Mild spoilers for "Ant-Man" follow!
Okay, Internet, I know what you're thinking because I used to think it too -- Marvel, the company that brought superhero movies to new amazing heights with "Iron Man" and "The Avengers," is making an "Ant-Man" movie? About Ant-Man. Who shrinks to the size of an ant. Before they make a "Black Widow" movie, even. Lol. Okay.
But hold on there, friends! I am here to tell you that I am now a full-on true believer in the "Ant-Man" movie. Why? Because last week I got to go to Industrial Light & Magic in San Francisco, where I and a bunch of other lucky nerds were shown clips and progress shots of the movie's special effects, including the first full eight minutes of the film. Not only were the scenes we watched funny and engaging, but they were also spectacularly designed -- so much so that I'm voluntarily planning to see this movie in 3D.
That's not a recommendation I take lightly, you know. You should be impressed.
The movie's director, Peyton Reed, Marvel co-Producer Brad Winderbaum and ILM VFX supervisor Russell Earl were also on hand to tell us all about how they achieved these amazing effects. And trust me, they ARE amazing:
Peggy Carter's Back!!! (And Lookin' Fly)Marvel
The very first scene of the movie features a young '80s era Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) speaking to Howard Stark (played by John Slattery, Not Dominic Cooper) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) at S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters. Reed told us that the aging affects during that scene -- particularly the ones used to make Michael Douglas seem younger -- were created by Lola VFX, who also created Skinny Steve Rogers for "Captain America: The First Avenger." If you were put off by Peggy's old lady makeup in "Winter Soldier," then don't worry -- this time around, it looks perfect.
Putting The 'Real' In PhotorealisticMarvel
Using special cameras on set, Reed and his crew took both motion picture and still macro photography to get the close-up textures of each object in a scene. Then, they built an enlarged version of the location for that scene using CGI. The end result looks much more "tactile" and realistic than anything you'd see in "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" -- there are even giant dust motes floating around in the air, which really sells the idea that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is ant-sized. "Dust motes were our friend," said Reed.
Staying True To The ComicsMarvel
The team who created "Ant-Man" had "crazy philosophical discussions" about how to best portray Scott Lang when he's tiny ("When he shrinks, is the cameraman shrinking too?" Winderbaum asked). What they ultimately went with was a rule that Reed got straight from Stan Lee himself -- in the comics, the artists always had to keep Ant-Man small in the frame and include other larger objects as points of reference, "trying to get that perspective correct." Doing that keeps Lang from looking like an average-sized guy in frame.
This doesn't just mean that objects in the foreground are huge compared to Lang, BTW -- "off in the distance, out of focus" objects are treated the same way, according to Earl, which subliminally influences the way you see Scott.
Shrinking In StyleMarvel
Speaking of the comics, Ant-Man is usually drawn in a very, very specific way when he shrinks and grows larger, which the movie recreates very lovingly without making it too cartoony.
They also had very specific points of reference for just how large -- or well, small, Scott is at every stage of his transformation. "When he shrinks down, he shrinks to one specific size," Reed said. "He had to really be the size of an ant. That was a tricky thing because it changed with almost every different shot, when you get into a different visual situation. You really have to push it."
Paying Attention To GeographyMarvel
One of the hardest aspects of making sure a movie that takes place in miniature always feels realistic? Extensively mapping out where the characters are in relation to the landscape around them -- something that many directors do in order to preserve a sense of space, but which is vital when the space you're working with is only a couple of feet wide and you're mostly using blue screens.
"Geography has always been really important to me in shooting something, 'cuz I don't like watching movies where you are so confused about the visuals," Reed said. "It was really important to keep scale and geography really, really intact... We had to sort of map out, 'This is here, this is here.'"
"We had lots of conversations about what he can do," he added later. "Ant-Man can't fly and he can't hover, so if he leaps at something, there's always got to be a point at which he's jumping off."
Ants! Ants! Ants!Marvel
Ants are the movie's secret weapon, according to Reed -- especially one in particular who Scott names "Antony" (Hank Pym only designates them via numbers, because he's no fun).
"It was important when creating these ants to make them look totally as realistic as possible, but also to give them a little character," Reed said, noting that the biggest challenge was taking a scene of Lang flying on an ant and making it "not only acceptable but bad-ass."
Size-Fu, AKA The Best Thing EverMarvel
ILM worked on what will definitely be everyone's favorite scene of the movie, in which Ant-Man uses his ant-proportional strength and his shrinking abilities to fight somebody who'll be very familiar to Marvel fans. Guys. GUYS. I'm not going to spoil who it is, but you're going to totally lose it when you see this for yourself. Trust me.
"Ant-Man" creeps into theaters July 17.