How ILM Built a Digital NYC for Marvel's 'Avengers' (Just to Blow It Up with VFX)

ILM has been at the cutting edge of visual effects in cinema since George Lucas founded it back in 1975. Constructing some of Hollywood's most memorable moments is an impressive feat, so it's only natural that Joss Whedon and company tapped the FX house for the much-anticipated The Avengers. Marvel's recent efforts in film (Iron Man, Thor) built quite the lead-up for Avengers to deliver upon, and needless to say, the film brought the spectacle in spades. Check below to see how ILM built a massive digital 'stunt' version of New York City, just to rough a whole bunch of it up -- plus some more from ILM on other VFX in The Avengers.

This process sounds like an incredible headache, but the attention to detail really creates a striking effect. I particularly appreciated the projection of the offices to the building's interior. Of course we have to see into the building! Even flying by at high-speed, real geometry just sells the depth better than faking it would. This isn't the only VFX work ILM crafted for Avengers, either. Here's more material straight from the company's official YouTube channel (there's some redundant information here, but plenty new info overall):

Even though I'm one of those negative nancies that believes CG stunt doubles will always look ever so slightly 'off' no matter how skillful the artists and animators, the Hulk of The Avengers holds up extremely well. Even (or especially?) under dramatic lighting, there's palpable texture and muscle there, and a lot of expressiveness that seals the deal for realism. Because of its mostly static nature, a city is a lot more straightforward to recreate in CGI than preserving an actor's performance with a digital character. Also, it seems ILM has done so in a way that looks a bit more low-impact for the actor than the 'helmet-cams' used for Avatar:

What do you guys think? Do you buy the 'stunt' CG city? Does it all hold up to your eyes? Have you ever heard of using pana-spheres or similar methodology on such a large scale?

Link: The Official Channel of Industrial Light & Magic -- YouTube

[via Gizmodo]

Your Comment


I'm at awe.

February 20, 2013 at 5:49PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Wait what- Majority of NYC locations is actually CG?

Maybe I'm really underestimating the effects The Avengers... when the effects is like the whole last portion of the movie...

February 20, 2013 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The best thing I can say to acknowledge their work is, "I never once thought about it while watching the movie." Of course that's also a testament to Joss Whedon's story telling. They go hand in hand. Good effects support story telling and good story telling keeps the audience's attention so they don't think to attend to the effects. I am really impressed. Thanks for posting this.

February 20, 2013 at 9:58PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I gotta agree - during the movie, I never actually noticed any of this. But, I think that's because I gave up the illusion of believing it's 'real' right at the start of the movie. The level of VFX was so heavy from early on that you had to let go, and just take it as part of the 'stage' for telling this story. And with that mindset, I still enjoyed the film.

Then there are films like Dark Knight, which felt much more grounded and realistic, despite having some heavy VFX scenes, and that level of detail just takes the whole film to another level.

February 22, 2013 at 6:43AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The first time I watched it I knew something was a little off, especially on the shots where Thor and Black Widow are on those flying contraptions. Watching it a second time confirmed that it screamed green screen.

Having said that, I will me it clear that whilst I knew there was green screen involved, I was not aware that the environment was 100% CGI - I thought it was a mixture of clean plates with the actors on green screen stages. Obviously there were a number of shots where it was clear that it could not be done without a fully digital environment, but it was believable.

I just felt the blending of the digital environment and the live action footage was blended in a less than perfect way. Having said that, the average viewer wouldn't give it a second thought.

February 21, 2013 at 2:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I remember reading about this in Cinematography Magazine last year (I think), though the article didn't go into this much detail about the process. This is quite the feat, and I was taken aback by the level of detail in the night shot when the Avengers are flying through the street.

February 21, 2013 at 6:34AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I watched for the The Avengers last night was not impressed. I like Joss Whedon as a writer (especially Fire Fly) but this film felt saccharine and brittle to me. Granted, I did watch a bit of "Making Blade Runner" before I put The Avengers on and that really accentuated the difference in quality between the two films.

To me, The Avengers lacks texture, weight, density and believability of the world and its characters. It's not just the overuse of visual effects. It's the cinematography and the production design. Loki is supposed to be an ancient demi-gods. Why is he wearing that nice clean felt you can buy in Wilkinsons?

Visual effects should be supported by practical effects and vice versa. Pan's Labyrinth is a good example. I've come to deeply appreciate that film.

February 24, 2013 at 4:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Ben Holden

You'll have to excuse that first sentence in the comment above .Sleep deprivation and all that. It should read: "I watched The Avengers for the first time last night."
Perhaps I should have been in bed : P

February 24, 2013 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Ben Holden