Marvel VFX artists are bringing some big issues to the table while sharing what really went wrong on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in post-production.
The latest Marvel blockbuster film, which ushers in Phase 5 for the MCU, ranks “rotten” by Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate of reviews for the film, and earned a B score from CinemaScore — a very mediocre grade considering CinemaScore voters usually grade on a curve. The poor reviews and underwhelming critical reaction has in part been rooted in the rocky special effects; now, VFX artists are explaining precisely why the superhero film looks so off.
“Unfortunately, it is noticeable that there were shortcuts,” visual-effects technician Jin, whose name has been changed for a Vulture exposé, said. “Certain things were used to cover up incomplete work. Certain editorial cuts were made to not show as much action or effects as there could have been — likely because there just wasn’t enough time to render everything. It really did feel like certain scenes were trimmed or otherwise altered to either save money, save time, or cover up the inability to get it done.”
Jin cited that the Marvel VFX department was spread thin due to the overlapping post-production process for “Quantumania” with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” VFX workers allegedly clocked in as much as 80 hours per week for months at a time, especially when last-minute changes were requested.
IndieWire has reached out to Marvel for comment.
Fellow VFX artist Conor, whose name was also changed for publication, explained, “There were times when we were creating an actor’s entire action: Ant-Man moving across something. And you just think, ‘Why didn’t they film it the right way or how they wanted in the first place? Why are we having to redo and re-create? Why do we have to Frankenstein together an actor’s performance?’ A quick shot that maybe takes two seconds would have to be redone 20 times to get the look that they want. There was a lot of reworking, a lot of inefficiency.”
Colleague Jin added, “In terms of priority, ‘Wakanda Forever’ was definitely at the top of the list. All the money went to that. All the best resources went to that. It’s understandable given the context — with Chadwick [Boseman] and everything and how well the first film did. But it did diminish the ability to carry ‘Ant-Man’ all the way through.”
Jin continued, “For ‘Ant-Man,’ there were a lot of editorial changes happening toward the latter third and fourth of the project that were just too late. There’s a point of no return. Why certain things were changed, why certain notes were nitpicked longer than they should have been — that’s on Marvel. But it definitely did cause a lot of tension, turmoil, and weight on everybody.”
The lack of resources and equal pay for time spent also added to the underwhelming visual result.
“A lot of us are sitting here thinking, ‘The money is there. Why is it not coming down?’ Marvel spending a bit more money to pay more VFX people wouldn’t make that much of a difference for the executives all the way at the top,” Jin said. “But if it comes down to them not being comfortable with their bank numbers and us working until burnout, we lose out every time. Honestly, I equate it to human greed.”
With a VFX unionization rumbling in Hollywood and allegations that Marvel has “permanently seared” the industry-wide burnout, the alleged mistreatment of visual effects artists has been a topic of discussion for close to a year. Former Marvel VFX artist Dhruv Govil tweeted that working on Marvel shows is what led him to leave the industry after collaborating on films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
“I’ve seen way too many colleagues break down after being overworked, while Marvel tightens the purse strings,” Govil wrote. “The issue is #Marvel is too big, and can demand whatever they want. It’s a toxic relationship.”
Another Vulture report published in July 2022 accused Marvel of “blacklisting” VFX houses that did not adhere to at times unreasonably high demands with fast deadlines.
“The effects houses are trying to bend over backward to keep Marvel happy,” a source told the outlet. “The other thing with Marvel is it’s famous for asking for lots of changes throughout the process. So you’re already overworked, but then Marvel’s asking for regular changes way in excess of what any other client does. And some of those changes are really major. Maybe a month or two before a movie comes out, Marvel will have us change the entire third act.”
The source cited the head-scratching physics of the “Black Panther” climax that “looks a bit cartoony” due to a director of photography not being involved in the VFX process. “We’re coming up with the shots a lot of the time. It causes a lot of incongruity,” the source said. “It has broken the visual language of the film.”
Audience backlash to the questionable special effects in Disney+ Marvel series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” led showrunner Jessica Gao to defend the process. “It’s terrible that a lot of artists feel rushed and feel that the workload is too massive,” Gao said during the TCA press tour for the series. “I mean, I think everybody on this panel stands in solidarity with all workers and is very pro-good working conditions.”
Lead star Tatiana Maslany added, “I do think that we have to like be super conscious of how the work conditions aren’t always optimal and that they’ve made these amazing strides in this industry. I watch it, and it doesn’t look like a cutscene from a video game. I can see the character’s thoughts. I feel very in awe of what they do.”
As Jin recently said in the February 2023 report, those involved in VFX on Marvel projects “can’t be like, ‘Well, that’s kind of shitty. Shouldn’t we do something better?’ Because that will never happen.”
Jin concluded about “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quatumania,” “I think there was so much potential for this story, for the visual effects in general — I think the movie is getting the reviews it’s been getting because Marvel is doubling down as much as possible on constricting quality. They’re squeezing blood out of stones. And we’re out of blood.”