Much like WandaVision before it, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was just as cinematic as anything else Marvel Studios has released to date. Despite skipping theaters for Disney+, both shows have carried top-notch visual effects that rival those you see on the silver screen. When it comes to the Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan-starring series, Eric Leven oversaw the show’s visual effects, from the insane opening skydiving sequence all the way through Sam Wilson’s (Mackie) new suit at the end.
Though The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Leven’s first time working with Marvel Studios, the filmmaker has an extensive resume in genre entertainment. Most recently, Leven worked on The Orville and has visual effects works on properties like Cloverfield, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Twilight, and Starship Troopers.
“With the Marvel stuff, they really are constantly changing and evolving scenes and moving scenes around and just making them better and better,” Leven tells us of his first gig with the House of Ideas. “And that was great having the time and the resources to really make this stuff as realistic and as amazing as it could be. The conversations we were having … What would Falcon do in this … How would he actually save this person? What makes more sense? How would he throw the shield? Those are great conversations continuing to iterate and make stuff great. It was fun.”
We recently caught up with the VFX mastermind, and you can see our full chat below.
ComicBook.com: I talked with the WandaVision team and obviously, Westview is something built from the ground up, which people didn’t really realize at the moment, and something similar here with Madripoor. As the man who’s overseeing the multiple vendors in the creation of all this stuff, how do you even start that process?
Eric Leven: Well, to be fair, that starts with the art department. In this case, Ray Chan and his team, before we even had to start, provided us with some amazing key art to base everything on. So they did a lot of heavy lifting to begin with. Plus, I mean, the establishing shots are all CG but they built a set for us to add on top of when we were actually in Low Town, so that was a really nice collaborative experience and Ray’s fantastic and his work is amazing. We were, yeah, basically able to just build on what’s happened on top of what they’ve brought to the table.
Then, we go through rounds of reference, in terms of what cities can we look at it. One of the interesting things about the wide shots in Madripoor is that if you look in the books, there’s always a sampan or some old, old boats in the harbor. So initially, we had those, as well, in Madripoor and they decided, “Nah, that’s not what we want to do for the MCU vision of Madripoor. We want this to be more like a haven for super-wealthy tax cheats,” so instead of the sampans, we’re going to put these cigarette boats and big mega yachts and things like that. So, it was interesting to see how it evolved from the different sources.
Visual effects, of course, is the one facet of the filmmaking industry where the best job you can do, no one really applauds because it’s not all too noticeable. I mentioned Westview earlier, a lot of people were taken aback by that. What’s one shot you think most people would be surprised in Falcon and the Winter Soldier to be, I guess, fake for lack of a better term?
There are a number of shots that you’ll never notice we’re done in CG. The one that comes to mind right now is, there’s a shot at the end of the fight in Episode Five, between Bucky, Falcon, and Walker, when Sam picks up the shield and he wipes the blood off of it and that’s a completely CG shield with CG blood. Most of the shots of the shield were CG but that one, in particular, it’s right in the camera. It’s really close up and it looks fantastic. Really nice.
There are shots of John Walker in Episode Four, when he’s attacking Nico, he throws the shield at Nico and due to his performance and his pantomime, we had to replace him from the neck down. So it’s all digital, obviously, when he jumps out the window. I think those shots look great but he’s all CG in those, as well.
I know you’re throwing the shield around and all of that stunt work but if you say most of the shield shots are CG, what’s the main reasoning behind that?
Part of it is, obviously, you can’t throw the real shield because it’s delicate and magical, and you can’t mess it up. So most of the time when you’re fighting with the shield, you’re using a stunt shield, which is made of rubber. Or it just doesn’t quite look correct, especially close-up, so it needs to be replaced. And then the other thing that’s interesting is that no one had ever put anything on the real shield before. The prop guys were surprised when we asked for blood on it. The shield is perfect all the time. It’s always clean.
Then, when you’re on the set and you’re trying to put blood on, is it the right color? Is the right consistency? And things change. And how thin is it when Sam smears it a little bit? So those are conversations that we have well into post-production. So it’s easier to just figure it out in post. And so, yeah, so all the blood was added afterward and once you’re adding digital blood, it might be easier to make a digital shield.
Falcon’s wings are CG. Then there’s a point when Mr. Walker gets a new costume, too. Is his US Agent costume practical or is it just a re-colored version of his previous duds?
It is practical. Here’s the funny thing about visual effects. Visual effects can do so much but I think every visual effects supervisor will tell you the same thing. You want to do it practically if you can. And that goes for anything, explosions, cities, people flying through the air, which is why we shot skydivers as much as you can get practically, we push to do practically. So there were conversations about, “Can we take Walker’s old Captain America outfit and just recolor for his US Agent?” But at the end of the day, we decided we’re better to do it practically.
The skydiving sequence. How involved were you in that decision? Because they’re filming people skydiving and it bounces between that practical dive and Anthony Mackie zooming through a helicopter.
I mean, that’s the goal. If you can get enough done practically and it’s, again, to watch these skydivers do their work, it was just spellbinding. I mean, the guys were amazing. Not only doing these incredible aerial maneuvers but also filming themselves do it and film multiple takes. They’ll reset in midair and go back and do second, third takes. It was incredible. But if you can get some practical shots, then the sequence you start to … You’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. And then the goal is like, “Well, maybe they all did it. Maybe it’s all real. Maybe there’s really a guy flying around, I don’t know. Maybe they really went to the desert. Maybe they’re really helicopters.”
Yeah, ever gone skydiving before?
Yeah. These guys took me up. They took me on the last day of the last jump, they took me skydiving. And it was funny because I had noticed, we’re all going up in this plane and I’m jumping tandem with one of those skydivers. And I was like, “Oh boy, everyone in this plane has a parachute except for me.”
What did you think of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Let us know your thoughts either in the comments section or by hitting our writer @AdamBarnhardt up on Twitter to chat all things MCU!
Note: If you purchase one of the awesome, independently chosen products featured here, we may earn a small commission from the retailer. Thank you for your support.