With “Ant-Man and the Wasp” antagonists The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), Marvel continues embracing female empowerment. They are combatants who both try to harness the energy of the Quantum Realm, and director Peyton Reed found their relationship even more intriguing by switching Ghost’s gender, with the visual effects playing up the contrasts between them.
The Wasp is like a bullet the way she switches sizes and fights like a martial artist, and Ghost poses an elusive threat in the way she phases in and out of physical reality and materializes as multiple versions of herself.
“The power set seemed interesting and we were able to reinvent Ghost,” Reed said. “And I liked the idea that there’s a personal link there to Hank Pym’s [Michael Douglas] past, and that these powers that she has are as much an affliction as an asset, It’s something she’s struggling with.”
A Parkour Bullet
The Wasp maintains complete control of her powers, and the VFX team at Scanline (under the overall supervision of Marvel’s Stephane Ceretti) came up with a set of rules for flying and fighting. “She moves in a very balletic way and we wanted her to be very graceful in the way she flies,” said Ceretti. “So we looked at parkour stuff, how she jumps from place to place, and uses her wings. We wanted to design some nice, high-tech-looking wings for her. The idea was to avoid the Tinker Bell look. We came up with a rule that she can only fly when she’s small, so she has some limitations to her powers.”
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The Wasp first displays her powers during a frenetic kitchen fight, where she goes up and down in size to elude attackers and then sneaks up on them. She rides knives that are hurled at her and navigates around other utensils, and even zaps a salt shaker to make it a huge weapon. To achieve this, the VFX team mixed up the techniques: using macro photography, motion control camera work, and animation to constantly change scale and perspective.
This was achieved on a much larger scale during the San Francisco car chase, filmed primarily in Atlanta but with the backgrounds replaced by Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf, and other iconic locales. The Wasp flies in and out of cars, and kicks baddies when she becomes full-size.
“We wanted to go nuts with this movie: shrinking cars, shrinking buildings, and we designed the San Francisco car chase as an homage to ‘What’s Up, Doc?'” said Reed. “The scary thing was that so much of it was going to be in daylight. Effects are exhilarating when they’re photo-realistic, but the road to getting there can be difficult.”
It took precision and accuracy when shooting the background plates of San Francisco. Double Negative spent a couple of weeks photographing and scanning the city, especially the hilly parts. Then the Atlanta footage was inserted and modified.
When it came to the VFX for Ghost, the challenge was finding the right look to convey her physical and emotional instability. Fortunately, Ceretti was an expert at quantum mechanics and was able to delve into the topic further with the “Ant-Man” sequel. “We came up with the idea that she can go through everything and has multiple images competing with her,” he said. “It depends on her state of mind if she’s angry, afraid, tired, or annoyed.”
The ghosting effect was achieved by compositing multiple versions of John-Kamen and retiming the takes, along with a CG version of the character for greater control of movement. The tricky part was varying the effects (ghosting and vibrating) so it wouldn’t be predictable or annoying.
“When she fights, she goes through people and grabs you from the inside so you can’t move,” Ceretti said. “She had a bi-polar personality disorder and wants to stabilize her body, so we came up with a strange choreography.”