GVN Interview with Scanline VFX’s Jelmer Boskma FX Supervisor for Marvel’s ‘THE ETERNALS’

One could only imagine the excitement of a VFX House landing work for the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios. There is probably no bigger opportunity to get your work noticed than having a film credit on an MCU film. But when it comes to Scanline VFX, it is probably “been there, done that, got the shirt.” However, with Marvel laying the groundwork for Phase 4, they are introducing audiences to new characters. Such as Shang-Chi and most recently, Jack Kirby’s The Eternals. With these new film’s comes opportunities to create new and exciting representations of these characters and their respective powers. Such was the challenge for our friends at Scanline VFX and VFX Supervisor Jelmer Boskma.

With that in mind, we recently had an opportunity to catch up with Jelmer to discuss his beginnings in VFX work and more importantly, his work on Marvel’s The Eternals. So, let’s welcome Scanline VFX Supervisor Jelmer Boskma.

VFX Beginnings

GVN: Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your time, Jelmer.

JB: My pleasure.

GVN: So, let’s dig into a bit of your background. When did you take an interest in VFX Work and what films or television programs piqued your interest in the field?

JB: Depending how far back we want to go back here… I would say it’s been a combination of Jurassic Park, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings trilogy that got me into this wonderful mess. For my younger self, these were absolutely magical. Incredible epic stories, which were only able to be told properly through the artistry of Visual Effects. What I love about film still to this day is how it brings together so many different disciplines in the arts. Music, performance, design, photography, costumes, writing… I love the real-life connection movies still have to human expression and the fact that the final product actually leaves the computer screen. To me it’s still an infinitely more exciting art form than say video games, as refined as those have become this past decade.

Traveling on the Job

GVN: During your time with Scanline, you have traveled quite extensively. Was this something you were prepared for going in and did it ever cause you any pause as you considered employment?

JB: The traveling I have done with regards to production has always been a treat and has allowed me to see so many places I probably would never have visited or gotten access to otherwise. From shooting reference photography in the Black Canyon in Colorado or the White Sands monument in New Mexico for Guardians of the Galaxy 2, to doing a helicopter shoot over the San Francisco Bay for Ant-Man & The Wasp. For Eternals a trip to the north of India was called for to ensure we had the right source material to work from for our ancient Gupta scenes. Sadly, much of that work did not make it to the final version of the film, but the experience was absolutely incredible regardless.

Working on Marvel Productions

GVN: Well since you brought them up, The Eternal’s were not your first time working on a comic book-based film. As you said, you had previously worked on Ant-Man and the Wasp as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. Do you prefer to work on comic book film genres or is it simply a matter of taking what Scanline assigns?

JB: Marvel productions have always offered the right combination of creative challenge, scope, and fun for me. The way that the team at Marvel approaches every single one of their productions is with the utmost dedication and care, which is infectious for any artist, I think. Before I got started on Guardians 2, they wanted to meet me in person to get an idea of who they were going to be working with and make sure it was the right fit. They care, on all levels. It’s why their films are loved by so many people.

Additionally, the movies you’ve mentioned are also vastly different in both style and story. Besides the superhero element, they are completely unique in just about all aspects and have not caused me to feel bored for a second yet. I consider myself very fortunate that these projects have become such a big part of my professional life, even though none of this was planned for, at least not from my end.

Creating “Eternal” Powers

GVN: When it came to Marvel’s The Eternals, you were working with a set of characters that most fans are unfamiliar with. Was there a challenge in creating effects for such characters as opposed to ones that had already been established? For example, after the first Iron Man or Thor films, the VFX systems used for their powers had been established. Effects like Iron’s Man’s Repulsor Rays or Thor’s hammer and Storm creating abilities. With The Eternal’s, VFX teams were setting the baseline for representing their powers.

JB: To a certain degree. Chloe had a pretty clear idea of the effect these powers would have, whether it was Kingo’s blasts, Ikaris’ eyebeams or Gilgamesh’s punch. It’s obviously hard to film anything if you have no idea at all what things end up like. For us in VFX, it was more the challenge of finding a unified and polished look for all of them. At Scanline we initially worked on some fully animated test shots to help develop the look of Makkari’s super speed. Later we moved onto Sprite’s and Sersi’s illusion and transmutation powers specifically for the Camden sequence.

We worked in tandem with some of the other VFX vendors on the project who developed the powers for the other Eternals. There were quite a few elements of the movie for which the look still needed to be explored. It is part of the fun of working on a brand-new property though. Everything, including the celestial transitions and illusions, gradually found their visual language and a cohesive style over the duration of the project.

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Starting on the Ground Floor

GVN: From what I’ve seen, it was a successful collaboration. I understand that Scanline was fortunate to be brought on early in the process. Is there an advantage for a VFX team to be able to start from conceptual stages as opposed to later in production?

JB: There’s an enormous advantage to being involved early on enough to help figure things out. Certain elements of a movie can be very sufficiently explored and resolved through concept illustrations and a more traditional design process. Other ideas simply need to be tested in motion or in camera to ensure everything will work in the end. For a visual effects team to get involved before photography commences and be able to test ideas and influence the shoot in a way that’s beneficial to all the work needing to happen later is always a huge plus.

The Camden Scenes

GVN: So, let’s get into the VFX Trenches. Scanline worked on 12 different sequences for a combined shot count of 233. This included a major fight scene between the deviant Kro and Eternals Sersei and Sprite through Camden as you mentioned. What were some of the challenges in creating this shot and did you run into any unforeseen difficulties in producing this action sequence?

JB: The Camden scene required us to pull out almost all the tricks in the book. Practical special effects were used for moments such as Kro landing on a parked car succumbing to his weight and Ikaris and Kro crashing through a set of roller shutters or slashing through a street food cart. These photographed plates were then composited together with our animated CG Kro. We ended up replacing parts of the Camden streets, water lock, and a handful of buildings with our own CG versions to allow for additional interaction with the CG creature.

For Sprite’s illusion moment, we utilized a combination of motion-control camera passes and digital doubles of Gemma and Lia. The moment where Sersi turns a bus into rose petals was achieved with a fully CG bus, and where needed, a full CG version of the physical location. All of the rose petals were dynamically simulated using real world physics and lidar scan data of the set helped us integrate these cg flower petals accurately into the shots. So yeah… just about every modern-day visual effect technique came into play to bring this sequence to the screen.

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The World Forge

GVN: I can see why this kind of work is so exciting to you. In addition to the Camden scenes, Scanline was also majorly involved in creating the World Forge environment that appears behind Sersei in the space void as she is speaking to Arishem about how she was created. What all went into that spectacular shot and how long did it take for your team to complete it?

JB: The World Forge was another element in the film which still required a design everyone liked by the time we entered post. It proved to be a wonderful opportunity for us to creatively contribute and help figure things out. Visual Effects Supervisor Stephane Ceretti pitched the initial idea of using multiple copies of the Domo spaceship to construct a geospherical base for the environment and hint at the fact that there might be other Eternals out there. We ran with that idea and explored the design through a series of concept illustrations as well as 3D sculpted maquettes.

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The Kirby Look

Chloé felt quite strongly about using bold colors and constantly reminded us to try and instill the spirit of Jack Kirby into the look. Once we got the design approved, we built the entire environment in the computer. A process of modeling, painting and lighting that still is mostly done by hand. Sersi walking through the rows of eternal replicants and being confronted with the wall of memories were all moments Chloé envisioned and shaped in post-production. A pickup shoot with Gemma was needed to get the coverage we needed for those shots. By then we thankfully we had a better idea of what everything would look like and could be a little more precise with the lighting on set. All in all, it took a little over a year to find the look and deliver the finished shots.

Connecting with Jelmer

GVN: I really appreciate the reverence that the whole team put into realizing not only Chloe’s but Jack Kirby’s vision. Well done by all involved. We really appreciate you taking this opportunity to talk to us, Jelmer. Before I let you go, can you tell us what you are working on at present? As well as where fans can follow you on the web or social media?

JB: Anytime, thanks for having me! I’m afraid I can’t quite disclose what I am working on at present, as exciting as it is… You can find me on Instagram @jelmerboskma though not much to see there I’m afraid. A much more interesting account to follow would be @scanlinevfx. Which is where we often share our most recent work and offer a look behind the scenes. Give us a follow!

GVN: I keep hoping someone with Scanline will slip up and share something, but they’re all too good at what they do. Oh well, I’ll keep trying. Marvel’s The Eternals is showing at select theaters near you (depending on Covid restrictions).

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