Marvel Studios has always been famous for its heavy use of CGI to design its battles, destruction, and heroic abilities, but in a few cases, it's even been used to create entire characters. Characters such as Thanos, the Hulk, and Groot have been created completely digitally with famous talent lending the vocals. Soon, the MCU will introduce its first completely CGI in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
The nine-episode Disney+ legal comedy will see Tatiana Maslany make her MCU as Jennifer Walters, better known as She-Hulk, the cousin of Bruce Banner. Between Maslany's She-Hulk and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, VFX-heavy characters will be integral to Marvel Studios' next Disney+ series, so it's important they're to a high standard.
Unfortunately, the first trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was met with viral controversy as many were critical of how the character appeared on-screen.The trailer's upload directly to Disney+ later offered significant improvement over the version posted to YouTube, and now, several VFX professionals have explained why that may be.
VFX Artists Explain She-Hulk Bad CGI
The VFX artists at Corridor Crew reacted to the first trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and offered an explanation for the CGI problems that have stirred up controversy in recent months.
Corridor Crew first praised one particularly realistic and believable shot in the bar, before going on to describe the trailer as "going back and forth from utterly convincing to Shrek." However, the group concluded that the trailer absolutely did not showcase "garbage VFX," blaming internet culture for the excessively negative reaction.
Artist Wren Weichman explained that the issue appears to stem from fans reacting to the YouTube upload of the trailer which had been compressed to reduce the file size which typically results in a lower quality video.
Because of the compression that they exported it out at before uploading it to YouTube, that smoothed out all of those details, so you end up with a very rubbery smooth green look. These details are much more noticeable on the Disney+ upload of the trailer.
Weichman went on to explain that these same issues did not plague Mark Ruffalo's Hulk in the trailer due to the details on his face - such as stubble, crow's feet, and forehead wrinkles - that "compression will not be able to remove:"
"Typically, in pop culture, women's faces are very smooth. Comparing her to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo's Hulk), there's so much detail there that we can see that compression will not be able to remove."
The uncanny valley theory suggests that human-like features make artificial figures more familiar to audiences, but once a character tries and fails to mimic a realistic human, they enter the so-called uncanny valley. Weichman shared his belief that She-Hulk lives in that territory while Hulk does not:
"He doesn't sit in the uncanny valley for us. One, because he doesn't look that much like a human. His face is square! He's just hulked out Chad up in here. And two, we're just so used to it at this point that it doesn't trigger our senses in the same way that She-Hulk is doing."
Drawing attention to one shot of Jennifer Walters at work that stirred up particular controversy, the artists did admit there appeared to be some smoothness on her face and gummy-like animation. However, the group stressed the difficulty involved in creating a fully CGI character, calling it "one of the hardest things ever."
Artist Sam Gorski emphasized that while a few shots may not be "flawlessly, perfectly convincing," those will largely go unnoticed in the grand scheme of the nine-episode series:
"So, two or three shots aren't like flawlessly, perfectly convincing. Over the course of a series, once you start watching it, you watch the show for five minutes, and then suddenly you just start taking the character at face value. And even if a shot isn't as perfect as the other shots you stop caring pretty quickly because you're not sitting there rating every shot in this series anymore, you're just enjoying it."
Switching focus to the MCU as a whole, artist Clint Jones shared his belief that fans are quick to be overly judgemental of Marvel Studios' CGI due to high expectations in the VFX department:
"I think it's the expectation that Marvel's at the top and anything less than perfect is unacceptable. They've just outdone themselves time and time again, the bar is so high. They have to reach this almost unobtainable bar, and yet they achieve it every time. And if it's just two percent below the bar [fans go crazy]."
Corridor Crew's full analysis of the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law trailer can be watched below:
Is She-Hulk's VFX Bad After All?
She-Hulk may have demonstrated some imperfections in the first look it delivered in mid-May, but the final product that arrives on Disney+ in August will undoubtedly be more polished. Comparing the YouTube and Disney+ uploads of the trailer, compression clearly had a major impact on the quality and visible detailing of the CGI, something which won't be a problem in the series itself.
Although the MCU has featured fully CGI characters in the past, She-Hulk will be the first time a completely digital creation leads its own project, let alone a nine-episode series. It's important not to underestimate the tough task Marvel Studios has set itself in designing and animating a person realistically, and the result is undeniably impressive.
Every Hollywood studio has had its fair share of good and bad CGI, and things have only been tougher recently due to the current backlog of work at VFX houses. Perhaps that may well mean She-Hulk is currently less finished than planned, but Disney wouldn't have set the August release date if it wasn't confident the series would be completed to a high standard in time.
Fans will have to wait until She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres on Disney+ on August 17 to find out just how the CGI turns out.