The Avengers scored as the box office champ of 2012, and may also find itself labeled "Oscar winner" when the Academy Awards are announced February 24. Movie Fanatic caught up with visual effects supervisor Jeff White and the film's producer, Victoria Alonso, for an exclusive interview to talk about bringing the Marvel magic to life and where this Oscar nod for Best Visual Effects sits in their world of making dreams come true.
"For us at Industrial Light and Magic, we work with talented people all over the world. Everybody poured their heart into this project and it was very much a passion project for everyone," White said. "To have that work recognized in a strong group of films this year, everyone could not be more excited."
Alonso and White were found in similar places when they got their Oscar good news -- both were in bed. See for us in California, the Academy Award nominations are revealed at the early hour of 5 a.m.
"It was very early in the morning. I didn’t really watch it. I got texts. Once you hear your phone go, 'buzz… buzz…. buzz…,' two things went through my mind: We didn’t get it or all these texts were because we got it and people were excited for us,” she said and laughed. “So, I immediately woke up and read all the texts and quickly turned on the television.”
White was with his two young girls and they each had a different reaction to their father and his new title of Oscar nominee. "I was sitting in bed with my two two-year-olds when I heard the news. My wife turned to the girls and said, 'Tell daddy congratulations.' One said, 'Congratulations, daddy.' And the other one said, 'No, I don’t want to,'” White recalled and laughed.
"It was a great moment. We were all incredibly excited. Any time you can get the work of so many people recognized by the Academy, it’s a real honor."
For Alonso and White, the nomination is a salute to the thousands of people across the globe who worked tirelessly for years to bring Joss Whedon's vision to life. "We’re just the lucky ones who represent four or five-thousand people worldwide who worked so hard in making this what it became," Alonso said. "This is a tribute to working across countries and cultures."
When Movie Fanatic traveled to the San Francisco home of ILM to talk The Avengers, we were struck by the sense of community that permeates the creative facility. "I look at it as a proud parent. You take all of these companies under your wing and you say, 'Come play with us. We’ll make excellent imagery together and show it to the world,'" Alonso said. "I feel like we’ve fulfilled a promise to all these creative people."
There’s gratification on getting nominated by the group that represents the best of your field, but then there’s the accolades that arrived the second The Avengers wallpapers arrived and fans went wild all the way through its premiere and the film becoming the biggest blockbuster of the year.
Both members of the Avengers creative team not only took in the film’s premiere, but repeatedly went to theaters to see how the public was reacting. "I took my two older kids and saw it on opening night in a packed theater, which I really enjoy. Making movies can sometimes be like theater when you have that performance and immediate applause," White said.
"When we saw it, the audience’s reaction -- laughing out loud for example -- you don’t get that very often for films that we get to work on. It was really a unique experience. My kids are very critical and the fact that they loved it, meant the world."
Producer Alonso has seen the film all over the world in a variety of settings, but her fondest memory was the premiere in Hollywood.
"I’ve seen it with all kinds of audiences. The one that makes the best story was from the premiere. The premiere is with a lot of people who are from the industry and you could say that because this is what they live and breathe every day they’re jaded on some films or the expectations are off," she admitted.
"We were at El Capitan and when Agent Coulson gets killed, someone from the audience screamed, 'No!!!!' I went, 'Oh, my God.' That was the most real moment you can get from a premiere. It was a visceral response, in a place where you usually don’t get those responses. I was like, 'OK, we got you!'"
When it comes to challenges to overcome on the road to Oscar nominee, both White and Alonso admit there were too many to mention.
"But, the consistent thing that happens with all these movies is time. The enemy is time. The deadlines are true deadlines and so much of this film depends on the imagery. How many hours can you shove in that 24-hour day?” Alonso said and laughed. “Sometimes the imagery demands more time than you have. That has been the case with all of the films I’ve made at Marvel.”
At ILM, White felt they rose to the thrown gauntlet of creating new worlds, new races and a new Hulk!
"There was such variety, between creating a new alien race, creating Stark Tower and creating New York City. But I, think creating New York and the Hulk were the two biggest things that pushed us," White said. "We needed to create a visual character that was completely believable. And then, creating a backdrop for all the action that happens in the last 30 minutes in New York…"
"Yeah... a city that nobody knows!" Alonso interjected and laughed.
"No one knows New York," White concurred. They only had three shooting days in Manhattan and the rest had to be created digitally at ILM. "We wanted that to be invisible. We didn’t want them thinking about this imaginary set, we wanted them focused on the battle raging in the middle of New York."
Both Alonso and White reported that the success of their film, first teased in The Avengers trailer, emits from their fearless leader -- Whedon. "He’s a walking library of knowledge of film, art history and music. We would have Google up all the time so we could quickly look up any references he would make,” White said, and they both laughed.
“All the humor you see in the film is him. And the visual effects success is in a large part because he’s so decisive. We were lucky to work with Joss."
Alonso found from her producer's chair that Whedon's greatest asset was his ability to mount a vicious challenge while still being the most efficient filmmaker she's ever worked alongside. "He comes from a world where things are not possible in television. Any time we had a hurdle, he would think about it and come back with a solution," Alonso said. "Also, he’s a writer, so he had the control to make shifts in the story. You couldn’t ask for a better partner in the journey."
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