How the VFX team went from Paul Bettany to synthezoid.
When the behind the scenes featurette for WandaVision streamed recently, many audience members were startled to realize that much of Vision’s head in the show was a synthetic creation.
While the final shots relied heavily on the performance of Paul Bettany and makeup effects, those aspects would just be the starting point, and visual effects artists on the show—overseen by visual effects supervisor Tara DeMarco—would take the character a step further to turn the character into its synthezoid form.
Indeed, several VFX studios worked on Vision (and also ‘The Vision’, which is the White Vision version of the character) throughout the series, including Lola VFX, MARZ, SSVFX, Digital Domain, ILM and Rodeo FX.
And, of course, Vision had already been seen in the MCU movies, where he was also ultimately a mostly CG-character based on Bettany’s on-set performance. “We had the benefit of Vision being an established character that we had seen many times before and who had a plan of execution,” DeMarco told befores & afters. “We were able to look at the scenes that they had done before and the vendors that created him and work out a plan for us. That was our starting place.”
One major difference between the MCU films and WandaVision, however, was that Vision would appear in several early episodes in black and white. This prompted DeMarco to first do some color testing to see if the usual red/purple make-up worn by Bettany during filming would suffice.
“We tested the red makeup in black and white using scenes from Civil War on my first week on the job and knew immediately that it was too dark and didn’t read very well and was not particularly ’50s,” explains DeMarco. “So then we decided that we should do blue makeup tests. Ahead of filming we had a few pallets and we knew approximately what hue of black and white we wanted to go for in our final color. That gave us a range to try.”
Two days of makeup testing on one of Bettany’s doubles took place, where the team tried out three or four different shades of blue. Says DeMarco: “The things that were important to preserve were the highlights, because that’s what makes you feel like the person is really the person and not made of plastic. So we really made sure that the makeup had the same sheen as the red synthezoid skin.”
“And then we actually went to a vendor and put the Vision CG on the double and showed it to the studio. And they were like, ‘Ah, that’s not Paul!’ So we buried it forever. But that helped us determine like, ‘Okay, this will work when we get into filming.’”
The testing was also about whether the CG performance might need extra tweaking. “In the MCU before WandaVision, he was a synthezoid robot with somewhat limited emotion,” add DeMarco. “But going right into 1950s sitcoms with funny faces meant that we just needed to spend some time making sure that the vendors were prepared to micro-tune all of the panels and performances and keep what we liked about that acting in the character.”
On set, Bettany performed scenes in either the red/purple or blue makeup, along with tracking dots on his face. The dots are aimed at helping the vendors track the metal-like panels that go over Vision’s face (something Bettany used to wear as prosthetic piece when he first took on the role).
What the vendors ultimately did for the final shots were create a matchmove of Bettany’s on-set performance and craft a CG head, which notably does not include ears. “We do keep his eyes, his nose, his mouth, and we just add panels into the skin,” notes DeMarco. “So we preserve as much of the performance as we can.” (Of course, some shots, say where Vision is flying, fighting or being deconstructed, do make use of a fully CG character).
For The Vision (or White Vision), further makeup testing was required using white paint. “We added an additional iridescent sheen that was a little bit purple-y blue because that’s part of the character design that came from visual development,” details DeMarco. “But it’s very similar in terms of execution. The design is completely different and that took a fair amount of time to get us from a drawing to something we could put on a face.”
Still to come at befores & afters: each Vision vendor runs down their shot methodology.
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