After being in comic books, on television and in a feature film in 2003, the Hulk franchise is getting rebooted. Like the television series, this film finds Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) on the run, trying to discover a cure for the gamma radiation that turns him into the Hulk when he gets angry.
Kevin Feige, the film’s producer and president of Marvel Studios, says, “The key phrase on this film is ‘Hulk is Hero.’ We’ve already explored some of the darker, angst-ridden sides of The Hulk. This time around, it’s about the wish fulfillment of being able to tap into strength within you, something stronger than yourself.”
Because the origin of the Hulk has already been told on screen, French-born director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter films, pictured right) wanted to jump into the action immediately. The film picks up five years after Banner first became the Hulk, and he is on the run, similar to the old television show but taking the characters across the globe.
Producer Gale Ann Hurd says, “Audiences these days are extremely discriminating. It’s no longer enough to have great CGI characters and really terrific visual effects. You have to have a story that’s powerful and characters that you care about and a journey that’s worth taking.” This caused the producers to search for actors to give depth to the non-Hulk side of things, and they chose Edward Norton.
Additionally, to give a proper villain, The Abomination has been created on screen, which is a breath of fresh air from mutant poodles and Nick Nolte on what could have been a drug binge. Tim Roth (pictured left) was brought on to play the Hulk’s nemesis Emil Blonsky, a special ops soldier who subjects himself to experiments to become a super soldier.
The new villain is more powerful than the Hulk and also suffers from the fact that he can’t revert to Blonsky. Producer Avi Arad says, “People who want to be villains are good villains. What happens to Blonsky is no accident; he brings it on himself. He sees the power The Hulk has; he wants it, and he takes it. He looks at The Hulk as a personal challenge. It’s like the fastest gun in the West—if you take this guy down, you are the ultimate bad ass.”
But let’s not forget the love story between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross. Liv Tyler was brought in to play Betty Ross, who is also at odds with her father General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by William Hurt (both pictured right). “Banner would not have fallen back in Ross’ claws if it wasn’t his love for Betty and the mistakes he makes because of her, and I loved that dynamic,” says Leterrier.
To bring the Hulk – and the Abomination – to life, the producers relied on the magic of CGI. Feige explains, “Louis’ vision for the film was that it had to be a visceral, fun-on-the-run action movie. The way you do that is not necessarily by lingering on visual effects sequences. You do that by adding the effects sequences into the mayhem and into the excitement of the scene you’re putting together—whether it’s a car chase, a foot chase, or whether there are helicopters and armies coming in. This movie is about adding all that action and chaos to the real world, with practical environments.”
After going through many test versions of the Hulk in the computer, Leterrier found the design he liked. “I wanted something überhuman,” he says. “I wanted to feel texture, skin, veins. It was really important for me to hone in on a great looking Hulk.”
To accomplish this look, the production hired visual effects supervisor Kurt Williams, who also worked on Fantastic Four and X-Men: The Last Stand. They went back to the drawing board: the original comic books.
“From a conceptual perspective,” Williams says, “it made sense to go back to the source material—the classic Hulk origin and all the things people love about the character, all the things that make The Hulk, well, The Hulk. We found artwork that fit into the way that we saw him—with longer hair and the classic Hulk sculptural positions he struck in those comic books. We started with that as a basis and worked outward. Then we began to translate it to the real world, which is always a challenge with comics.”
To build a character that was more “linebacker than bodybuilder,” according to Williams, they had to create a character of consistent size. “We didn’t want him to grow,” Williams said. “We didn’t want him to ebb or flow. We wanted him to be one size the whole time, so we picked 9’, because it would still allow him to relate to human beings and not be so big that he would be almost alien or unbelievable. It allows you to believe he’s really there, but you still have the ability for him to believably pick up a car and throw it and show other great feats of strength like slamming the ground and creating a giant chasm in the street.”
Arad offers, “The Abomination was even harder. The Hulk is very iconic, so you have a solid place to begin, but The Abomination doesn’t really have that. It was a real balance to keep him grounded, human, scary—one bump and you had Alien.”
The filmmakers settled on an 11-foot tall Abomination, making him two feet taller than the Hulk. “One stride by The Abomination is 5’ to 10’, depending on if he’s running or not,” Williams says. “He can move up to 30 miles an hour pretty easily. We worked from the fact that The Abomination needed to have an advantage, especially in the third act, because the character arc is about heart. At the end of the movie, The Hulk comes back because of his heart…he’s got to save Betty.”
In order to realistically animate the Hulk and The Abomination, the visual effects team relied on the computer generation and motion capture process used on Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Williams explains, “Motion capture is a way to capture body movement digitally, so it can be transferred to a digital character. What it gives you is human nuances you wouldn’t necessarily get from a drawn animated character. It is a key part of designing any action sequence.”
Movement coach Terry Notary – who worked on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Planet of the Apes and James Cameron’s Avatar – was brought in to provide the movements for the Hulk and the Abomination.
“It’s important to pay homage to the history of the characters,” Notary says. “The Hulk has a very human quality to him; he’s a heart-driven character. His movements are grounded and his physicality is very real. The Abomination, on the other hand, is a very mind-driven character. His mind is in charge, and the body just follows. He doesn’t feel everything like The Hulk. The head leads all of his movements, and his body follows.”
Producer Hurd says, “The great thing about where our story takes us is that there is a clash of two titanic forces. You have The Hulk, who is our hero. He is encountering a foe much bigger, much more powerful and more dangerous than he is. And this climactic clash happens in the streets of New York City. How much fun is that?”
The Incredible Hulk is in theaters this Friday, June 13th. For more, click the button below to visit our Official Guide to The Hulk!