Marvel’s Black Widow

After the completion of Spider-Man: Far from Home and Marvel’s Phase 3, fan’s were already anticipating what Phase 4 would bring. Up to eleven films were in Marvel’s plans with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow scheduled first. Production for Black Widow started at the end of May 2019. By October 7th, 2019, it was announced that principle photography had been completed and post-production had begun. It was during this time that VFX teams were able to work their magic on the film, and that included Scanline VFX. Recently, were were able to talk to Scanline’s Mathew Giampa who was the VFX Supervisor for Black Widow. Before we discussed Scanline’s work on the film, we talked a little bit about he got started in VFX work.

Beginnings

GVN: Thanks for giving some of your valuable time, Mathew. I know Scanline VFX has you on the go most of the time. So let us start with a bit of your history. What first got you interested in the VFX side of production and was there a television show or film that inspired you?

MG: Hey, Not a problem! I’m happy to take some time to answer some of your questions. Interestingly, I originally didn’t consider visual effects as a career nor did a show or film originally inspire me to do so. Visual Effects wasn’t an industry that anyone talked about doing as a career in high school. You get the typical, Trades, Lawyer, Engineer, Doctor, Dentist options from school counselors at that age.

I ended up getting into trades after High School and I actually got a phone call from my mother one day. She was working at the Art Institute of Vancouver at the time. I had a lot of interest in arts while I was younger and she thought it might be a good opportunity to go to school for arts. Visual Effects was something they had offered and sounded interesting, so I went for it. I ended up falling in love with the program and got a job right out of school and the rest is history.

First VFX Job

GVN: I can understand that. Those kinds of specialty skills were not emphasized in your typical high school. So once you dove in, what was your first professional VFX gig and did you have a mentor or someone in the business who was essential in your initial indoctrination to that job?

MG: My first professional VFX gig was on a small show called ‘Three Moons Over Milford.’ It was a small production and all the visual effects for the show were done in house. We had a small space in an old Racket Ball court just outside of where they were filming the show. I was fortunate enough to work with the Visual Effects Supervisor of the show John Gajdecki. He threw me into the fire of the production and I remember having no idea what I was doing or looking at when I first started.

It was a great experience and I was very fortunate that over the course of the production John took quite a bit of time to show me the ropes. It opened up a lot of information in regards to the industry that helped me as I perused a career in visual effects early on in my career.

Delays

GVN: It’s always good to have an experienced hand to show you the ropes. So, getting to Black Widow, the film was delayed several times before its release. As the VFX Supervisor, did those initial delays benefit Scanline as far as the shots you were working on, or did you already have your work completed by the original release date?

MG: We had the majority of the work completed by the original release date. There were some shots that had gone on longer, but that was mostly due to the complications that Covid created reviewing shots.

Mastering in Explosions

GVN: On Scanline’s work for Black Widow, (according to the Scanline’s Media Sheet) your team completed 163 shots across 4 different sequences. The majority of those shots took place on the bridge with Natasha’s exciting fight with Taskmaster. Some of the work on this sequence involved Natasha’s car exploding and rolling down the bridge, coupled with destruction and fx simulation work. Scanline is well known for their expertise in pyrotechnics of this sort. However, did you have any special challenges on these shots or were they just par for the course for your brilliant team?

MG: For the most part, they were pretty much on par for the course. They had actually made the car explode and roll on set. Unfortunately it didn’t accomplish quite what they were looking for. So my amazing team did it in CG. But it gave us some great reference in terms of the dynamics of the car.

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Digital Natasha

GVN: It always amazes me how flawlessly the digital work flows into the photography part. You also created a digital double for Natasha for when she jumps off the bridge into the water below. Is it easier VFX wise to create a digital stand in for an actor in such scenes? As opposed to a stunt double being imposed into the scene? I know it’s certainly safer for the actor. As a follow-up, how close does the digital stand-in need to resemble the actor and how much work is put into that?

MG: Both approaches cause their own unique challenges. Stunt doubles usually need face replacements which tend to be challenging to make look right. Especially when the stunt doubles proportions aren’t the same as the actors. In some of our shots it was better to have a digital stand in so we could augment the performance to get what the client was looking for. In terms of the digital double, it had to be extremely close resemblance to Natasha. It’s a highlight detailed model and texturing so it can hold up close to camera. This is usually a 3-4 month process to get the amount of detail needed.

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No Sequence Impossible

GVN: Looks like you nailed it. With each Marvel film, they are constantly trying to break new ground. Especially as far as action and the visual look of their movies. Since Scanline has worked on a number of Marvel’s films, have they ever asked you for a sequence that just wasn’t possible? Or at any time did you have to get them to adjust their expectations to what you can achieve?

MG: There are always challenging requests for sequences that over the creative process tend to change for a variety of reasons. But there’s never been an instance where it’s not possible to achieve.

GVN: Thanks for your time once again, Mathew. Do you have any upcoming projects you can hint about? I know from experience that the studios are very protective of their properties. Perhaps perhaps just a small list of what projects are on your and Scanline VFX’s upcoming plate?

MG: I do have some upcoming projects, but unfortunately I cannot talk about them at this time.

GVN: I knew that was a possibility, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. Thanks Mathew and we hope to connect with you again in the future.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the work we’ve done. It would be great to connect again in the future!

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