MCU streaming series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has been praised for a lot of things, but the questionable CGI has not been one of them. The Tatiana Maslany-led legal comedy has some fans up in arms over the titular character's CG look, especially when compared to other entirely computer-generated heroes and villains elsewhere in the franchise.
A few VFX pros who worked on She-Hulk have spoken out on the CGI issues the team ran into, resulting in some scenes looking better than others. One producer on the project revealed they "really didn't have a plan" when it came to the VFX shots, and wrote the best story they could, thinking about CG elements later.
But there may be a deeper reason why She-Hulk looks a little different when compared to the likes of Josh Brolin's Thanos, and it may have everything to do with the actual emotions each character is forced to portray on-screen.
Comparing She-Hulk to Thanos
Speaking with Befores & Afters, Digital Domain visual effects supervisor Phil Cramer, who led work on She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, offered up some reasoning why the Disney+ series' titular tawyer-turned-superhero looked less convincing than MCU villain Thanos.
Cramer said that a lot of it had to do with the actual emotions each character had to go through on-screen. He said "Thanos was a bald, angry man," while "Tatiana is a young, bubbly actress with a huge range of emotions" who "portrays them very vividly on her face:"
"It’s also important to remember that Thanos was a bald, angry man, and Tatiana is a young, bubbly actress with a huge range of emotions, and she portrays them very vividly on her face."
This caused a higher degree of difficulty for the artists because "with She-Hulk, [they] had to show a full range of emotions and facial expressions," usually while talking as well, and while the "[VFX] system has to still maintain and capture this:"
"It turns out that the difficulty was way higher than what we created for Thanos, because Thanos didn’t need to show many emotions. He just looked great when he was looking stoically at the camera or was angry. But now with She-Hulk, we had to show a full range of emotions and facial expressions, including happy, drunk and giggling, all while talking, and the system has to still maintain and capture this."
Cramer remarked, "that was something that we hadn’t anticipated" going in:
"So our face team, under the leadership of Fabrize Visserot and Ron Miller, had to work a lot on the details to push the facial expressions so far. That was something that we hadn’t anticipated, to be honest, the system was pushed beyond what we’ve seen before."
He also noted that for She-Hulk the effects house used its new "proprietary Masquerade 2.0 platform," allowing them to go from a "high-end frame-to-frame coherent mesh that we use to train the system for machine learning," to being able to "generate it on our own," thus skipping a step in the process:
"We used our proprietary Masquerade 2.0 platform, and one of the biggest aspects of the new version is that we no longer need to acquire training data. Normally, we need Medusa-based training data – i.e. a very high-end frame-to-frame coherent mesh that we use to train the system for machine learning. From that, we would then recreate the high-res facial performance.
Now, however, we’re able to generate it on our own using just the HMC data, plus the scans. We realized our internally-generated data is better than the data we receive. For She-Hulk, we still got Medusa data, but we ended up not using it."
Speaking on the same subject with Befores & Afters, senior animation supervisor at Wētā FX (one of the many effects studios that worked on She-Hulk) Sidney Kombo-Kintombo talked about the difference between She-Hulk and other characters.
He said that Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk is "a full human character" with no "caricature" features at all. "Even the Hulk is a little bit of a caricature," not looking completely human with his "smaller nose" and "massive jaw:"
"You are absolutely right. If you look at She-Hulk, even compared to all the other female characters that we have done, there is no question. She is a full human character. Marvel didn’t even make her a caricature of anything. Even the Hulk is a little bit of a caricature, right? He has a smaller nose, he has a massive jaw."
These small changes to the Hulk's anatomy allow the audience to "accept errors or less convincing facial expressions." So the challenge with She-Hulk was "o get the audience to see her and go, ‘Oh, this is just make-up, there is a real person behind it:"
"So when you look at this as an audience, regardless of how realistic it is, something pops in your head saying this thing is not real because nobody is like this—it is easier to accept errors or less convincing facial expressions. You can accept that from characters like that, but when you look at She-Hulk, there is no part of her face that is a caricature. She is like anybody that could be on the street.
So the challenge is to get the audience to see her and go, ‘Oh, this is just make-up, there is a real person behind it’. There really was nowhere to hide—she doesn’t have big eyes, she doesn’t have a feline look. She has every feature that we do."
Why Fans Should go Easy on She-Hulk?
And all this is exactly why fans should go a little easier on She-Hulk when it comes to her CG look. She does not get the luxury that the likes of the Hulk and Thanos get.
Of course, Jennifer Walter's hulking green cousin is brought up in the above quotes, but the same could be said for Thanos. Both the Hulk and Josh Brolin's Mad Titan are able to look a little bit more convincing simply because their looks are not 100% human.
Because there is something alien in nature to both of them, the audience is willing to forgive any errors or odd-looking facial expressions, simply because subconsciously they are going, 'Oh, these creatures are not of this world.'
She-Hulk doesn't get any wiggle room on that front. She is the most human CG character seen thus far in the franchise. Plus add in the fact that she is having to emote nearly every second instead of looking stoically at the camera like Thanos, or being in a constant snarl like Hulk, and surely there are going to be hiccups.
But as these VFX artists learn and develop better/newer tools, hopefully, the She-Hulk CGI woes will be a thing of the past.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is streaming now on Disney+.