The Imageworks team led by VFX supervisor, Chris Waegner, animation supervisor, Richard Smith and VFX producer Michael Killoren were tasked with the climactic action sequences in the final episode of the Disney+ series.
To ensure the filmmakers had the ultimate flexibility to tell their story, Imageworks needed to create a digital photo-real representation of actor Anthony Mackie, aka the Falcon, and a range of props and assets, including New York City itself. The digital Falcon process began with detailed hi-res photography and digital scans of Mackie’s face and body. The team studied and replicated all of Mackie’s physical features down to pore details. They then focused on his new costume, replicating each piece and its specific material properties to ensure the digital match was an exact match.
The photoreal Falcon showcases his much anticipated New Suit, RedWing, and updated Wing Design in the final episode of the show. Unlike Falcon’s previous military-style wing designs, these new wings have a more modern design, improved aerodynamics, and increased functionality. This futuristic design required innovative rigging techniques due to the complex articulation/mechanics required to accomplish tasks impossible for previous wing designs. The Imageworks team then reviewed previously established flight mannerisms from past films and created a flight style that seems appropriate with these new wings.
Once completed, the team then crafted a series of test shots, which “helped our team determine the subtle nuances of weight, balance, and mannerisms of our star with his new suit and wings,” explained Waegner. “From there we collaborated with the filmmakers to help create the final aerial combat scenes, ensuring that all these newly designed digital assets worked seamlessly together.”
The completed digital Falcon asset allowed the filmmakers to envision stunts in which practical photography wasn’t possible. This digital flexibility granted freedom to create new, exciting shots, long after the principal photography had completed. The level of photorealism needed for this character was accomplished with the skill of “many different departments at Imageworks, all working with one common goal,” added Waegner.
Artists were also given the challenge of creating a digital New York City. This became the setting of the final battle sequences which take place simultaneously throughout the city, in the sky, at street level, and in a subterranean construction site.
To begin the process of creating a visually accurate representation of New York City and shorelines, the environment team referenced detailed satellite references and modern-day street maps. They then used a proprietary system that accesses SPI’s vast building library and scatters instances around the four New York boroughs, accurately matching each building footprint and its corresponding height to closely replicate the iconic New York skyline. This new digital city was then enhanced with flora and street-level set dressing, detailed rooftops, moving traffic, local watercraft/aircraft, digital crowds, and iconic bridges.
For the climactic airborne chase sequence high above New York, SPI’s expansive digital city build provided filmmakers a variety of options – since this new digital environment could be viewed from any direction or altitude. This flexibility granted artists the freedom to create new, exciting shots, long after the principal photography had completed.
The street-level battle takes place in a downtown New York street intersection adjacent to a large construction PIT. Early in the filmmaking process, Imageworks made the decision that a digital build of the entire location would be necessary. The Imageworks team started the process with extensive photogrammetry and Lidar coverage of the movie set and the surrounding locations. They aimed to create a photo-real representation of both the street intersection and the construction PIT location, but also one that could be easily modified. Once these new digital city locations accurately matched the practical sets, the filmmakers had cinematic freedom. The team had the flexibility to change the street level vanishing points, expand proportions of the digital sets or change the depth of the construction PIT on a per shot basis, providing a heightened sense of danger and help facilitate the thrilling stunts.