How Bana Bulked up for the Hulk Movie

How former Melbourne stand-up comedian Bana w
IN a darkened office on the outskirts of San Francisco a photo of a shirtless Eric Bana stares out from a large computer screen.

On an adjacent computer screen a photo of The Hulk, a huge green half-man-half-beast, snarls.

Bana and The Hulk are in an identical pose but, apart from that, appear nothing alike.

Look closer at both images and there is a similarity ... their eyes.

How former Melbourne stand-up comedian Bana was transformed into a green, 4.5 metre tall tank-throwing superhuman for Universal Studio's new film, The Hulk, is an interesting story.

The journey began two years ago in the building where the two computer screens sit - the headquarters of the world's leading special effects complex, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), located about a 45 minute drive north of San Francisco.

The facility was founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas in 1975 and has been responsible for the special effects work on more than 160 feature films, including the Star Wars trilogy, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Perfect Storm, The Mummy, Twister and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Of the top 10 worldwide box office grossing films of all time ILM has worked on seven.

Universal and ILM hope The Hulk, directed by Taiwanese-born Ang Lee and scheduled to open in cinemas around the world in June, joins the top 10.

Bana's transformation from human to Hulk began in 2001 with a script, a director with a thirst for painstaking detail, a team of 300 effects wizards from ILM and Bana's eyes.

The process was not an easy one.
Bana as Bruce Banner
The Hulk character was to be fully computer generated and inserted in each scene, interacting with co-stars Jennifer Connelly, Nick Nolte and Josh Lucas. For Lee, however, the special effects were not the most crucial part of the movie.

Lee told ILM for the film to work the audience would have to believe in and have feelings for a computer generated green giant.

The Hulk's facial expressions would be the key.

"The Hulk puts almost everything ILM has done previously into one film and takes it beyond because essentially what we are dealing with is a digital human who happens to be 15 feet tall, happens to be green," Dennis Muren, ILM's senior visual effects supervisor and a winner of eight effects Academy Awards, said.

The obvious starting point to creating The Hulk was Bana. Bana plays the role of research scientist Dr Bruce Banner who turns into the raging Hulk character when he gets mad.

"We knew right off the bat that Ang had cast Eric Bana as the lead," ILM art director Jules Mann said.

"The main thing Ang told us was he liked Eric because of his eyes, he thought he had real deep, great eyes to do the character.

"So with the caveat 'Don't change his eyes' we just started from scratch. "Knowing what we knew about The Hulk we asked ourselves what would Eric Bana look like as a pumped up green guy."

One of the first steps was to examine in great detail Bana's body, how he walked and his facial expressions.

The initial plan was to simply incorporate Bana's face in The Hulk's. ILM arranged a facial motion capture session for Bana which included placing 500 dots on the Australian actor's face and filming his facial expressions.

"We also used motion capture to examine how Eric walked, moved," animation director Colin Brady said.

"The motion capture data goes straight into the animation software and then after that we have the ability to augment that data to make the motion of The Hulk faster, slower, more exaggerated."

The process also included taking hundreds of photos of Bana. "We started breaking down parts of his body," Mann said.

"We took photos of him from every angle, detailed close-ups, in action, of Eric making various faces."

The information was used to create a computer generated Hulk with Bana's facial features.

But the result was not greeted by Lee.

"Ang saw this and his first reaction was 'Wow, we don't want a monkey'" Mann said.

The ILM crew went back to the drawing board, examining body builders, professional wrestlers, ultimate fighters and numerous other animals and objects that could help develop The Hulk.

The final Hulk is a combination of numerous humans, including Bana, Connelly and Lee.

ILM was so impressed with one emotional scene delivered by Connelly, who won a best supporting actress Oscar last year for A Beautiful Mind, they replicated her facial movements on The Hulk's face. Lee was also so specific in how he wanted the Hulk to look in certain scenes ILM videotaped the director's facial expressions and used it on the Hulk model.

"So when you look at this thing it has all of the cues of a real person," Mann said. "Every muscle a human has our model has and they all react the same as a human muscle does."

ILM was under pressure to create a Hulk that supersedes the visual effects breakthroughs made by the Gollum character in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

"With Gollum coming out I think everyone is going to be really nitpicking and analysing The Hulk to death," Mann said.

"One thing we came up with was let's make The Hulk interact with his environment. "Gollum, he was climbing across the mountains and a river but he doesn't get wet, he doesn't get dirty and doesn't interact that much.

"But with The Hulk, once we had a basic model, we put him in every environment he's going to be in. For instance, he has a fight in the forest and he was rolling around in the dirt and the mud ... when he's out in the desert he picks up sand and dust and all of these things that would help sell him as a real person, not a computer generated character."

Another area that challenged ILM was The Hulk's change in body size and superhuman abilities. The Marvel comic character can jump 5km and run 160kph. "The angrier he gets the bigger he can grow," Brady said.

"So when he is fighting he could be 12 foot tall and if he gets angrier he can grow bigger. I think the biggest he grows is 15 feet tall but I think the film almost implies he could grow even bigger if he was pissed off more."

As for 2003's other two blockbusters - X2: X-Men United and The Matrix Reloaded - ILM believes the different layers and relationships developed in the film by Lee sets The Hulk apart.

Muren said Lee - critically-acclaimed for the emotion he brought to The Wedding Banquet (1993), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) - had combined special effects with a storyline that's "very profound, very spiritual".

"This is a completely different kind of film (to X2 and Reloaded). There's no connection at all," Muren said.
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Sydney Morning Herald