8.’ The difference is that instead of it being a slugfest, the fight is a lot more visceral and accurate. If you want Thor to hit Hulk in the face, you actually have to punch up to him. And now you can jump up, do a throat grab, and spin around. And a kick from Thor goes to Hulk’s knees.”
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“It was a mix of motion capture and keyframe. You really wanted to amp up a bit more that they’re two of the strongest characters in the Marvel universe, beating each other up,” said Steve Nichols, ILM’s animation supervisor. “Hulk’s the champion and fights big monsters and lives the high life doing it. In his performance, we treated him as being more comfortable in his Hulk skin. He stands up straighter and he’s even more adept at jumping around. He’s now a fighting force.”
Taking advantage of new tech improvements (including this year’s Academy Sci-Tech award-winning facial performance-capture system), ILM rebuilt Hulk’s face shapes based on Ruffalo’s performance, and gave him a leaner look and new haircut. “We wanted the contact between them to be genuine and powerful,” Nichols said. “We wanted to make it bigger, and looked at everything from MMA fighting to crazy kung fu fighting.”
Finding Korg’s Sweet Spot
Waititi, who always makes a cameo in his movies, found his fit in Korg, the giant Kronan who bonds with Thor as prisoners on Sakaar. “It’s a character that doesn’t do a lot, but gets to comment on everything going on, which is fun for me,” he said. “It’s nice to have someone who’s gentle and doesn’t want anything from Thor and is no threat. And I like the idea of someone who wants to start a revolution, but has no idea how much organization it takes.”
The director donned the mocap suit on set and improvised his entire performance, inspired by Polynesian nightclub bouncers with soft voices. At first, it was merely a way of warming up Hemsworth, but developed into a droll demystification of the MCU. “The lines were never meant to be in the film, but grew on people,” he said.
Animating Korg, though, was a more difficult performance. Luma Pictures handled his prison scenes and Framestore tackled his appearance during the climactic battle.”The trouble with a character made of rocks is, even if there’s a hint of any individual rock squashing or stretching, it looks like a dude in a latex suit,” said Morrison. “But if the rocks move too technically and cleanly apart, it looks like clockwork. So there’s this really fine line in the artistry where you’ve got to build multiple layers of rocks and skin.”
For Korg, there were three layers and the animation required a slight separation between rocks with skin underneath to decrease the shadowing. For the most difficult facial performances, the rocks were diced in the right combinations and with utmost timing. Otherwise, Waititi could never have delivered such gems as: ‘Sounds like you had a pretty special and intimate relationship with this hammer, and you losing it was almost comparable to losing a loved one.”
“If we failed there, then VFX broke the film,” Morrison said.