When Avengers: Endgame hit theaters, Professor Hulk was an instant hit. After all, who could resist a genius dabbing green giant with the voice of Mark Ruffalo? To create Professor Hulk — or “Smart Hulk,” as Marvel likes to call him — the Marvel Studios special effects team developed new methods to capture the nuances of Ruffalo’s performance, but it all started with one of the Oscar-nominated actor’s best roles.
In an interview, Industrial Light and Magic VFX supervisor Russell Earl tells Inverse that it all started with Spotlight, the 2016 movie that earned Ruffalo an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
“We had done a test early on where our animation supervisor took a clip from an interview that Mark did after Spotlight and animated a little piece to that where he wasn’t so much acting as Hulk as he was just being himself,” Earl says.
Using that animated clip, Marvel was able to show Ruffalo what a smart and articulate Hulk would look like giving the actor the freedom he needed to create the character we got in Endgame.
“That helped Mark know that we’d be able to capture a subtle performance and that he didn’t necessarily have to go over the top to do a whole performance,” Earl says.
The biggest challenge in creating Professor Hulk came from finding the perfect balance between the Incredible Hulk and Professor Bruce Banner. In Endgame, Professor Hulk describes himself as a perfect fusion of “the brains and the brawn,” but some fans have argued that the new character is basically just Banner in the Hulk’s body.
And based on how Marvel created this new Hulk, that’s not entirely wrong, at least according to additional VFX supervisor Swen Gillberg.
“We’d try to steer Hulk towards Banner a little bit and try to find a happy medium that everyone can relate to,” Gillberg says.
“We were really dialing in how much of Ruffalo is in the Hulk versus how much of Hulk is in the Hulk,” he adds. “It really helps when we use an actor like Mark to make the end result a little closer to Mark.”
Ultimately, creating the final version of Professor Hulk involved covering Mark Ruffalo’s face in motion capture dots and putting him in the same room with the rest of the cast.
“So we had Mark with dotted face and head-mounted cameras on set in the actual locations with other performers,” Earl says. “He could, for the most part, act freely as himself.”
Avengers: Endgame has been nominated for best visual effects at the 2020 Academy Awards. You can watch the movie now streaming on Disney+.