Thanos has all the Infinity Stones, but he only needed one to accomplish his horrific goals. When it came to the heartbreaking “disintegration effect” of Avengers: Infinity War, in which half the Marvel Cinematic Universe faded to ash, pulling off the dramatic visual fell upon the shoulders of VFX supervisor Dan DeLeeuw.

In an interview with Inverse, DeLeeuw reveals his team referred to only one specific Infinity Stone throughout the production process: the Power Stone.

“The Power Stone was blipping them out of existence,” DeLeeuw says.

In Avengers: Infinity War, out now in Digital HD, Thanos (Josh Brolin) scours the Marvel Universe for the Infinity Stones, all-powerful relics that control space, time, souls, even reality itself. One of them, the purple Power Stone, was introduced in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy and was collected by Thanos off-screen prior to Infinity War.

While Weta Workshop worked out the effect on paper, coming up with a number of ways to scrub out the Marvel heroes, DeLeeuw and his team finalized the effect in post-production. And one earlier version of the effect included all six of the Infinity Stones being “used” to erase half the universe.

“All the Infinity Stones have their signature color and appearance as a visual effect,” DeLeeuw says. “So the ‘blip out,’ we thought, ‘What would all the stones do to a person, blipping them out?’”

The VFX team thought of the Reality Stone — is the reality stone wiping them away because it’s a new reality? Or is it the Soul Stone, “because souls cease to exist”? Finally, they settled on the Power Stone, because simplicity is key.

“We had concept art combining all those things, and it was getting too busy,” he says. “It became too complicated. It was stepping on what the actors were doing. So it became ‘body turns to ash.’ We peeled away all those layers and focused on that one [Power Stone], deciding how quickly it would consume someone, what pattern it would consume them.”

One alternate version also included “this nimbus of energy or soul that is left behind” that “fades away.” Again, the ash worked just fine.

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The Power Stone, seen in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014).
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The Power Stone erasing the MCU, in 'Avengers: Infinity War' (2018).

The effect, which has since become a very popular meme online, was achieved by doing the effect on digital clones of the actors — Inverse heard something similar from The Last Jedi VFX supervisor Ben Morris — and “match move” those digital clones over the live-action actors.

“Under the hood, we had a digital version of the character created from scanning the actors, and match move that version to the actors on set.” As DeLeeuw describes it, this technique allowed the VFX team to find which “areas” of a body to go first, such as their hands, their legs, etc. For certain characters, this allowed them to achieve maximum drama effect.

Avengers Infinity War

“Quill and Peter Parker, when the face turns to ash, you get this last frozen expression before they blow away,” he says. “With Groot, his hands reaching out to Rocket, the ash is moving up Groot’s arm so Rocket can never hold his hand. He’s losing a son in a way.”

Thanks for the emotions, DeLeeuw. The Oscar-nominated VFX artist confesses that even he cried while editing Tom Holland’s performance.

“When we saw Tom Holland, even in its rough form without any effect, we were crying in the edit,” he says. It was a good sign. “We could work with this. But gosh there’s no way to make it better because it’s Tom knocking it out of the park. It’s like the son apologizing for something he had no control over.”

In the wake of Infinity War, the “disintegration effect” took over the internet as a popular meme, which DeLeeuw can’t get enough of.

“I think it’s hilarious,” he says.

As a lifelong film nerd who fell in love with visual effect masterpieces, DeLeeuw is thankful to have had any kind of impact on people. “You grow up wanting to do this for your career,” DeLeeuw says.

“I grew up watching Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, building models I would blow up on the Fourth of July. You hope you work on a movie that affects people, and Infinity War has become more than just a film. It means something to people.”

Avengers: Infinity War is available now on Digital HD and Blu-ray August 14.