First, I’ll sit down with the directors to talk through each shot of the movie. If there’s an explosion or action that can be photographed, we’ll film it for real. We call these practical effects.
For effects we can’t create in real life, like the Quinjet aircraft used by the Avengers, we start by having the art and visual development departments come up with ideas for how they’ll look. Then we build rough computer models of those designs so we can plan out our shots. As the movie’s development progresses, the resolution, or level of detail, of the digital models improves. We continue to add more elements to the designs and use more sophisticated programs that simulate things like sunlight, shadows, and textures.
For some shots, an actor is playing a character who will look completely different in the final cut of the movie. We’ll have the actor wear a motion-capture suit, which has dots on it that computers carefully track as we film. That allows us to overlay a computer-generated character that precisely follows the actor’s movements. It might take between six weeks and six months to do the visual effects for a single scene, depending on how complicated it is.