The Falcon & the Winter Soldier was an undeniable triumph for Marvel – especially in terms of the show’s visual effects. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted every aspect of Hollywood, even affected Marvel Studios. Release dates weren’t the only thing to be affected; production crews had to adjust their entire working patterns, and VFX teams had to develop whole new ways of working from home. All that makes the success of Marvel Studios’ first two TV shows, WandaVision and Falcon & Winter Soldier, all the more remarkable.
Falcon & Winter Soldier was a spiritual successor to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a globe-trotting superhero action series with a political edge. Over the course of six episodes, Marvel introduced a wealth of new characters, redefined established heroes such as Sam Wilson, and unveiled some whole new locations in the MCU. The most prominent of these is Madripoor, a fictional island nation that’s a major part of X-Men lore and has finally entered the MCU.
Many parts of Falcon & Winter Soldier were brought to life by the award-winning VFX company Rodeo FX. Screen Rant spoke exclusively to Rodeo FX’s Sebastien Francoeur and Graeme Marshall, two of the key people involved with the show. They discussed some of their most powerful sequences, including a striking truck battle and a key scene involving John Walker, as well as the introduction of Madripoor.
So, for the benefit of our readers, could you explain which scenes you worked on in Falcon & Winter Soldier?
Sebastien Francoeur: We were involved in many episodes, we worked over four episodes and we did more than 500 shots. We were involved in a few main sequences; the truck battle, Madripoor, Brass Monkey fights, super-soldier fights – shots where we needed to add CG doubles, Bucky arms, shields, that kind of stuff.
How did you manage to choreograph those super-soldier battles?
Sebastien Francoeur: It was mostly a stunt performer, but we did an amazing CG double, and we substituted them with the real actor.
How did you create that truck battle?
Sebastien Francoeur: It was quite challenging. It was mainly shot on Blu-screen, it was shot in Atlanta. We needed to be in Germany, so we came up with a few iterations of the landscape, but it felt like Atlanta, we needed to make it look more like Germany. One of the big challenges is that everything needs to tie together, layout-wise, everything needs to be in working continuity. We built an 8km-long highway, and we were able to tell on which scene where they were located and work in parallel to preserve continuity and ensure we see what we should see. That was the strong base for the environment, making sure everything is working, and we’re not seeing the same thing twice.
In terms of the practical side, were the actors stood on stationary trucks? How did you create the sense of motion?
Sebastien Francoeur: They were shot on trucks – 4ft-high trucks with an air cushion so there was jittering, but the trucks were not moving up and forward. In those moments we needed to split the screen, use a CG truck, make slight adjustments to create that feel of movement. All the trucks were really moving into a CG environment at the end, in the proper place to ensure they were going forward.
That must’ve been incredibly difficult to do.
It just needed a lot of thinking how we can avoid problems and start with a strong base. There were 180 shots, we need six, seven, eight artists working in parallel to make sure we’re able to cover everything.
You mentioned your team worked on Madripoor. How much freedom were you given in designing that environment and what it looked like?
Sebastien Francoeur: We received artwork from Marvel’s art department, but it was a close-up look, we didn’t really have any landscape view of that Madripoor. But we received plates with concept designs side-by-side, we needed to extrapolate that. We looked a little at the comic books, but they didn’t want it to look totally comics –
Graeme Marshall: The reference pack we received was a lot more image references than anything else – from the comics, existing cities that they’d like to use parts of, and we worked quite closely with the VFX Supervisor Eric Leven – we like this piece, we want to integrate this look – we extrapolated from there out, and a lot of the stuff we saw in the Brass Monkey sequence.
Sebastien Francoeur: Eric had some ideas about how the city should look, and one of his references was Hong Kong – the buildings, the lights, it was one of the strong references. But, we needed to go a little bit more beyond that, because it’s not just Hong Kong. The people who knew Madripoor need to recognize Lowtown and Hightown, we needed that contrast. It’s subtle, but there’s a few sailboats on the water as we’re diving in, just how we see in the comic books.
Graeme Marshall: We left a bunch of junks, we riffed on the Hong Kong coastal Asian city, and I think that’s something Eric wanted us to stick with. Again, ripping off the Hightown/Lowtown contrast, we’ve got a mix of super-yachts as well as these junks and fishing-style boats and things like that. A real good contrast of rich and poor, Hightown and Lowtown, that they wanted us to read.
Sebastien Francoeur: And that heavy atmosphere. It’s a pirate city, you know, and with all those lights it could easily have looked like Las Vegas – we need something spooky, spooky means dark. It was a very interesting challenge, and we’re really happy with how that looked like.
Graeme Marshall: I think this was the first time Madripoor has ever been presented in the cinematic universe, obviously there are a lot of eyes on it. If they ever go back here in the franchise ever, we need to make it enough of a city that you could go back and build the story off of as well.
Just to pass on, as an X-Men fan, and literally the moment I saw the shots in the trailer, it said Madripoor to me. You really did a brilliant job on it.
Sebastien Francoeur: Thank you, coming from an X-Men fan. Often as I was doing my research, there were these extra-large buildings; without those iconic buildings that we’re seeing in the comic books…
Graeme Marshall: The Monoliths, Eric called them. I think they wanted us to stick away from the Monoliths to give us its real-world feel rather than going on-the-nose comic book. I mean, you read that it was Madripoor anyway, but they wanted to avoid it being too in-your-face.
Apparently there are still some Easter eggs in the Madripoor scenes the fans haven’t picked out on yet. Are you aware of any of those?
Sebastien Francoeur: Not really. We didn’t put any of those in ourselves – willingly. A few parts have been built on set, those are proper Easter eggs; there might be references we added by luck.
Graeme Marshall: I know the set development team had a lot of fun putting these Easter eggs into practical pieces. We weren’t told you have to put these things in on purpose – who knows, maybe someone will find something that slipped in by accident?
I understand you worked on John Walker smashing through a window, landing on top of a truck – on a van. I loved the sense of force and momentum. Could you walk me through how you created that scene?
Sebastien Francoeur: Basically, those two shots – we start behind the camera, John Walker is running towards the wall, that was shot. He did a small run, and then he jumped in front of the camera. That shot then turned into a full digi-double, we start with the body-match and keep running, smash through that window. All the following shot, they had a performer to fall over the car; but because we needed to change the face, the shield, add enhancements, it ended up being the full digi-double for that sequence. And then seeing that impact, making sure the shield looks solid, the roof buckled properly, the windows explode.
Graeme Marshall: It was a full CG simulation, we ran simulations to see the windows buckled correctly… the top third of the van is full CG in the end.
What other CG environments did you create?
Sebastien Francoeur: The biggest was really the truck sequence and Madripoor, set extension in the background to make sure everything had depth. Did we do any other environments, Graeme? I think that was mainly it.
Graeme Marshall: The interior of the trucks was a mini environment in itself. The initial concept was boxes of medical supplies, and the heavy metal crates you see in there in the final shots were all put in there as well.
Sebastien Francoeur: This is one of the interesting shots, because it’s not something you expect to see in CG or that being a full CG environment, but the interior was shot with cardboard boxes, we needed to change it to make a little more modern. There were vaccines inside that truck, they need to keep them refrigerated, we rendered the truck and everything and just kept Karli or Bucky, the rest is a full CG environment inside those trucks.
Graeme Marshall: I think the Madripoor stuff, we had the surrounds – the gangway, we built the harbor to the side, as we go to the Brass Monkey there was a lot of set extension, buildings continuing to keep that Lowtown feel, added vehicles, side streets.
How did you guys manage to make everything work in spite of all the complications you must’ve been dealing with, with the pandemic?
Sebastien Francoeur: Everybody was working from home. I think it started, and three months after everybody was working from home, but Rodeo turn out very well – we change our habits to work pretty quickly. I prefer working in an office because it’s more human and everything, but everybody was on the same level, the communication went way beyond what we had before because we needed it to be able to work properly. We discovered a new method of communication, and I think it helps.
Graeme Marshall: I think our IT team really sprung into action as soon as the pandemic hit, it was almost seamless. The unsung heroes of any VFX facility are the IT people, Rodeo worked very quickly to make sure everybody had all the equipment they needed – if they needed chairs, so they weren’t sitting on a hard dining-room chair, our team made sure everybody had everything they need to get the job done without feeling it. I think we adapted really quickly, because we had to, and it worked really well because it allowed us to work with our studio in Quebec City more, it was like dealing with someone in the next office. It brought us closer while we were all farther apart, so it was nice.
A strange paradox there.
Graeme Marshall: During the entire making of Falcon & Winter Soldier, which Sebastien and I were on for 14 months, I think we were in the same room together four times.
Sebastien Francoeur: Yeah, like he said, we’ve seen each other in the real life four or five times.
I think it’s quite incredible how companies have had to adapt, and it’s good to give credit to those people who made this possible.
Sebastien Francoeur: It’s not an easy thing. Not at all.
Graeme Marshall: Absolutely. Not only our IT team, but our Facilities team were the other unsung heroes – personal items from work, ergonomic keyboards, the attention to detail was phenomenal to get us up and running seamlessly.
More: All 14 Marvel Movies Releasing After Falcon & Winter Soldier
- Black Widow (2021)Release date: Jul 09, 2021
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
- Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
- The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release date: Feb 17, 2023
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023
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